Tel Aviv is as forward thinking as they come. A modern metropolis full of markets, hipster neighbourhoods and an outrageously good food scene. Its breathtaking coast stretches for miles along the cool Mediterranean providing the perfect backdrop for beach bums, surfers and joggers alike. A little to the south the perfectly preserved ancient port of Jafa harks back to its holy past. For those interested there are also art galleries, museums, large parks in the lee of tall skyscrapers, not to mention the numerous boutique cafes, happening bars and world class restaurants.
WHY SHOULD I VISIT?
So why should you visit (or stay in) Tel Aviv? Well, honestly, unless you’re here for work your main reason for visiting Israel undoubtedly lies elsewhere. A pilgrimage to the Holy land, West Bank and the Dead Sea still lies at the top of most visitors todo list. That said I would argue that as a base, Tel Aviv is your town. Unlike its conservative neighbour, this laid-back town feels a world away from the countries notorious troubles and makes for a spectacular layover in its own right. If you’re lucky enough to be in Israel for longer than that, it’s still well worth a couple of your days (for the food if nothing else)… Here are (just) a few suggestions.
WHAT SHOULD I EAT?
The foodie scene in Tel Aviv is simply spectacular. Below I’ve outlined my favourite spots under the various central districts in town. I’ve made the dangerous assumption that you, my readers, know how to use a google search engine and as such haven’t included the exact addresses…
Shaksuka – one of my absolute favourite spots to have breakfast lies just off the Main Street of Ha Carmel market. As the name suggests the joint specialises in Shaksuka – a North African dish of eggs poached in a spiced tomato sauce. Pull up a chair at their bar and order away. Food is fab and the staff are good fun.
Shumel – excellent kebabs that come in three delectable varieties – Their standard kebab (beef and lamb patties), Jerusalem mix (chicken breast, liver and heart) or , my favourite, Shumel – (a mix of both). All are served with salad and tahini in a pita or ciabatta, or on a plate.
Beer Bazar – Israeli craft beer bar with seating on the street. Fantastic people watching spot on the weekend with a great vide. Beer is awesome, of course. (They also have branches in Levinsky market and Jerusalem).
Shlomo & Doron – the best hummus in Tel Aviv? Probably too difficult to answer that question but certainly has to be one of them. Their menu consists of several varieties served with pita and salads to order. (Expect to wait during peak hours).
Cafe Yom Tav – another great people watching spot. Come for a drink or coffee depending on the time of day or your preference. Food is decent and the staff are friendly (I recommend trying try their saluf – Yemen flat breads).
Johnny’s Falafel – just north of the market you’ll find this cheap and cheerful fast food falafel joint. Great place to come after a few beers. Next door you can find another cheap and cheerful sandwich shop called Sabich serving, you guessed it, Sabich!
Hakovshim – not in the market but close by you’ll find this fantastic little cafe. It’s a little less characterful/more fancy than other options in the markets but I love the Israeli breakfast they do here. Their breads in particular are heavenly.
ROTHSCHILD & NEVE TZEDEK
Port Sa’id – hidden bar with great food in a casual atmosphere. We loved their butchers cut and roasted eggplant plates. I recommend coming with a group and sharing. Expect to wait for a table during peak hours.
Sabich Hasharon – fantastic cheap and cheerful fast food joint specializing in Sabich. (a traditional Mizrahi Jewish sandwich consisting of pita stuffed with fried eggplant and hard boiled eggs).
Market Kitchen – excellent contemporary Mediterranean food with wicked cocktails in a chic setting. Staff are super friendly. I’d book ahead.
Meshek Barzilay – cozy restaurant serving fresh organic vegetarian and vegan food, located in the beautiful Neve Tzedek neighbourhood. Again booking ahead isn’t a bad idea.
Mae Cafe – fantastic little cafe serving very high quality coffee. Sandwiches and pastries are also available.
Benedict – 24 hour breakfast joint. Its nothing flash but it is open 24 hours and also, crucially, during the sabbath when most other places are shut.
Anita – Best gelato in Tel Aviv. I absolutely love their mascarpone ricotta flavour! Great on a hot summers afternoon with seating outside on the street. They also have branches in Florentine and Sarona.
LEVINSKY MARKET & FLORENTINE
Dalida – Modern middle eastern fusion in a hipster setting. Pricing-wise a tad expensive but the food is of very high quality. Top tip – they have a happy hour from 1700 – 1900, Sunday through Thursday that gives 50% off most food items.
Levinsky 41 cafe – Very cool and unique takeaway style cafe that serves you on the street. There is seating in the back of an old truck parked on the road however most stand around outside. Their coffee is really good but they are most famous for their gazoz – a refreshing drink made by mixing soda water with a variety of fruits and herbs. They have a number delicious varieties to choose from.
Albert Bakery – Awesome old school bakery famous for a number of delicious treats including their homemade marzipan and beze (tiny meringue cookies).
Saluf & Sons – I’m so glad I found this place. Saluf and Son is a restaurant serving traditional Yemeni food (Yes Yemeni food… I’d never tried it before either). I ended up having an amazing Melawach wrap – a flaky wrap made using puff pastry filled with salsa, tahini and egg… epic! I arrived pretty much when it opened but was completely full within half and hour! The staff were very helpful. They also serve a number of other Yemeni breads, soups and stews which looked equally amazing.
מעדניית יום טוב – Couldn’t find an English name for this deli (the full address is:
Teder.fm – Super popular hipster bar that serves some of the best pizza in Tel Aviv. Great to come for after dinner drinks and a late night slice when you start to feel peckish again! They often house concerts and shows. Just FYI it can be difficult to find a seat as its almost always full!
Shuffle Bar – Good old fashioned Gastropub in the heart of Florentine. Has a decent selection of beers and is well known for their vegan options including, what I’m told, is a very good veggie burger. At any rate the vibe is chilled and the staff are excellent. Top tip – they have a buy one get one free happy hour and a number of board/card games set up to play… Drinking game anyone?
The Old Man and The Sea – A lively restaurant situated on the waterfront. They are well known for their seafood – once you order your main, they will fill your table with a selection of 22 different salads and dips with some piping hot pitas. To be honest I much preferred these ‘starters’ to the main dishes. At any rate it’s a great quick and easy pit-stop for large groups. Expect fast service without a smile.
Hummus Abu Hassan – To the south of Old Jafa you’ll find this very popular hummus joint. They serve three different varieties (you can order all three on one plate). It’s fast, cheap and extremely delicious!
Cafe Puaa – An eclectic mix of simple but good food with plenty to choose for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike.
Onza – Located next to Jaffa’s flea market, Onza specialises in Mediterranean/Turkish food (think mezes, pide, etc.). The service and food are both top notch. Cocktails aren’t bad either! Book well in advance.
The food scene in Tel Aviv blew me away. I wasn’t expecting anything nearly as amazing as I did. To be honest I’m not sure what I was expecting. I now rate Tel Aviv as one of my favourite layover destinations. It is a foodie’s paradise! And it wasn’t just the food that took me by surprise. Everything I’d heard on the news over the years – the tension, violence and deep rooted mistrust – seemed a world away to me here. It’s a far more liberal and secular city than my naive preconceptions had me believe. For me that’s one of the biggest reasons I believe traveling is so important – to challenge your naive preconceptions and biases. I remember coming to this conclusion while sitting enjoying a beer and watching the sunset at one of many beachfront bars. To know how wrong I’d been made me smile. It’s these moments that let you know you’ve grown a little, opened up that bit more, inside. Like the cool Mediterranean breeze, that knowledge felt like a breath of fresh air…