Updated: Nov 16, 2022
Downtown Cairo (known by locals as wust el balad), might be full of history, hostels, stores, congestion, interesting stories and iconic baladi dive bars, but one thing it’s not particularly known for is its restaurants. Sure, it has all the standard fast food chains, but most people don’t head into Downtown in search of a good restaurant – other neighborhoods such as Zamalek, Maadi, Heliopolis, Sheikh Zayed and New Cairo are much more established when it comes to dining destinations.
That doesn’t mean however that Downtown Cairo is a lost culinary cause! Au contraire. There are tons of little hole-in-the-walls and food carts serving all kinds of good and authentic food (you should look into doing a food tour actually, more info here in our article about experience gifts in Cairo).
But this article is focusing more on the best sit-down-and-eat spots in Downtown Cairo, and these restaurants are as eclectic as the neighborhood itself.
One of the most iconic Egyptian cuisine restaurants in Downtown Cairo since 1959, Felfela was known for years as a place to get fuul, taameya and other Egyptian classics while having a beer. It became a regular lunch spot with families on weekends and opened several other branches throughout the city.
It’s now a popular spot for tourists and nostalgic locals, and this dimly-lit and eclectically-decorated restaurant provides a window into the past through stories enthusiastically told by the waiters.
Koshary Abou Tarek
Every Egyptian local has their favorite local koshary joint, but Abou Tarek is widely agreed on being one of the best - if not THE best. Watching the lightning-fast assembly line of layering your plastic carton with koshary is an experience in and of itself!
It’s obviously not an ambient or romantic restaurant choice (all the fluorescent lighting will do that to you), but if cheap, filling and fast is what you’re after, then Abou Tarek is your guy.
Eish & Malh
Although the name is Arabic (translating to bread & salt), Eish & Malh is an Italian restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner – everything from baked eggs & waffles to homemade pasta and thin-crust pizza. Nab a table next to their French windows that open up onto an eclectic Downtown street and people-watch the day away.
Looking to sit somewhere outdoors but still protected from Downtown’s chaotic streets? Oldish is a very cute restaurant with a beautiful brick courtyard (as well as indoor seating), and is especially nice in the morning when it’s sunny – and they’re open early from 8 am. They’re known for their Egyptian cuisine but also have international classics on their menu such as your standard pizza and pasta options.
Read more: 30 Best Breakfast Spots in Cairo
This place has been a local hidden gem for over ten years now. It’s a little restaurant run by an Egyptian woman named Somaya, who serves up some of the best homemade Egyptian food you can have in Cairo (unless you’re eating at someone’s grandmother’s house).
The twist about Fasahet Somaya though is that it’s only open from 5 pm - 7 pm, it’s first come first serve and there’s no menu. Every day Somaya decides what dishes she’ll make, and that’s what will be served (she posts the daily menu on her FB page in Arabic). Closed on Saturdays.
This is the place to head to in Downtown if you’re looking for ambience and Insta vibes. As the name suggests, CaiRoma attempts to recreate the little outdoor restaurants of Rome in an alley of Downtown Cairo, and they succeed aesthetically. Their menu is made up of a wide selection of pastas, pizza, risotto and gnocchi, and while in our humble opinion the food is not totally comparable to Rome’s, the overall experience makes up for it. They’re open daily from 3 pm to midnight.
El Ku5 (pronounced El Kukh)
If CaiRoma is all about Italian aesthetics, then El Ku5 is a million percent about the vintage, nostalgic, kitschy Egyptian aesthetic. Every spot in this beautifully decorated restaurant is a mini homage to Egyptian folklore and tradition across the country, as well as Egyptian pop culture of yesteryear. They have various seating areas, and even a gorgeous balcony overlooking Downtown Cairo's la belle epoque architecture. Every detail is given an immense amount of thought and meaning, including the music.
Their menu is immense, with all the Egyptian favorites you would expect as well as a good amount of international dishes. They also serve breakfast and morning is the best time to visit El Ku5, with the sun streaming in from the balcony and open windows (they open at 10:30 am). A word to the wise though: this place is almost always full!
If you love little hole-in-the-wall spots that only locals know about, then make sure to try Om Dahab, a little food cart with a makeshift kitchen in an almost hidden passageway. The spot itself is shabby and consists of a few plastic tables and chairs in the alleyway, but what makes this place so popular is Dahab, the heart, brain (and cook!) of the whole operation.
Dahab herself cooks each sandwich and plate, from 3 pm to 11 pm every day except for Friday. Her dishes are all simple, tasty, cheap, and prepared with love. She makes kofta, fried chicken and liver sandwiches, as well as larger plates: molokheya, stuffed vegetables, macaroni with liver, and grilled chicken.
This unassuming, no-frills restaurant specializes in a dish that is quite random for Downtown Cairo, or almost anywhere really, and that’s… seafood pasta. Yup, if you’re a fan of tomato sauce pasta topped with your choice of seafood, then this is the place for you. If you’re NOT a fan, then this is… not the place for you, because there’s not much else on the menu lol.
How it works is first you choose between three variations: 1) seafood pasta (crab, shrimp, clams, calamari), 2) shrimp pasta, or 3) lobster pasta. They all are served with the same base of tomato sauce linguini. You then choose the size of your plate (regular, medium, large, extra large) and any extra seafood additions you’d like to add. Et voila, that’s it!
Local tip: this place gets super crowded; there’s usually a line and even if you have a reservation you’re not guaranteed to be seated on time. But that’s all a testament to how good their seafood pasta is!