Back in the day, whenever we heard the word ‘burger’, the big, fat, yellow McDonald’s symbol would be the first thing to come to mind. Fast food chains were at one point our only option for hamburgers here in Oman, a rather boring option for foodies and big, juicy restaurant-style burger enthusiasts. Variety restaurants began filling the gap, and almost every casual joint has a burger on the menu nowadays, but far more interesting are the new restaurants that are specialising in this meaty sandwich.
Perhaps you’d like yours medium rare with caramelised onions, or maybe you'd enjoy sinking your teeth into a patty topped simply with garden-fresh lettuce, or maybe you’re a fan of sautéed mushrooms and crispy bacon along with a monstrous portion of beef in the form of four gigantic patties. Want to choose your meat’s country of origin? Opt between grass-fed or grain fed? Now you can at upscale burger bars in Shatti and small, fast casual joints whose sole focus is on fresh ingredients.
Ushering in a new burger-era in the Sultanate, offering unique burger experiences to feed our ever-growing hunger for customised meat patties, perhaps the most surprising thing about these meat-centric spots is the fact that they are not American imports like the fast food chains we grew up with, but the passion projects of Omanis.
As a hardcore burger fan, I spent several weekends eating my way through the hamburger havens of the capital to bring you the most distinctive, and in my opinion, the most delicious, three newcomers.
1. The Juicy Classic at Kiwi Cafe Oman
Ever since its launch in December of 2012, Kiwi's has held a special place in the hearts of burger fanatics in town, and that love continues to grow as the little Omani chain expands its juicy reach. Tucked in a strategic corner of the small shops at the entrance of the Dolphin Village in Bausher, the menu at Kiwi's features a few non-burger options, like chicken nuggets and chicken sandwiches, but they are known for their super-fresh, signature burgers (in double, triple, or quadruple) that are served on home-baked buns.
Whenever I park my car in front of their vintage exterior seating area, which sports a dark brown wood tables and chairs with contrasting umbrella shades, I feel excitement bubble up inside of me.
On my most recent visit with Saud Al Lamki, one of the restaurant owners, I thought about sitting outside, as the siting area offers a great view of Dolphin’s palm trees and Bausher’s busy road, but it was excruciatingly hot, so I headed inside instead. The interior at Kiwi is simple, very casual, in a way that makes you feel at home. Its beachwood walls have a few decorative stones that add a bit of a local ambiance, while the sporty rectangular tables and chairs in black and red, are quite modern.
I usually keep it simple and go for a double burger, which comes with lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese, and their 'special sauce'. The ingredients are so fresh, and the thin, fresh ground patties so juicy, that I couldn't imagine adding anything more to these idyllic hamburgers. But, in the name of research, I strolled up to the counter and ordered their infamous 'AK47 burger'. Beef patties topped with cheese, beef bacon, jalapenos, pickles, fresh lettuce, sliced onions, tomatoes, and a smear of barbecue sauce, it was an intense, and heavenly sandwich, the flavourful, tender patties I'd come to expect, amped up a few notches. This is as fancy as it gets at Kiwi's, which is a great thing. This is where you come for back-to-basics, high-quality burgers. Period. Along with fresh, crispy fries, and an ice cold Coke, you couldn't ask for a more satisfying meal.
BEST BURGER: TRIPLE KIWI (Meal), OMR2.800
+968 9361 3740
Sunday-Thursday, 12pm-11:30pm; Friday-Saturday, 5pm-12am
2. The Haute Burger
Raw and alive. I thought as I stepped into the chic Graffiti Burger Bar in Shatti Al Qurum. Walking on the cement-covered floor, my eyes couldn’t help but glance around in wonder at the fun collection of interesting film and art-driven design elements — a gigantic vintage mirror that somehow reminded me of my favourite childhood cartoon, Beauty and the Beast; a wall on which padlocks hung, a reference to the love locks of Paris; and a shiny, yellow bus that can accommodate six diners. The restaurant seemed to be a little eco-system of its own in which to enjoy upbeat music while getting down to business with some expertly decorated burgers.
The jolly waiter, who was rocking a Spanish Cowboy getup, escorted me to my industrial-chic cement table and handed me a menu, which was smaller than I had imagined, given the huge theatrics of the restaurant itself. The items on the vinyl record-shaped menu had movie-inspired titles—Beauty and the Beef, a juicy beef patty topped with sautéed fresh mushrooms, and herb cheese, served on a homemade black bun; Glad-he-ate-her, a smoked cheese burger chargrilled to perfection, and greased with a signature Chipotle wonder sauce; What Lies Beneath, a brown mushroom stuffed with sun dried tomatoes, fresh herbs, covered in cheese; the Gold Digger, a lobster burger, topped with mildly spicy red Deutsch cheese, and served on a golden bun; and the Moulin Rage, a creamy dish made of seasoned fries, topped with shrimps and a trio-cheese sauce. I order a Beauty and the Beef, a Moulin Rage, and a Gold Digger, just for good measure.
Khalid Al Suwaid, the man behind Graffiti, joined me and told me about his journey. Khalid came up with the name Graffiti, a term which now refers to street art (or defacing, depending on how you look at it) created with spray paint. But the original meaning of the term was "to leave a mark," which is the creative concept at the heart of his restaurant, which he wanted it to be a space in which some sort of community could form, where strangers (which is what they call guests at this restaurant) can meet, have a good time, and create memories.
“When you leave a mark, it doesn’t have to be a scratch on a wall, it could be on your skin, it could be a song you sing, or a word you say; it’s a form of expression,” said Khalid. “For me, i'm putting my graffiti on my food,” he added, as the waiter placed three dishes on my table. The dramatic, black of the organic in-house-baked bun of the Beauty and the Beef, drew me in first. The thick patty, garnished with mushrooms and dripping cheese, and adorned with cute little edible flowers, it tasted fantastic. Tearing myself away from "The Beauty," I turned my attention to the little Gold Digger, a slider-sized burger with a shimmering, golden bun that featured lobster. This was an exquisite bite, a first-class burger that you shouldn't miss.
In place of simple fries, I supplemented my feast with the Moulin Rage, the restaurant's version of the French-Canadian dish, Poutine. The creamy mixture of French fries and shrimps along with the cheeses was excellent, and the portion was huge.
I personally enjoyed every bite of each burger I tried, but I return to Graffiti Burger in the evenings, when the place really comes alive, as much for the artsy, youthful atmosphere and live singing as I do for their perfect patties.
BEST BURGER: BEAUTY AND THE BEEF (Burger only), OMR3.900
Graffiti Burger Bar
Shatti Qurum (next to Shatti Cinema)
+968 2460 4143
3. The Omani Twist
There are times when I'm seriously craving local flavours, and other times, all I want is a good old-fashioned burger. But then there are times when these two contradictory cravings hit at once. Perhaps a distinctly Omani problem, I think this must have been the inspiration behind Shuwa Diners in Jawharat Al Shatti in Qurum. As the name suggests, it's a one-stop destination for everything shuwa (the traditional pit-roasted, Omani-spiced meat) from sandwiches to pastas to their most popular creation: Juicy, shuwa-topped burgers.
The restaurant itself features a serene, contemporary interior with a few arabesque touches in a soft pastel colour palette that complements the fabulous sea views provided by their gigantic windows. Comfy sofas and chairs in beige and turquoise surround glass tables set with traditional Omani silverware offset by white-dyed miniature stones. The friendly waiter welcomed me in and politely asked me to where I wanted to sit. I headed straight for a table by the window, which had a magnificent view of the beach and palm trees. He pulled out my seat for me (a classy touch) and handed me their shuwa-packed menu.
I skimmed passed the other fusion dishes, and went straight for the shuwa burgers, ordering American shuwa burger, a thick beef patty topped with lamb shuwa, beef bacon, pickles, and onions, with burger classic condiments, mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard; and the Mexican, a cheese-stuffed beef patty accompanied with jalapeno, guacamole, mildly spicy salsa, mayonnaise, and shredded pieces of lamb shuwa. While I waited for my meal, I looked around the room. Paintings by local artists adorned the walls, and I learned they were available for purchase.
Soon my burgers arrived. I reached for the American shuwa burger first. The combination of a mustard-y, tender beef patty topped with perfectly seasoned shuwa was a strange experience. It is rare to have two of one's favourite meals mashed into one, especially when they are so different from one another. It was familiar, yet out of this world. I devoured half of the burger before I remembered I had another burger to get to.
The Mexican was just as tender and succulent, and the jalapeño sauce, guacamole, and salsa mingling with charred burger and pulled shreds of shuwa where unlike anything I've tasted before. The tangy flavours gave the burger a character of its own that married well with the smoky local flavour of shuwa.
In addition to Omani shuwa burgers, the restaurant adds the flavours of other global cuisines to their long lineup of meat patties, with offerings like pizza burgers, butter chicken burgers, and sesame-wasabi burgers, none of which I tried, but all of which I plan to return to explore. This is the restaurant where you go when you want a burger, but you also want to be surprised.
BEST BURGER: MEXICAN SHUWA BURGER (with side dish), OMR4
Jawharat al shati, Qurum
+968 2469 9976
Sunday-Wednesday, 12pm-10:45pm, Thursday 12pm-11:45pm, Friday 2pm-11:45pm