Where to Eat in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem

Rugelach, Mahane Yehuda Market

From some of the best hummus in the world to gorgeous vegetable salads and decadent pastries, fresh and flavorful are undoubtedly the operative words to describe the food in Israel. Treated with the utmost care, even the simplest ingredients are a passkey to the country's incredibly diverse cuisine which takes its inspiration from cultures well beyond its borders.

Now back in Paris, the mission is to approximate the flavors we found (and loved) in restaurants all over Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in our own home cooking. But if we're being honest with ourselves, we'd rather make a return trip to eat more.

Given the limited time we had in each destination, we weren't able to hit all of the places on our wish list but I can wholeheartedly recommend those we did try. Here's a selection:

Magazines, blogs and a small stable of friends informed our drink and dining choices here. It should be said that Tel Aviv is an especially cosmopolitan city with food options that reflect that reality. That also means that not all places have Kosher menus so do inquire when booking if that is important to you.

Mizlala - Acclaimed chef Meir Adoni's mid-market restaurant a short walk from Carmel Market and Neve Tzedek with cuisine that draws from a roster of Middle Eastern flavors and dishes. Most of the portions are quite large and great for sharing, including dessert which you shouldn't skip. The crowd skews young and hip and the space is open and minimalist (without feeling overly contrived like many new Parisian restaurants), keeping the focus on the food. Reservations required.

Lulu Kitchen & Bar- came highly recommended for breakfast by the Brown Hotel, where we were staying. Located on Shabazi street in the heart of Neve Tzedek, a pastel-hued neighborhood with unique shops, cafés and charming apartments that seemed to channel the south of France. Go for breakfast (order the Shakshuka) or lunch and be sure to grab a table on the terrace.

Delicatessen - a gourmet grocer and café that's a bit Dean & DeLuca meets Philadelphia's DiBruno Brothers. If you can see beyond the bounteous spread of freshly-baked bread and pastries that tower over the ground-floor grocer, head to the counter of prepared dishes and fresh salads which make for great picnic/beach fare. If dining in, request a table upstairs on the balcony but be warned: menus aren't available in English.

Herbert Samuel - the talents of Yonatan Roshfeld, one of Israeli's leading chefs, is on full display at this ever-so-slightly more formal waterfront restaurant. Appeals to all tastes but don't overlook the simple: tri-color tomato salad and veal cannelloni, to name two. Desserts are hefty so leave room. For a view of the kitchen, request a table upstairs or for a more romantic, relaxed setting opt for the downstairs dining room. Reservations required.

Anita - Tel Aviv's top gelato joint with several locations, two of which are also on Shabazi street. In addition to some Middle Eastern-inspired flavors, they offer goat's milk ice cream and incredible soft-serve frozen yogurt with a wide array of fixings. The smaller location further down the road approaches yogurt a bit differently: you select the mix-ins you'd like, they crush and blend them together with the plain yogurt for a cup that looks like the gorgeousness seen above.

Abu Hassan - This place in Jaffa isn't for mild hummus fanaticism. It's all a bit chaotic but in all the right ways.  Locals dutifully queue for what is undoubtedly Tel Aviv's best hummus served in a no-frills environment with line-cutters and owners who yell to keep the flow of diners moving. It's exciting from the second you join the line and worth the wait from the very first bite. Order the hummus with whole chick peas and give carte blanche to the servers for the rest, you can't go wrong. Just pay attention when waiting in line - locals will try to barge ahead but stay firm. That table is yours!

Suzanna - fantastic outdoor dining and a broad Mediterranean menu with solid vegetarian options and delicious meats. Order the falafel and latkes as appetizers to share.

Halva at Mahane Yehuda Market, Jerusalem

Mahane Yehuda Market - you should plan to make several trips here, one of which must absolutely be on Friday mid-morning to early afternoon as locals scurry to stock up on fresh produce, meats and the all-important dessert before Shabbat begins at sundown. The crowds are impressive if not a bit chaotic but it's a fabulous experience. Take your time canvassing the warren of food stalls and tiny restaurants so you don't miss anything. 

Kadosh Pâtisserie - a small, French-style old-time café and bakery from the 60's with servers bedecked in black and white and a pastry selection that easily rivals what you'll find in pâtisseries across France (with a twist, of course). Seats on the terrace are a hot commodity but the inside is where all the action takes place. Go for beautiful salads, salmon bruschetta (the chef's specialty) or sandwiches or cozy up to a book and a large coffee.

Azura - by all accounts, mind-blowing hummus. Always get it with chunks of chickpeas as in the above photo. For the rest, ask the server what he/she personally recommends. Chances are, it will be a dish of the day. Our waiter told us to skip the beef-covered hummus dish and opt for the spicy stuffed eggplant and beef dish, and even took my husband into the kitchen to take a look at the different dishes since he couldn't decide.  

Marzipan - on the edge of the market, this is the only place you should go for Rugelach if snagging the best (straight out of the oven) is as crucial for you as it was for us. The bakery also sells a variety of cookies which make great airplane snacks.

Cafelix - Excellent third-wave coffee shop and roaster and one of the newest additions to the Mehane Yehude Market. Grab a spot at the counter and watch kinetic market-life unfurl before you. Original location in Jaffa, Tel Aviv.

Hatzot - a sort of Jewish steakhouse but not only - there are plenty of vegetable platters and dips to satisfy vegetarians. A local favorite near the market that fills up fast so call ahead to book a table.

King David Hotel, Jerusalem

Lunch and/or cocktails on the sun-dappled terrace of the King David hotel - longtime visitors of Jerusalem recommended making a stop at this luxury hotel with a killer view of the city. We went to escape the heat and relax with something cold and were genuinely surprised the menu options weren't pricier. That said, I'd also go for a light lunch or cocktail at sundown. 

Any favorites among this list? 

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