Tel Aviv Notebook
Where To Eat in this Sophisticated City by the Sea
From time to time paid Kitchen Sense subscribers receive insider tips and other information about where to eat and shop for food in cities around the country and around the globe. My Paris Notebook was delivered to subscribers in January. These city notebooks take a surprising amount of research and time to compile, which is why they are reserved for paid subscribers. I promise to only recommend places I like and know well first hand, the same places to which I send my family and friends. I’m grateful to all my food-loving friends and colleagues who help keep me informed. If you want to share the info outside your inner circle, I’d appreciate you encouraging people to subscribe. If you have questions, need any additional information, or if you go someplace I recommend and want to tell me about it, please leave a comment. Thank you for your continued support. —Mitchell
As you have likely gleaned from my newsletters and Instagram feed, I’ve been working with a new culinary cultural center in Tel Aviv called Asif: Culinary Institute of Israel. Asif’s mission is to explore and nurture the diverse culinary culture of Israel, which we do by offering rich cultural programs in person and online. The physical space is located in Tel Aviv’s Neve Tzedek neighborhood. It’s a beautiful place—shared with a sister organization called Start Up Nation Central—that’s home to Israel’s only culinary library, test kitchen, culinary exhibition space, and rooftop farm, as well as a bustling café and deli that I highly recommend for breakfast or lunch.
The Asif project is dear to me for many reasons. The founder, Naama Shefi, who is founder also of the Jewish Food Society, has an amazing vision to support the local food community and educate Israel and the world about the cultural value of food in general and the unique contribution of food in Israel, in particular. It draws directly on my almost thirty years’ experience at the James Beard Foundation, whose mission is similar, but whose context in America is quite different from Asif’s in Israel, a new country with a diverse population, millennia of cultural history, but one that has only recently come into a culinary identity of its own.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I also love the opportunity the work with Asif has given me to pretend I live in Tel Aviv. Having lived and worked in Paris, Turin, Florence, and Milan at different periods during my career, I love the chance to explore a city without feeling like a tourist. Of course, I’m very much a tourist in Tel Aviv, anyway. I stay in a hotel when I’m there so I’m eating almost all my meals out. I don’t speak Hebrew. And I’ve mostly been to places I can walk to, which, conveniently, is just about anywhere you want to go in Tel Aviv. (Nothing seems to be more than a 45-minute walk away from anything else.) Anyway, what I mean is, I’m not running around sightseeing. I’m going to an office. Grabbing a lunch. I get to feel like a regular at my favorite places.
There are a million reasons you should want to visit Israel, and spending time getting to know the nature of life in the Mediterranean beach town of Tel Aviv is one of them. Food may not be top of your list, but it should be pretty high. It is hardly undiscovered, but the food scene in Tel Aviv and other pockets of the country is dynamic and fun and delicious. Israeli chefs and their food have been making waves in culinary capitals around the world. In Tel Aviv you get to enjoy the emergence of a new culinary identity first hand.
A Few Important Notes
Check. Eating in Tel Aviv, like most things, is pricey, but the quality of the food is high. Service is hit or miss, which is typical throughout Israel. I don’t need to get into the socio-economic and political reasons for the elevated prices (or the poor service, for that matter), but the culinary ecosystem of a tiny country without many friendly neighbors and a tight labor market comes with its costs. Still, I think the quality makes up for it.
Dress. In general, places are casual. As in most of Tel Aviv, in restaurants men would feel overdressed in a jacket and tie. Lately, as gastronomic ambitions and wallets have expanded, there’s been a trend toward more formal, degustation menu restaurants. I have avoided these because of timing more than anything. But even in these aspirational temples of gastronomy, the vibe is more chill than stuffy.
Drink. Ask for recommendations for local wines. There are some very fine Israeli wineries, the production of most of which is too small for their bottles to find their way beyond the country’s borders. This isn’t Manischewitz, these are world class wines, often made from ancient grape varietals vinified in modern ways. Exploring the local wines can be exciting. Take photos of the labels.
Kashrut. For the most part, I’m not recommending kosher restaurants. You’ll see pork and shellfish and meat with cheese on menus in TLV. That’s not to say you can’t eat around the traif or that some of the places wouldn’t accommodate your needs, perhaps by going vegetarian. But there’s unlikely to be a mashgiach in the kitchen. A noteworthy exception is Pescado in the unlikely town of Ashdod (about a 30-minute taxi ride from TLV), the beloved fish restaurant that made it onto the new Middle East and North Africa 50 Best Restaurants list this year.
English. I’ve only found myself in a place without an English menu or where the staff wasn’t proficient in English once or twice. And even there, someone at a nearby table was happy to translate for me. I was doing most of my eating during the pandemic, when tourists were few and far between. A couple of restaurants had to find their English menus for me, but they knew they had them somewhere.
Names. Many restaurants begin with the syllable “ha,” such as Habasta, Hasalon, Hakosem. “Ha” is just Hebrew for “the,” and it’s used and translated differently in a way that can be both confusing and that sometimes makes it difficult to locate things on maps or livery apps. For instance, people will just say “Basta” or “the Basta” when they are referring to “Habasta” (also spelled “HaBasta”) and you’ll look for it under “H” but it will be under “B.” In fact, one thing that surprises me every time I’m in Israel is there is no standardized transliteration for Hebrew and Roman letters, so you will see names written in English with different spellings on street signs, on business cards, etc. Just get used to it.
Websites. I haven’t provided links to restaurant websites because, for the most part, those that exist are not very helpful if you don’t read Hebrew. Many of the places I’ve recommended use Facebook pages or social media to communicate.
Tipping. It’s customary to tip, around 10% or more, but you won’t find a tip line on the receipt, and by the time you are asked to sign it is too late to add at tip (unless you leave shekels in cash). To tip on a card, you need to tell your server to add a gratuity to the total when your card is taken.
Receipts. The receipt will come in Hebrew which isn’t very helpful later when you are trying to remember where you were, what you ate, or how much it cost. Make notes on it in the moment.
My Favorite Restaurants
A sampling of my current faves. There are truly so many more places to explore in Tel Aviv and around the country, this list is a just a start.
Lilienblum St. 28
As I said above, Café Asif is the restaurant at the culinary cultural institute I’m working with, so my opinion is biased (in both directions, tbh, positive and negative). The café is an amalgam of tradition and creativity in an inviting setting, a good place to hang out, have coffee, enjoy a variety of different foods. Start your day with a kibbutz breakfast or shakshuka, or lunch on na chicken schnitzel. You’ll find iconic foods and creative dishes, some aligned with the institute’s various programs. To one side of the dining room is Asif’s gallery space that will always have a thought-provoking culinary exhibit on display (see above). To the other side is the deli, a selection of the some of Isreael’s best food and beverage products—olive oil, wine, cheese, honey, distillates, spices, and more—that make for fantastic souvenirs. Up on the mezzanine is the Asif culinary library, a collection of cookbooks and other works curated by experts from around the world. Café Asif also the only place in Tel Aviv you can sample the amazing bread of the famed Hagay Bakery from Kibbutz Einat.
Lilienblum St. 40
I’ve eaten at North Abraxas more than it would seem reasonable. But I have my reasons. For one thing, I walk by the restaurant multiple times a day when I’m working at Asif because it is between the hotel where I usually stay and the office. Also, the focal point of North Abraxas’s main dining room is a bar/counter that is perfect for a solo diner, which I usually am when I’m working in TLV. The food is hearty and generous—braised or roasted meats and fish, piles of seasonal vegetables, large hunks of bread served with butter and salt right on the paper table covering. It’s an upscale interpretation of the bold cooking famed chef/owner Eyal Shani has become known for globally, having opened popular Miznon’s piterias and other restaurants around the world. Some think it overpriced. Still, I find it a thoroughly satisfying experience every time.
HaShomer St. 4
When you ask local friends and colleagues in Tel Aviv who love food what are their favorite restaurants, HaBasta always makes the cut and it is often at the top of the list. On the edge of Carmel Market, the restaurant has a casual indoor-outdoor vibe and a sophisticated Mediterranean menu. I veer toward the vegetable dishes, which come in a wide variety, but there is so much to choose from the vast selection. Mediterranean seafood features prominently, too.
Herzl St. 4
There is a thick Italian accent on chef David Frankel’s menu at this popular restaurant, just off the Rothschilds Boulevard promenade. But his food is comprised of local ingredients and he adds a creative Middle-Eastern flare when appropriate. Among the highlights are the housemade pastas. Pronto is a good place to visit after a few days in Israel, when you might welcome a slightly different flavor profile from the more purely Middle Easter inflected places.
Mikve Israel St. 1
An offshoot of a beloved restaurant in Jerusalem’s Machne Yahuda market (which you must also visit), this casual spot was until recently the domain of the family’s gastronomically gifted son. Famed for its gurgling pots of traditional Iraqi soups, stews, and other braises, it used to be by far my favorite restaurant in town. Now that he’s gone, the food is still good, but it lacks some of the flare it once had. I still can’t forgo a meal on any visit to the city. (Kosher)
HaCarmel St. 30
I’m not sure, but if I had to guess the “M” in the name M25 stands for meat, as this is a restaurant in the Carmel Market to come for some of the best meat you can find in Israel, grilled just how you like it. This is also a great place to try areyes, a trendy Lebanese sandwich of pita stuffed with seasoned ground lamb that’s roasted, grilled, or fried until cooked through..
Shlomo Ibn Gabirol St. 27
If you want to have a meal in which everything you eat comes from Israel, this is the place to make a reservation. It’s a high bar and the Doktor brothers behind this restaurant (as well as Abie and Ha’achim, which means “brothers”) take their creative brief seriously. There is no coffee served because none is grown in Israel. There is limited tahini because Israel grows only a small amount of sesame seeds. Moved and expanded since they first opened in 2015, the restaurant is a must-stop for locavores and gastronomes, alike.
Nahalat Binyamin St. 36
I think my meal at Brut was one of my favorite in recent visits to Tel Aviv. The restaurant looks like a small, neighborhood wine bar, which it is, located on a quiet corner not far from a main drag. On first glance the menu seems like a typical bistro, with things that sound familiar and appetizing. But as the server explains the provenance of the ingredients or the cultural references buried in the dishes, you begin to pay closer attention to what’s going on. It’s a quietly sophisticated place. The agnolotti pictured above—pillows of fresh pasta filled with molten labne—may be the best bite I’ve had in Israel. The wine list is exceptional and the staff’s knowledge of their offerings is deep. While Brut doesn’t have the showmanship of some of the other better known restaurants in town, I know that if I lived here I would be a regular.
Mesilat Yesharim St. 15
Hanan Margilan may be the only Bukharian Jewish restaurant in the world, which would explain why it is so difficult to get a table. A casual place that reminds me of a family-run trattoria in some off-the-beaten-path Italian village that only locals know about, it is worth trying to get in for the dushpara dumpling soup and stuffed breads alone.
Retsif Herbert Samuel St. 94 (in the Dan Hotel)
Located on the beach in the Dan hotel but managed independently, Animar is a favorite new recommendation of locals. The space once housed Tel Aviv’s legendary Raphael restaurant. I didn’t love the setting then and I don’t love it now. But the North African, Turkish, and Persian inflected food of chef Hillel Tavakuli food makes it easy to overcome the physical environment. The menu is punctuated with so many intriguing flavors and ingredients it’s hard to decipher and even harder to decide.
Lincoln St. 16
Another of the talented Doktor brothers’ beloved places, Abie is dedicated to local Mediterranean seafood that is mostly cooked over fire in an open kitchen. Come with friends so you can sample a selection of dishes and share.
Shalma Rd. 3
A colleague at Asif sent me here after I complained that I couldn’t find a good falafel in Tel Aviv. How could this be? An offshoot of a Jordanian restaurant, this was a great (if heavy) meal and the falafel—stuffed with sumac-seasoned onions—were spot on. So was the hummus, fatoush, and fateh, a kind of layered lamb, hummus, egg, bomb of a dish that I knew would be too filling to finish but licked dish clean. There was no English menu, but one of the servers translated the options for me.
Rothschild Blvd. 142
Flashy and bustling, this restaurant may have been trendier during the last wave of creative Tel Aviv restaurant openings, but it’s no less busy today. Some locals I know consider it over priced and maybe a little overrated, but we sat at the counter and loved all of the food that came over the pass to share. Attentive service and excellent cocktails, to boot. Worth it.
Har Sinai St. 2
Where to send you for a selection of traditional meze, Israeli salads, spreads, and dishes that are so typical of Israeli food culture. I picked Santa Katarina—just around the corner from Jasmino—because it is exemplary of the genre. Come with a group so you can sample more and share.
One of my dining companions at Ashdod continues to make fun of the fact that we took a taxi from Tel Aviv to Ashdod for dinner. But Pescado is the sort of fish restaurant that attracts people from all over Israel. Creative crudos and other fish dishes issue forth from the small kitchen, where chefr Yehi Zino reigns. Everything comes out of the Mediterranean, which is outside the door. I’ve heard it’s only worth the drive if Yehi’s in the kitchen, but I’m not sure they’ll tell you that when you make a reservation. And I think you should check it out anyway. One thing to note is that it’s hard to translate many of the names of the fish to English. Don’t bother, just enjoy. (Kosher)
If you are staying in a hotel in Tel Aviv, you’ll have a lovely Israeli breakfast, full of salads and vegetables, smoked and pickled fish, egg dishes, breads, and pastries. But you’ll still want to venture out. Check out Café Asif (see above), or either of these spots.
Nahalat Binyamin St. 27
This coffee shop-cum-winebar (think of a bar-pasticceria in Italy) is my regular breakfast spot, but it is popular into the night. I simply love it. The selection of sandwiches and pastries is impressive given the tiny footprint of the store. I can lose myself in the window trying to decipher what’s stuffed inside all the different breads, buns and wraps. The coffee is excellent. There’s often some whimsy in the baked goods, like the hamentaschen cake they had during Purim. I confess that even when I eat breakfast at my hotel, I sometime come to get something from here to top it off. And I always pick up a few sandwiches to bring with me on the plane.
Café Yom Tov
Yom Tov St. 30
Of course cookbook author Adeena Sussman would suggest we meet for a morning meal at a fabulous cafe in the Carmel Market, her second home. This café feels like a throw back to another time, but the food couldn’t be anymore of the moment. The selection of breakfast items is overwhelming—many of them eggs and grains with vegetables in bowls. I let our server decide. Everything was wonderful and I can’t wait to come back.
You could choose to eat nothing but sandwiches the entire time you are in Tel Aviv and you wouldn't leave bored or hungry.
Allenby St. 99
I’ve been staying in a hotel around the corner from this pita grill, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. Good because it’s close and I always have to go at least once. Bad because I pass it on my way to meals at other places and I usually grab a pita on my way to or fro. I can’t explain why it is so good, maybe the charcoal flavor on the grilled meat—veal heart, veal kebabs, sweetbreads—the chewy pita, the careful way they layer the meat, salad, grilled onions and peppers with tahini and season each layer with salt. It’s really street-food perfection, especially late at night, but any time of day.
Frishman St. 42
Many consider falafel in a pita the national dish of Israel, but I can’t seem to find a good one in Tel Aviv. (You will be sent to HaKosem, but I would dissuade you from going there for the falafel. In Paris, I know where to go.) Instead, those who decide such things might want to consider sabich, a mash up of a traditional Iraqi Jewish breakfast of hard cooked eggs, hummus, fried eggplant, and pickled vegetables that’s stuffed in a pita. There are several famed sabich vendors in Tel Aviv, but I find myself returning to this stand on Frishman Street.
Dalida au Marché Lewinsky
Zevulun St. 7 (out of a window on the street)
As with falafel, the best shawarma can be illusive. (Also as with falafel, some Paris spots rate highly in my book.) But a quick lunch not far from Asif at Dalida’s new shawarma window in Lewinksy market made a fine offering. The chicken liver shwarma was exceptional.
Yehuda ha-Levi St. 79/81
A bright, busy food shop cum restaurant cum café, Delicatessen is a great place for brunch on a beautiful day. You’ll want to sample the salads, sandwiches, pastries, coffee, and more. Save time to do some food shopping. Sit outside if you can.
If you follow me, you know I have a thing for bread and other baked goods. The variety in Tel Aviv doesn’t disappoint.
Kol Israel Haverim St. 7
A beautiful bakery tucked onto the back of a lovely restaurant. I love the buttery danish and babkas, especially the halvah one, and other baked goods and sandwiches here. The coffee is excellent, too, and on a nice day you can sit at the outdoor counter.
Lilienblum St. 18
Newly opened down the street from Asif, this Frenchy bakery has a limited but exquisite selection of breads and baked goods. Don’t miss the laminated rose and raspberry croissant danish thingies or the olive fougasse. Or any of it, really.
Shalma Rd. 10
My first visit to Amita was on my last trip and I can’t believe I hadn’t been there sooner. Like a fantasy mash up of a French pastry shop and a Middle Eastern bakery, I guarantee you will want everything they describe for you. Don’t miss the Yemenite hawaij and orange flavored brioche. Amita is located across the street from Alkalha (above), so they make a good pair.
HaHashmonaim St. 103
Uri Scheft, the original baker/partner at Breads in Manhattan (lehamim means “breads” in Hebrew) who left and now has Bakey in Boston, made his name in Tel Aviv. And this 17,000 square foot outpost of his original bakery (there are several Lehamims around town) is a must visit. The open concept makes it feel like you are standing in the middle of the bakery floor, and as rolling racks of rugelach and danish and rye breads and cakes go speeding by, in a sense you are. It’s thrilling and delicious.
Hagana Rd. 33
The opposite of Lehamim, this tiny, quiet Turkish bakery/café is where you must come to try the best for su boregi or water borek I’ve ever had. Like a cross between lokshen kugel and lasagne, the water borek arrives on a wooden board, a slab of rich, cheesy noodle casserole that’s a meal in itself. Dilek’s other more common boreks are also delicious.
Tel Aviv is awash in coffee shops. I would never dare to rank them. I’ve been to too few to even qualify to vote. But I will recommend these two cool places I stumbled into on my walks through the trendy Florentin neighborhood, in part because the chill settings were inviting and the young, attractive crowds felt particularly Tel Avivian to me, an outsider pretending to be an insider. Oh, and also, the coffee was good.
Kfar Gilaadi 48
Could be Brooklyn.
3817 St. (behind Beit Romano, 9 Jaffa Rd.)
You will have trouble finding this coffee shop/café, as I did, because it is located on the back side of a street, between buildings, along an area of converted railway track that’s now Park HaMesila (known by some as Tel Aviv’s “Highline”). When you finally figure it out, you’ll feel like you stepped into the pages of Monocle magazine for the sexy crowd sitting al fresco, drinking large coffees, eating brunchy sandwiches and salads, and listening to jazzy music played on a turntable amplified through through large, strategically placed designer speakers. It’s a blast of a place to be on sunny Saturday morning, where it seems everyone who is cool in Tel Aviv is meeting their friends. I didn’t take a pictures because it didn’t just didn’t seem right. You’ll have to trust me. Or maybe it was a mirage?!
As with coffee shops, there are too many cool bars in Tel Aviv to try to make a complete list. What’s more, I prefer to eat my calories. But for a grown-up drink and some very fine snacks, I offer you one must-go.
Nachmani St 23-25 (in the Norman Hotel)
For a sophisticated cocktail and a very fine nibble or two, head to this bar at swank Norman Hotel. You’ll know why you are there and what to order when you arrive.