Spanish music, colourful murals and a vintage Volkswagen greets you as you enter this cafe located in Galleria Mall.

Spanish music, colorful murals and a vintage Volkswagen greets you as you enter Café Diego. Inspired by and dedicated to the legendary Argentinian football player Diego Maradona, the café, which opened last year, is located on the second floor of the Nation Galleria mall.

Iryna Nadyukova, Class of 2016, mentioned that during her internship in Buenos Aires, locals didn’t know Abu Dhabi but they had all heard of Dubai because Diego Maradona lives there. Maradona, now retired, is currently coaching the Fujairah Football Club along with running Abu Dhabi’s own Café Diego and its planned expansion in Dubai.

Nadyukova was initially drawn to the Argentinian café because of her love for mate.

“[In Argentina] it’s so natural, everyone carries their mate everywhere; the cup itself, the herb yerba and the [thermal],” Nadyukova said.

Mate is tea-like drink served in a specific cup that is also called mate. The mate cup can be made out of wood, metal or calabaza. The most typical mate cups are made out of pumpkin gourds like the ones at Café Diego, which have been brought to Abu Dhabi from Argentina. The café also sells plastic mate cups, if you want to buy one for yourself. However, Nadyukova does not recommend drinking mate out of the plastic cups since the material of the cup changes the taste of the drink.

Nadyukova and Evgenija Filova, Class of 2018, agree that mate is stronger than coffee.

In Argentina most college students would drink mate to study,” Nadyukova added.

If you’re trying mate for the first time, it’s highly recommended that you go with someone who is accustomed to the drink as it is quite strong in the beginning. Filova and Nadyukova agreed that mate is an acquired taste. Drinking mate is a communal activity. Typically the drink will be passed around to everyone present. The cup is continuously refilled with hot water. Filova and Nadyukova waited until the strength had been washed down before passing the cup to me, and watched with eager faces as I took my first sip. I will admit that I preferred it towards the end, when the mate had worn out a little. Café Diego serves two other types of mate, including mate with milk, but Nadyukova recommends getting the original mate which is only nine dirhams.

In addition to their mate selection, Café Diego serves a variety of soups, main dishes, sandwiches, side dishes, various beverages including warm and cold coffee, tea, milkshakes and mocktails, as well as some beautifully constructed desserts. Make sure to ask for both the paper menu as well as the tablet because the tablet includes pictures of some items that do not appear on the paper menu, like empanadas and churros.

There [are] a variety of dishes that you would typically encounter in Argentina and some of them are more authentic than others,” Nadyukova said. Nadyukova especially recommends the milanesa napolitana, which is usually a beef steak mixed with ham and vegetables and topped with cheese and tomato sauce. She also noted that the empanadas, which consist of baked dough with meat, cheese or vegetable fillings, are not up to Argentinian standards but are still quite tasty.

For dessert, there is the dulce de leche, which is condensed milk with sugar.

“It’s the most common thing to eat with anything sweet; in my host family we’d typically have fruit for dessert so we would put dulce de leche over fruits,” Nadyukova said.
Café Diego serves dulce de leche alfajores, which are soft sandwich cookies with dulce de leche in the middle. They also serve churros with dulce de leche.
If you’re a fan of Diego and want to have some Argentinian food, Café Diego is the place to go. TV screens display Diego playing football. A painting of Diego’s face greets you at the entrance and inside the café there are two murals of Diego celebrating a win in his jersey. There is even an entire wall with framed pictures of Diego and several football jerseys hang on a line across a passage. The café is very much Diego-inspired.

Café Diego can be expensive with most dishes ranging from 50 to 100 dirhams. The Café’s Facebook page can be found here.

Originally published by ‘The Gazelle’, an NYUAD student publication on 18th November, 2018.