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Eat fresh Middle Eastern dishes at Dubai Grill: Food and drink: Smile politely

With so many new restaurants opening on the University of Illinois campus every year, it’s hard to keep track of them all. For example, I knew Mary Ann’s restaurant on Gregory Street was closed, but I had no idea a business had already moved in.

The interior of the Dubai Grill showing larger tables with eight chairs and taller chairs facing exterior windows on a raised counter.  Photo by Matthew Macomber.Photo by Matthew Macomber.

Visiting the Dubai Grill for the first time, it retains much of the restaurant style that was Mary Ann’s signature, but the new restaurant has adjusted the layout and decorations just enough to give the place its own unique vibe.

The interior of the Dubai Grill where the tables are along the walls with four chairs around them (two on one side) and pictures of the Middle East are on the walls.  Photo by Matthew Macomber.Photo by Matthew Macomber.

Although there is less seating than before, there are still plenty of indoor places to eat as well as picnic tables across the street near the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. Plus, it feels less cramped inside now.

The Dubai Grill kitchen behind plexiglass with three staff preparing food inside.  Photo by Matthew Macomber.Photo by Matthew Macomber.

Warmly welcomed as I walked in, I enjoyed the smell of freshly cooked Middle Eastern food as I waited for the last of my (pre-ordered) meal to finish.

A paper cup of hot karak chai.  Photo by Matthew Macomber.Photo by Matthew Macomber.

Once my cool cup of karak chai ($2) was ready, I headed to the previously mentioned picnic tables to sip my drink and prepare my meal. Made with black tea, evaporated milk and spices, I tried not to burn my mouth sipping as it was served piping hot. If you like chai tea, this version was quite refreshingly spiced with the milk cutting the intensity of the flavor a bit. Chai karak is a nice, smooth drink to go with anything you order at Dubai Grill.

Four kibbeh on a broken open paper bag.  Photo by Matthew Macomber.Photo by Matthew Macomber.

For my appetizer, I went with kibbeh ($8.99). Totally new to me, I enjoyed trying this salty snack for the first time. The kibbeh were as filling as I expected since they are made with wheat dough around ground beef, onions and nuts. Each also had a slight aftertaste of an unknown spice which I also enjoyed. A great snack since the four kibbeh are rather large, I wish I had a sauce to dip them in as they were a little drier than expected once I finished the fourth in a row.

A formerly beef shawarma pita sandwich wrapped in foil to keep it warm.  Photo by Matthew Macomber.Photo by Matthew Macomber.

For my main course, I ordered beef shawarma in pita bread ($8.99). Filled with onion, tomato and tahini sauce in addition to the beef, it was a solid pita sandwich. Neither too messy nor too padded, it fits comfortably in my hand. Nothing fancy, it’s a safe bet if you don’t know how much you’ll enjoy other Dubai Grill dishes. It’s hard to go wrong with a soft pita stuffed with everything you want.

A square of baklava on a broken open wax paper bag.  Photo by Matthew Macomber.Photo by Matthew Macomber.

To conclude, I took the time to enjoy a piece of sweet and syrupy baklava ($1.50). Sweet and very nutty, thanks to the pistachios, the many layers of phyllo dough and the abundant syrup make this the perfect sweet dessert for nut lovers. Glistening positively with syrup, Dubai Grill’s baklava was crispy and flaky on top and had edges with a dense, syrupy bottom. The only downside to the baklava was that once I took a bite, it was hard to stop and save the rest for later – or share it. If you’ve never had baklava before, Dubai Grill is the perfect place to change that.

All in all, I very much enjoyed this trip to Dubai Grill. Middle Eastern restaurants aren’t particularly common in Champaign-Urbana, so I know I’ll be back to try the dishes I missed on this first trip. Affordable and made with care, Dubai Grill is worth the trip to campus for those who don’t make it often and a strong recommendation for anyone who frequents the U of I regularly. Stop by and don’t forget to order dessert .

The exterior of Dubai Grill with the restaurant's name on an old vertical Pepsi sign on the side of the building.  Photo by Matthew Macomber.

Photo by Matthew Macomber.

Dubai grills
701 S Rue Gregoire
11 a.m. to 9 p.m., daily

Top image by Matthew Macomber.

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