157 26th of July Street
Tel: 20 2 735 9640
The tremendously popular (and noisy) Abou El Sid is a nostalgic ode to Egyptian comfort food and Cairo's prerevolutionary heyday. The original, best-loved branch (there are now four) has dining rooms in an Art Deco apartment building on Zamalek island decked out with marble tables, gilded Louis Farouk furniture, brass lamps, and Andy Warholesque portraits of Cairo icons such as Singer Oum Kalthoum. Shisha pipes await a post- or preprandial smoke of scented tobacco (the extensive shisha menu includes apple, mango, and pineapple). The cuisine is mainly Egyptian with a few Lebanese and Ottoman dishes. Try molokhiyya, Egypt's famous garlicky, viscous stew of greens and rabbit or chicken; lemony grilled quail; and the Circassian chicken in walnut sauce. Egyptian wine and beer and foreign alcohol are served herea fact you'll appreciate during the long wait at the bar should you fail to make a reservation. Watch out for the house cocktail, fresh sugarcane juice with a shot of tequila: It packs a wallop.
Open daily 1 pm to 2 am
16 Shamplion Street
Tel: 20 2 577 5935
Despite the incursion of McDonald's and Pizza Hut, the most popular fast food in Egypt remains koshari, a delicious, hot, filling salad of short-grained rice, brown lentils, and stewed chickpeas topped with fried onions and either lemony garlic sauce or tomato and chile sauce. Abou Tarek, who started out as a pushcart street-food vendor in 1950, is famous across the city as the king of koshari. His modern and hygienic three-story restaurant, an easy walk from the Egyptian Museum, serves nothing else except for a pistachio-infused rice pudding. A small portion of koshari will feed two people for about 40 cents.
Open daily, from 7 am to 12 am.
17 Talaat Harb Street
Tel: 20 2 392 9793
First opened in 1908, and renovated in 2007, the Café Riche is a time capsule of Cairo salon society that has survived the schizophrenic deluge of American fast-food joints and Islamic fundamentalism in the city's European downtown. The walls are covered with caricatures and old black-and-white photos of Cairo notables, and the simple menu of grilled meats and Egyptian salads has hardly changed since literary lionsNaguib Mahfouz, Taha Hussein, and Ahmed Fouad Negm among themheld weekly public meetings here. The curmudgeonly owner acts as bouncer, refusing to let tour groups inside. However, he welcomes anyone with an appreciation of Cairo history. Ask Filfil, the maître d' who has worked here since 1943, to show you the secret escape hatch in the downstairs bar used by such revolutionary plotters as the early-20th-century nationalist Sa'd Zaghloul and Egypt's first president, Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Open daily from 9:30 am to 1:30 pm.
Salah Salem Street
Tel: 20 2 510 9150
Inaugurated in 2005 under the auspices of the Aga Khan Foundation, Al-Azhar Park sits atop a reclaimed medieval garbage dump just east of the wall marking the edge of the tenth-century palace city of the Fatimids. The 74 acres of green, interspersed with marble plazas, a reflecting pond, and shaded gazebos, have become Cairo's version of Central Park. On the park's northern promontory, in a Moorish palace purpose-built by local craftsmen, the Citadel View restaurant serves Egyptian and Asian dishes (but no alcoholic drinks), including pigeon soup and fattah, a layering of meat, rice, brown bread, and vinegar and garlic-spiced yogurt. The draw is less the food than the atmosphere on the terrace, which offers spectacular vistas not just of Saladin's fortress and the Mohammed Ali mosque but all of Islamic Cairo. Book ahead on balmy nights and for the popular buffet lunch following Friday noon prayers.
15 Hoda Shaarawi Street
Tel: 20 2 392 2751
A local favorite with a vaguely kitschy decor of hanging plants, skylights, and little tables made from tree trunks. The menu is an excellent introduction to Egyptian staples such as falafel, grilled meat kebabs, and koshari—a sort of Arab pasta dish made with noodles, rice, and lentils stewed with onions in a spicy tomato sauce. It's also a good place to try foul, the national dish of mashed beans. It's pretty bland on its own, but can be ordered with onion and parsley, cream and eggs, or other combinations. Think of it as the Egyptian answer to the coffee-shop omelet.
They don't serve food, but Fishawi's, the famous 200-year-old coffee shop in an alley of the Khan El-Khalili, is a good place to take a break from shopping and sample the refreshing (and in this case hygienically prepared) sweet drinks of Cairo. The mixed clientele includes students from Al-Azhar University, Italian and Russian tourists in strappy dresses, and young Islamic couples who smoke shisha on wooden benches under huge baroque mirrors while watching the parade of fortune-tellers, souvenir vendors, and shoe shiners who make their trade off Cairo visitors. Try hibiscus, sugarcane, carob, tamarind, and licorice juices, as well as sahlab, a drinkable pudding of hot milk thickened with ground pistachios and rose water.
138 Nile Street
Tel: 20 2 570 1000
Yes, the whole dinner cruise idea is a bit cheesy, but it's a classic Cairo experiencefor both locals and touristsand it's actually fun. And if you're going to spend a small fortune to have dinner on one of the most mystical rivers in the world, it should be on this gilded barge, tarted up to look as if it sailed right out of King Tut's tomb, complete with live Nubian guardians decked out in white loincloths, spears, and golden headdresses. The buffet mixes Egyptian classics with plenty of international choices, while the floor show mingles musicians, Sufi dervishes, and Russian belly dancers. The best part is hanging out after dinner on the upper deck, feeling cool Nile breezes, as Cairo, in all its magnificence, slowly slips past.
Grand Hyatt Hotel, Corniche El Nil
Tel: 20 2 365 1234
With so many Cairene hotel restaurants cranking out workaday Italian, French, or international fare, the Grand Hyatt scores big by devoting one of its ten dining rooms to Egyptian cuisine with Lebanese and Moroccan influences. Dishes like moutabel (purée of grilled eggplant with sesame and lemon), mombar (homemade lamb sausage), and shish tawouk (grilled chicken marinated in yogurt, tomato, and garlic) are all top-notch. The restaurant offers one of the most atmospheric dining experiences in town; as well as an indoor dining room, there's a riverside terrace covered by a pavilion, which is lit by lanterns at night and enlivened by wandering minstrels playing traditional Takht music. The pavilion is also where the restaurant's traditional clay oven is located, so terrace diners are surrounded by the delicious aroma of fresh-baked bread.
1-3 Abou Feda Street
Tel: 20 2 735 0014
Among Cairo's many Nile-side establishments, Sequoia, a tented restaurant on the northern end of Zamalek island, stands out for the quality of its food and the relaxed hipness of its Egyptian and expat clientele. Most people order a mixture of Egyptian and Lebanese mezes, but there is also an extensive pasta menu for guests tired of hummus. Perfect for a late-afternoon lunch, Sequoia morphs after midnight into a nightclub playing Arab techno and house music.
Open daily from 1 pm to 2 am.