Looking for restaurants in Tel Aviv? Want to know where to eat in the Israeli? Food travel writer John Gregory-Smith shares his insider tips for the best places to eat in Tel Aviv.
With its glistening coastline, vibrant neighbourhoods and buzzing food market, the Mediterranean Israeli city is a must-visit. The restaurant scene in Tel Aviv is one of the region’s best; whether you’re in search of simple hummus shops, or sophisticated date-night restaurants you’ll find them all. Most have counter seating and plenty of outside tables, where dishes are shared and drinks flow late into balmy nights. No-one eats out before 9pm and often the restaurants are where the party’s at, so expect a boisterous crowd.
HaBasta – for farm-to-fork dining
Located on one side of Carmel Market (where most of HaBasta’s ingredients are sourced), this cracking farm-to-fork restaurant serves seasonal dishes with a modern Israeli spin. The menu changes daily, but you can always expect an array of innovative vegetarian food – roast peppers showered in pistachios, cauliflower drizzled with tahini, and fried aubergines with creamy labneh. The juicy pork shawarma is another must-try.
North Abraxass – for whole-roasted cauliflower
Sit at the counter in this tiny restaurant and enjoy a night of sensational food and generous service (the chefs routinely dole out shots and knock them back with you, all to the beat of a pop-tastic soundtrack). It was these guys who put whole-roasted cauliflower on the map, and it’s still on the menu today. Other lip-smacking, colourful dishes include succulent lamb kofta, baked sea bass with tomatoes and tahini, hanger steak and sweet bananas soaked in dulce de leche.
Shlomo & Doron – for hummus
Hidden down Yishkon Street, near Carmel Market, this heavenly hummus shop (opened by Shlomo in 1937 and today run by his grandson, Doron) is one of the best in the city. Choose from several varieties, all served with warm pitta or shalouf flatbread, including a stellar plain hummus topped with paprika, cumin, parsley and olive oil; shak-hummus (shakshuka served on a slick of hummus); hummus ful, made with fava beans; and a roast eggplant version that comes with a zingy onion salad. Shlomo & Doron opens early and closes at around 3pm. It’s always heaving, but the wait is well worth it.
Carmel Market – for market shopping
Slap-bang in the centre of town, this vibrant food market has been the place to go for street food and local produce since it opened in 1920. Stock-up on baklava, salty olives, deep-red pomegranates, halva (which even comes in Oreo flavour), dates and doughy bourekas – baked pastries filled with mushrooms, cheese, spinach or potato. Make a day of it with a couple of local IPAs from Beer Bazaar, and look out for the Druze pitta stalls near the bottom of the market; here Druze women cook fresh pita over a tabun (clay oven) and stuff it with labneh, tabbouleh, olive oil, za’atar and spicy sauce. To help you navigate the maze, sign up for a tour with Delicious Israel. The company runs fabulous two-hour excursions that include free tastings and a dip into the backstreets of the historic Yemenite quarter.
Santa Katarina – for modern Israeli food
This little-but-loud restaurant has an open-plan kitchen and a huge pizza oven, both of which set the tone for a mighty menu of modern Israeli food. Choose a seat at the counter or an outdoor table, then order fabulously tart red tuna ceviche with herby bulgur salad, unctuous pulled lamb gyros with garlicky tzatziki, or a mega plate of shish barak – Middle Eastern dumplings filled with braised oxtail and served with thick beurre blanc and yogurt sauce.
Port Said – for cool vibes
Rock-star restaurants don’t get better than Port Said. Grab one of the gold-dust tables if you can, and order plenty of drinks as you settle in for a long night with the cool kids. The chefs (including Eyal Shani, of Miznon and Beit Romano) dish-up delicious contemporary Israeli food, including minute steak with chicken liver, lima beans msabbaha (cooked beans with tahini, garlic and lemon), and baked cauliflower head with butter and cream. It’s a really buzzy place that plays brilliant music from an impressive vinyl collection – great fun.
NUNUNU – for late-night food
Tel Aviv loves a party, and it’s very easy to nip out for a quick drink and end up dancing the night away. At the weekend (Friday and Saturday in Israel – Sunday is a working day), plenty of bars stay open until the last person leaves. If that’s you, head to NUNUNU for a late-night dinner. Open until 2am, it’s a junk food diner that serves everything in buttery brioche buns, whether it be mac ’n’ cheese, spicy shrimp, beef brisket or hot dogs. Add fries or onions and a beer, and you’ve got yourself the perfect end to a night out.
Mabsuta – for fresh salads
If you can’t get enough of hummus, head to Mabsuta in the gritty neighborhood of Levinsky. This part of town is packed with wicked little restaurants, cool bars and a knockout food market during the day. Choose from several varieties of hummus (including caramelised onion), simple chopped salads and zingy chilli sauces. On Saturdays (only) it also makes a delicious vegan potato and bean slow-cooked stew called chamin. It’s one of the few decent places open on Saturday, when most are shut for Shabbat.
Igra Rama – for local ingredients
This new kid on the block is making a splash with its no-frills farm-to-fork food (for a fraction of the price that places like HaBasta charge). The menu is split into sections – from the land, from the sea, and from the soul – and favourites include a savoury leek knafeh with courgette salad, blue crabs with corn polenta, and shrimp mansaf. At least 80% of the ingredients used in the kitchen come from local, organic farms.
Abie – for wood-fired dishes
Fish and fire form the basis of this restaurant, which is sandwiched between two office blocks. It’s owned by brothers Yotam and Asaf Doktor (proprietors of Ha’achim and Dok, both in Tel Aviv) and the menu is modern Mediterranean, with every dish cooked over a wood-fired grill. Expect sizzling seafood such as charred trout (fished from local ponds), grilled calamari and silky soft octopus tales. The portions are, shall we say, moderate so order plenty and knock back a glass of Israeli wine while you wait.
Ha’achim – for kebabs
Another White City banger, also run by the Doktor brothers, this hipster hangout (all stripped brick walls and open ply shelving) does excellent kebabs. A Balearic soundtrack (provided by an in-house DJ) blasts away in the background, and all the food – from merguez sausages and lamb kofta to succulent chicken skewers and chequered avocados – is cooked over a grill. Pair with plenty of creamy dips and pillowy soft challah bread from the home-style spread then enjoy at simple wooden tables, inside or out.
How to get to Tel Aviv
Return flights from Heathrow to Tel Aviv start from £298 per person (virginatlantic.com). For more info see visit.tel-aviv.gov.il