“The food in Israel is delicious!” You hear this over and over again from foreign celebrities when they are in the country. As a gourmet, I can only confirm: Israel’s cuisine is unique and trendy. It’s versatile, dynamic, adventurous, and, above all, characterized by a variety of influences and traditions. In this small Jewish state, immigrants from a hundred different countries have gathered, and you can taste it on the plate. Without early reservation, it has become almost impossible to get a table for dinner at most popular restaurants. In Jerusalem, there are a number of culinary idiosyncrasies, and you can find them on the menu throughout the year, both at fine restaurants and street food vendors. Here are my 5 insider tips for eating out in Jerusalem:
The meat stall Steakiyat Hatzot on the edge of the open-air Mahaneh Yehudah market is almost a pilgrimage for Jerusalemites. Even as a teenager and then during my military service, I ate Meorav Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Mixed Grill) with my friends there. It is served in a pita, and is considered a local speciality: minced pieces of meat with onions and spices, grilled on a hot flat iron grill. The juicy meat pita is topped with cool cucumber. Don’t bother asking for the spice mixtures – it’s a tightly-held secret.
121 Agrippas Street. Tel: 02-6244014
For a cozy and romantic evening, I go to the restaurant Mona in the old building of Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Art. I love restaurants with white tablecloths, candlelight and an imaginative wine list. On the menu there is an appealing selection of Mediterranean and French delicacies, with emphasis on high-quality ingredients. There is meat and fish, which comes fresh from Mahaneh Yehudah, and fresh pasta with an Israeli twist. Mona’s steak tartare is my favorite appetizer, spicy and refined. The beef is fresh from the Golan Heights and of the highest quality. We also love the restaurant for nostalgic reasons: About 30 years ago, when Anat and I were still teens, we often sat with friends in the old beer hall at the Art Academy. No chance of a table without a reservation.
12 Shmuel HaNagid Street. Tel: 02-6222283
On Bezalel Street, on the way to our editorial offices, you’ll find Shalom Falafel. There you can get the best falafel in Jerusalem. Shalom Vashdi was selling his falafel from this very location before the founding of the modern State of Israel. Today, his children continue to work the little falafel stand on the side of what’s now a busy thoroughfare, adhering strictly to secret recipe passed down by their father, who had immigrated to the city from Yemen. The spicy and mouth-watering falafel balls with homemade tahini and green schug (chili paste with lots of cilantro and parsley) make every bite a pleasure.
32 Bezalel Street. Tel: 02-6231436
In the fun and lively Machneyuda restaurant, creativity is the order of the day. And that starts with the very original menu. The open kitchen is the stage, and every hour on the hour, the chefs drum on their pots and the show begins. The music gets louder and all guests clap along as the culinary pleasures of this city are celebrated. Whether you’re a Jerusalemite or a visitor from abroad, it’s an unforgettable experience. The star of the menu is the polenta in a mason jar, a yellowish porridge made from corn semolina with mushroom ragout, green asparagus and truffle. What a pleasure! What flavor!A theatrical and delicious evening.
10 Yakov Street. Tel: 02-5333442
In the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City is hidden one of the very best hummus joints: Lina. Hummus with extra chickpeas, falafel and olive oil is their speciality, and they definitely do it right. Jerusalemites love the traditional family restaurant, which is almost 60-years-old and run today by the second and third generations. The place previously was located on the Via Dolorosa and was named Hummus Linda. Friends of mine and hummus experts say that Lina quite simply has the best hummus in the world. Any time we are visiting the Old City on the weekend, we have lunch at Lina.
42 Al-Khanka Street. Tel:02-6277230