From open-air markets piled high with fresh produce to gourmet canteens featuring “new Israeli cuisine,” Tel Aviv is a foodie paradise.
Tel Aviv’s dynamic culinary scene is always evolving as top chefs try out new combinations of ingredients, spices and cooking techniques, some brought by Jewish immigrants from six continents, others inspired by the Arab cuisines of the Levant. Incredibly fresh, locally-grown products (including the most delicious tomatoes, cucumbers, and sweet peppers you’ve ever tasted) serve as the foundation on which modern Israeli cuisine is based – whether traditional, fusion, or avant-garde. Middle Eastern-style meals often start with a selection of salatim (mezze-style appetizers), almost all of them vegetarian.
A taste of tradition
With warm weather, bright Mediterranean sun, abundant public spaces, and smallish apartments, Israelis spend lots of time in public spaces – and it’s outside, in the fresh air, that they often eat. One result of this lifestyle is that Tel Aviv is a street-food lover’s paradise. Some of the tastiest nibblies, prepared in seconds while you wait, are served piping hot at tiny open-front restaurants with sidewalk seating.
For falafel with exactly the right balance between tender and crunchy, head to HaKosem (1 Shlomo HaMelekh Street), famous for handing out free falafel balls to everyone in line. Also on the menu: excellent shawarma, hummus, and refreshing pink lemonade. For the Iraqi-Jewish answer to falafel, try Sabich Frishman (42 Frishman Street), situated just off Tel Aviv’s most storied thoroughfare, Dizengoff Street. And if you’re in the mood to scoop up luscious hummus with super-fresh pita, you can’t beat Abu Hassan (1 Ha-Dolphin Street), in the Ajami neighborhood of the ancient port of Jaffa, now a mixed Arab-Jewish part of the city.
Working-class matrons looking for a bargain and foodie hipsters rub shoulders along the narrow streets of Carmel Market (along Ha-Carmel St), Tel Aviv’s largest food market, where stalls are piled high with the finest fruits, vegetables, cheeses, fish, meats, baked goods, and Middle Eastern sweets the city has to offer. The adjacent low-rise neighborhood, known as Kerem HaTeimanim, because it was originally settled by Jews from Yemen, is sprinkled with no-frills eateries specializing in ethnic cuisines. Carmel Market is just a few blocks from Tel Aviv’s beachfront promenade, making it ideal for a picnic – or a hearty meal of chicken schnitzel, fish, or seafood, washed down with an ice-cold Maccabi beer, at an on-the-beach restaurant such as Manta Ray (4 Nahum Goldmann Street).
Five must-try dishes
From falafel to shakshuka, these are the classic local dishes to make sure you try in Tel Aviv’s restaurants and markets.
Falafel The Israeli version stuffs crisp, steaming-hot falafel balls (deep-fried chickpeas), hummus, and finely diced cucumbers and tomatoes into a pita pocket topped with tahini (sesame sauce), amba (Iraqi-Jewish pickled mango sauce), and s’chug (Yemenite hot sauce).
Sabich This Iraqi-Jewish classic brings together fried eggplant slices, a hard-boiled egg, boiled potatoes, and diced cucumbers, tomatoes, and parsley, all in a pita pocket, topped with tangy amba and creamy tahini.
Shawarma Chicken, turkey, or lamb roasted vertically on a cylindrical spit is packed into a pita along with hummus and chopped veggies, cucumber, and tomato, and then topped with tahini, s’chug and, in many places, French fries.
Shakshuka Brought to Israel by Tunisian Jews, this hearty dish is made by poaching eggs on a bed of simmering, cumin-spiced tomatoes, onions, and green peppers. Superb for breakfast – or at any time of the day.
Freshly squeezed fruit juice Kiosks along Tel Aviv’s shaded avenues, including Ben-Gurion and Rothschild Boulevards, squeeze and press fresh oranges, grapefruits, pomegranates, and carrots while you watch. Also on offer: limonana, fresh lemonade with freshly picked mint leaves, called nana in Hebrew.
A taste of the future
Israeli cuisine has been making quite a splash in places such as London, New York, and Singapore as trailblazing chefs from Israel have opened flagship restaurants and published bestselling cookbooks. But to experience contemporary Israeli dining at its best, the place to be is Tel Aviv, where new ideas are continually taste-tested on the city’s discerning diners. At many restaurants, dishes are designed to be shared with your dining companions.
One contemporary trend is to feature indigenous vegetable varieties, locally raised meat and just-landed seafood prepared with Mediterranean herbs, and freshly ground Middle Eastern spices. A mainstay of culinary innovation for more than a decade, Ha’Achim (26 Ibn Gabirol Street) serves grilled meats (such as juicy shish kebab and succulent spring chicken) – a perennial favorite in this part of the world – as well as grilled fish and seasonal heritage vegetables, including kohlrabi, artichoke, and Arab cabbage. At Yaffo-Tel Aviv (98 Yigal Alon Street), celebrity chef Haim Cohen is known for using fresh seasonal ingredients – that’s why the menu changes daily – to create innovative seafood and pasta dishes, as well as and his own versions of Arab dishes such as shish barak (ravioli stuffed with ground meat and cooked in yoghurt).
If it’s Tel Aviv cool you’re looking for, try Port Sa’id (5 Har Sinai), in an alleyway off bustling Allenby Street. This is where iconic chef Eyal Shani serves his distinctive renditions of Middle Eastern classics that spotlight locally sourced ingredients. Hipsters come for the vibe, the bar, and the establishment’s first-rate collection of vinyl.