I'm pleased to report a successful night of eating in Petra.
My wife and I were in Petra for two nights and the first night we were convinced to eat at the hotel buffet based on the general negative reports of the food in the region and the coaxing of the hotel. What a mistake. The food was absolutely terrible and quite expensive. So we resolved to do better on our second day.
It turns out the main downtown area has some solid local joints that are also affordable. They are all on a short stretch where the three main roads in town meet (hard to figure out their names). If you look at google maps, follow the road from Petra until it reaches a fork in the road. The Cleopatra Hotel is at that intersection.
For a quick snack there is a sandwich shop right at the junction that sells falafel, hummus, and shawarma wraps. They use fresh lavash which is baked across the street then grilled to order so it's a little crispy. After a long day of hiking the ruins this sandwich really hit the spot.
Down the road to Petra about a quarter mile is a kebab shop called Reem Baladni. They are grilling kebabs out front over charcoal so you can smell the meat as you're approaching. The place was full of locals the night we visited. They make a variety of kebabs which are all solid and every day they offer a Jordanian specialty. When we visited they were serving chicken ouzi which is braised chicken over rice. The rice was flavored with cardamom and saffron and tasted similar to Indian biryani. The meal was very affordable and very tasty.
Finally, the real stars of this stretch are two bakeries that were doing swift business. Sanabel is a full service bakery that produces a range of Jordanian breads as well as some some nice baklavas. If we were staying any longer we definitely would have picked up some loaves of bread to snack on. Right at the intersection is a dessert specialist called Al-Jahnoub Bakery. For a business located in the heart of a major tourist city it was remarkable how unaccustomed they were to having tourists visit their shop. The store owner spoke limited English but he seemed very excited to have out-of-towners visit. We were lucky to order some knafeh just as it was coming out of the oven. It was sensational. This version was topped with semolina that was browned on top so it was nice and crunchy in contrast to the gooey cheese underneath.
So if you're looking for some cheap and local food in Petra, the good news is that the main downtown area which is only a 15 minute walk from the entrance to Petra is serving up some solid Jordanian food. Do yourself a favor and skip the hotel buffet and get some kebabs or falafel wraps then finish the meal off with some knanfeh or baklava.