Known for his signature flat-cap and gameshow-host smile, Mr. Ani deserves a lot of the credit, from his Chinese-influenced Shanghai Me to Gaia, his modern Greek taverna, which placed 10th on the new Top 50 list.
On a balmy Friday night, a crowd of social media influencers, expats, Emirati men in white dishdashas, and women with kohl-ringed eyes were packed around Alaya’s big round tables. Servers delivered modern takes on Mideast dishes — rigatoni pasta with zaatar (125 dirhams), hay-smoked yellowtail dusted with sumac and Turkish chiles (160 dirhams).
When he arrived in Dubai, Mr. Ani said, he didn’t plan to stay long, but the U.A.E. won him over.
“I have to pay respect to a country that has welcomed me and given me a chance to grow,” he said, confiding that, as a kid, he had been considered “a nothing who would go to prison.”
Here, he said, “the philosophy is ‘Everything is possible.’”
Modern morsels and Mideast memories
As a child, Solemann Haddad’s favorite Dubai restaurant was Chili’s, that American temple of greasy roadhouse grub.
Now the tattooed 26-year-old chef, winner of the Future Great honor from the Gault-Millau restaurant guide and the Young Chef Award from Michelin, runs one of the emirate’s most sought-after restaurants, Moonrise, an eight-seat glass box atop a 30-story apartment building.
“Chili’s was the benchmark,” he recalled, sitting on Moonrise’s outdoor terrace as the sun cast its last rays on nearby luxury-hotel towers. “There was almost literally nothing then.”
Curiosity soon seized Mr. Haddad, the son of a Syrian father and a French mother, and he discovered backstreet joints serving Pakistani, Indian and other far-flung cuisines.