It’s no surprise that bustling, chaotic Cairo, the largest urban area in the Middle East, is home to an extraordinary variety of good grub, from buzzing street food stalls to cosmopolitan fine dining. No matter whether your meal budget is LE3 or LE300, Cairo’s local restaurants are a must-stop on any foodie’s agenda to taste authentic Egypt.
Here are a few of our favourites across the savoury-sweet spectrum.
Follow the locals to find Cairo's most authentic restaurants © Emad Aljumah / Getty
Box up gourmet glory at Yokal
Opened only a few years ago, Yokal quickly established itself as one of the go-to gourmet street food outlets in Cairo. There's just one item on the menu: kabout, a lunch box of four small but filling sandwiches, a soft drink and crispy fries seasoned with oriental spices. Three of the sandwiches are salty: one with liver and tahini, another with sogo (local sausage) and the third with kofta, the Middle Eastern version of meatballs. No meal is complete without dessert, so the fourth sandwich, called sakalans, is made of halawa (sesame mixed with local cream).
If one box wasn’t satisfying enough, get the totala, the same deal but with double portions. Yokal has two branches, one at 9 El-Aziz Othman St in Zamalek and the other at 72 Horeya St in Heliopolis. A kabout will set you back E£50.
Eat on the street at Kebdet El Prince
Every Cairene has tried, or at least heard of, Kebdet El Prince, located in the heart of Imbaba. You’ll know you’ve reached your destination when you find dozens of hungry natives impatiently awaiting their tables. The lucky ones who live nearby can order for delivery, but the experience of going there, standing in line, finally getting your table, enjoying super speedy service and indulging in glorious local goodies is worth it. Start by ordering the heavenly, oily molokhia (a dark, leafy vegetable that tastes a little like bitter spinach), rice and tender waraet lahma (cubed beef with vegetables). If you still have space, add kebda (liver) and sogo to your order. The mix of insanely good food for a reasonable price (E£150 for rice, molokhia and either waraet lahma or liver) and the lively atmosphere of Cairo’s vibrant streets will leave you with a taste of Egypt and what the country is all about. Needless to say, there are no other branches of Kebdet El Prince.
Try Cairo's best seafood at Gandofli © Karima Hassan Ragab / Lonely Planet
Taste the sea at Gandofli
Thanks to its lengthy menu offering the freshest local catches, Gandofli is the place to go for the ultimate Egyptian seafood experience. It’s best to visit with a group so you can order as many dishes as possible, which range from freshly baked flatbread to béchamel prawn casserole. The seafood soup makes a great starter while waiting for the classic plates like baba ghanoog (eggplants mixed with tahini), tahini, tomatoes with garlic, salad and renga (herrings) to arrive. Be warned: Don’t overfill on appetizers and leave room for the real deal. Don’t miss the local favourites: grilled prawns, fried calamari, mussels, clams and crabs to share. Or try one of Gandofli’s signature mouthwatering casseroles filled with prawns or seafood with red sauce or béchamel and mix it with rice. A meal here costs about E£300. Gandofli has four branches around Cairo, and the most popular is located on 22 El Nasr St in Maadi.
Chow down on Egypt's national dish at Koshary El Tahrir © Karima Hassan Ragab / Lonely Planet
Chow down on the cheap at Koshary El Tahrir
Don’t leave Cairo without trying koshary, often called Egypt’s national dish. Simple yet filling, koshary is a bowl of macaroni, rice, lentils and hummus topped with tomato sauce, fried onions, hot sauce and daa (garlic and vinegar sauce). To truly eat like a local (and add more flavour), ask for double toppings. Named after Egypt’s most iconic square, Koshary El Tahrir is the biggest, best and most popular koshary chain in Egypt and has a branch in the heart of downtown. If you ask a Cairene for a koshary recommendation, they will automatically lead you to Koshary El Tahrir, where you can get a bowl for E£15.
Go big for breakfast at Arabiata
Start the day with a classic Egyptian breakfast that will likely leave you full until dinner: a plate filled with fuul medames (cooked fava beans), falafel, fried cheese and eggs, which you can try at Arabiata, a much-loved Cairo chain. When a Cairene is craving fuul and falafel, this is where they come. Order the pastrami and eggs, falafel and fried rumi (salty local cheese). When it comes to fuul, the list is endless: go simple with oil and lemon, add tahini or have it cooked with onions, tomatoes and mixed peppers. If you’re after an even more filling first meal of the day, go with fuul and sogo with pastrami or eggs. If you want to go full local, try the white cheese with tomatoes and mekhalel (pickled onions, cucumbers and carrots). Breakfast here will set you up for a big day for E£40.
Don't miss the legendary shawarma at Abo Haidar © Karima Hassan Ragab / Lonely Planet
Swap shawarma stories at Abo Haidar
In Heliopolis’ authentic old neighbourhood of Korba lies Abo Haidar, adored for its tasty beef shawarma. For Cairenes, especially those living in Heliopolis, Abo Haidar holds a special place in their hearts, and you’ll find locals young and old sharing stories about how much they love the food at this local spot. Here’s how it works: Abo Haidar doesn’t really do chairs and tables. If you have a car, take a friend because you will probably have to double park and have them take your order. Otherwise, walk in, find a waiter and then eat on your feet. You should order at least four beef shawarma buns, chips fait maison and the fresh ice-cold mango juice, which will cost about E£70.
Crispy and flaky, sweet or savoury: take your pick of fiteera at El Dawar © Karima Hassan Ragab / Lonely Planet
Get your carb fix at El Dawar
Fiteera, a layered pastry best described as Egyptian pizza, is a classic treat that can be sweet or savoury. Fiteera can be found at most Egyptian restaurants, but El Dawar is one of the best places to try it. Egyptians often eat fiteera as a dessert with sugar and milk or chocolate, but the classic worshipped by locals is the fiteera meshaltet, which is baked without any toppings and served steaming hot with the ends perfectly crunchy. It comes in large portions to share. The local way to eat it is by dipping it in keshta (heavy cream) and honey or molasses. Fiteera is also served salty and can come with mixed cheeses (rumi, cheddar, mozzarella and blue cheese), sogo with cheese, vegetables and cheese or dozens more options. You can’t go wrong with El Dawar’s extensive fiteera menu, and the price of a fiteera is about E£50. One branch located in Maadi’s commercial area, Street 9, is a perfect stop to get a fiteera on the go and then rummage around souvenir and clothing boutiques.
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