Dubai is well known for its luxury shopping, architecture, and lively nightlife scene, but it also just so happens to be home to several U.S.-born restaurants. Many of which you probably wouldn't expect (IHOP, for instance, doesn't quite exude the glamour of Dubai).
As the Wall Street Journal reported back in 2014, the Persian Gulf has emerged "as a major new frontier for foreign restaurant chains targeting its growing populations, recovering economies, modern infrastructure and low corporate tax rates." American companies, in particular, see an opportunity in the region "as consumers become more sophisticated, health-conscious and want more variety."
Dubai was home to Shake Shack's first ever international location, though the chain has since become a fixture there, expanding to some 26 locations around the Middle East. Here's a rundown of some more unlikely restaurants that have expanded or will expand to the UAE. (Note: In many cases these are simply licensing deals — meaning the restaurants aren't actually expanding their own operations overseas, but rather letting another group use their name and likeness for a fee and/or royalties.)
1. Miss Lily's, the vibrant Jamaican restaurant with two locations in downtown Manhattan, opened its first international outpost in Dubai July 18. The new location is located in the Sheraton Grand Hotel in the heart of Dubai's bustling business district.
2. The Marky-Mark helmed burger chain, Wahlburger's, recently signed a deal that will see 20 new establishments in the Middle East, including Dubai.
3. Big Mama's & Papa's (the pizza chain behind Ellen's famous 2014 Oscars stunt) has committed to opening two locations in the Gulf and Middle East, in partnership with luxury conglomerate BinHendi Enterprises.
4. Denver's The Inventing Room — a Willy Wonka-style shop — recently signed a shareholder agreement to expand to Dubai, a little over a year after participating in the Dubai Festival.
5. Tiki bar chain Trader Vic's opened its third location in Dubai in 2012. Though the splashy, Polynesian-themed chain has lost its luster in the U.S. (where it only has three locations), it seems to have caught on the Middle East, where it now has nine locations.
6. Toro, Boston's ultra-hot tapas spot from chefs Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette, recently announced plans to expand to Bangkok — and they've also confirmed plans to open a Dubai location as soon as this fall.
7. New York City's ever-popular brunch spot Clinton Street Baking Company took its pancakes across the Atlantic to Dubai in 2014. Dubai is the third branch of Clinton Street, which also boasts a location in Tokyo.
8. Darden restaurant group has granted rights to develop Longhorn Steakhouse restaurants throughout the Middle East, including in Dubai. Apparently even folks in the UAE aren't immune from cravings for Texas-sized steaks, baked potatoes, and spinach dip.
10. Even Dubai can't resist the lure of California Pizza Kitchen, which has a handful of locations located inside area malls.
11. How does a tiny burger spot hidden away in a Manhattan hotel lobby wind up in Dubai? Ask Burger Joint. After a decade inside Midtown's Parker-Meridien Hotel, the restaurant sprouted locations in Seoul and Dubai thanks to licensing agreements.