Tel Aviv's status as the Middle East's culinary capital is difficult to contest. The cosmopolitan city continues to expand its roster of world-class restaurants serving everything from original variations on classic hummus to lip-smacking contemporary dim sum, which often explore innovation without forsaking fresh, honest flavours.
The city’s location is advantageous too, based along the seafood-rich Mediterranean with fast access to fresh produce from the region’s arable (but limited) farmland. If you plan on exploring Tel Aviv’s impressive culinary range, here are 10 essential restaurants to include on your to-eat list.
After chef Yuval Ben Neriah explored the places and tastes of China, Thailand and other East Asian countries for three months, he transferred his inspiration into the creation of Tel Aviv’s most exciting contemporary Asian restaurant. Taizu’s mostly seafood menu, including dishes such as har gow dumplings filled with black tiger shrimp and artichoke, as well as a ceremoniously presented fried whole sea bass accompanied by lettuce, chilli-lime and fish sauce, are served inside a swanky industrial-glam space. Every Sunday for dinner, Taizu also hosts a popular Indian Feast featuring twists like duck bread with fenugreek, onion and paneer-stuffed pot stickers.
2. North Abraxas
If you seek a standout primer on Tel Avivian dining culture – vegetable-focused, unfussy and with an occasionally exuberant atmosphere – then city centre-based North Abraxas should be one of your first stops. Here, celebrity-chef Eyal Shani dismisses the formalities of tablecloths and chinaware in favour of dishes like whole roasted baby cauliflower (which spawned a global trend), chicken liver pita and ‘burnt’ potato with crème fraîche presented on cardboard and paper bags. There are outdoor tables, but the countertop seats are the best vantage points from which to view the busy kitchen and interact with the convivial staff.
Tucked beneath the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Pastel, once named the world’s most beautiful restaurant, has the familiar makings of an upmarket brasserie (chocolate-leather booths, a long bar with art nouveau lamps) except for its striking white ceiling that ‘billows’ into a geometric, sculptural free-form figure, refracting light from double-height windows. Here, chef Hilel Tavakoli serves contemporary Mediterranean gems such as black linguini with seafood and okra, and luscious slices of tuna sashimi with curry vinaigrette, Granny Smith apples and sugared cashews.
Moroccan meets the Middle East at Mashya, a bar-raising restaurant on the ground floor of the Mendeli Street Hotel. Young chef Yossi Shitrit is keen on spices (evinced by the now legendary bread mixed with 18 different varieties) and a bit of modern theatre (said bread is served ‘impaled’ on a tree branch) inside the sleek white dining room. The menu’s more inventive, lightly molecular dishes best demonstrate Shitrit’s brilliance, highlighted in creations such as shrimp, raw spinach and mushrooms underneath a corn foam and raw tuna topped with molecular aubergine cream and labneh ‘flakes’. Cocktails here are as good as any dedicated bar in the city.
It has no website, no listed phone number and no social media pages, but that hasn’t stopped this tiny, no-frills pita joint at 97 Allenby St from attracting lengthy queues at all hours of the day. Ordinary pita proteins are swapped for the likes of chicken thighs, spicy veal hearts and lamb sweetbreads, all topped with tahini, amba (a sauce made from mango and fenugreek) and an assortment of fresh vegetables. Though visiting Jasmino during the day is a still a treat, standing with the hungry nightlife crowd for a pre- or post-club pita fix has become a local rite of passage.
6. Shlomo & Doron Hummus
It’s a third-generation family affair at Shlomo & Doron, a perennial local favourite serving the same warm, original recipe hummus since 1937. Based on a cobblestone side street near bustling Carmel Market, this chickpea cafe in the Yemenite Quarter serves variations ranging from the ‘regular’ – olive oil and topped with paprika, cumin, parsley, and lemon – to the more adventurous shakshuka hybrid, scooped up with pita bread or a fresh onion wedge. It is only open during breakfast and lunch hours (closing either at or before 3.30pm daily), so it’s best to arrive early.
7. Coffee Bar
In case you’re misled, it’s neither a coffee shop nor a proper cocktail bar, but a buzzy bistro in Tel Aviv’s south central area. Inside the French-inspired black-and-white dining rooms, a chalkboard details specials that can include pizza biancas, pastas and European seabass, as well as menu mainstays like goose confit with marinated fig, mashed potatoes and spinach that keep many regulars returning. Whether you come for weekend brunch on the patio or a dinner date night, Coffee Bar will be packed to the nines with sophisticated patrons.
Claro (‘clear’ in Spanish) is a farm-to-table concept in the Sarona district, housed in a cavernous stone Templar building that’s worn many hats since 1885. Chef Ran Shmueli champions local produce – a pair of stalk-on, oven-roasted whole corn with bacon butter and sour cream aioli being a shining example – with pan-Mediterranean interpretations. Dining tables are plentiful in the industrial-chic dining room, but the enormous countertop enveloping the open kitchen hosts all the action (and it’s also where the bartenders might invite you to take a shot). The melt-in-mouth short rib tortellini with onion cream, parmesan and sage is the Claro’s top and well-deserved recommendation.
9. Hotel Montefiore
Hotel Montefiore gets its name from the boutique hotel (one of Tel Aviv’s finest) in which it is based. The sultry palm-fringed brasserie is a place to see and be seen; breakfast, especially, is an enduring institution for local society types and trendsetters, with an ambience lifted by Jazz Age tunes, plush leather seats and smart service. It’s only a bonus that the breakfast fare – which includes rich toasted challah bread layered with gouda and jambon, continental selections and Tunisian eggs with peppers and tomatoes – is just as buzz-worthy.
10. Meshek Barzilay
Meshek Barzilay is an organic vegetarian pioneer in the charming Neve Tzedek neighbourhood, churning out creative, globally inspired dishes made of ingredients sourced directly from local farms. The pastoral-style restaurant – the garden terrace and glass-walled patio area are the most atmospheric – features an extensive menu (including aubergine terrine, spicy pumpkin steak and cashew cheese lasagne) with thoughtful indicators for gluten-free and the occasional non-organic dish. With the 2018 opening of their next-door delicatessen, you can take conscious-driven eats, baked goods and groceries on the go.
This article was first published in January 2019 and last updated in November 2019.