An Insider Guide to the Best Restaurants in the Countryadmin
Over the last 10 years, Israel has become the bucket-list destination for informed foodies. At turns derelict and utterly magnificent, Tel Aviv, the capital of contemporary Israeli cuisine – light, Mediterranean fare that draws inspiration from the Palestinian kitchen, hyperlocal, seasonal produce and the diverse culinary roots of individual chefs – is home to an electric restaurant scene that is enticing globetrotting epicures.
While Israel’s star-studded chefs and restaurateurs – Eyal Shani, Meir Adoni and Assaf Granit, to name a few – deserve much of the credit for placing it on the culinary map, it is the country’s no-frills ethnic eateries, purveyors of traditional dishes from around the Jewish world, that offer an authentic, remarkable taste of Israeli life born in the Jewish communities of Europe, South America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. These mostly family-run enterprises are sustained by ironclad recipes passed down through generations.
1 – Basta Restaurant Habasta, Tel-Aviv
Habasta (Hebrew for “the vendor stand”) is a small place right next to the Carmel Market that can be a great lunch break during the day. However, we recommend it more for dinner. The menu changes daily and is scribbled on the main wall by master chef Elon Amir. The young crowds filling the tables outside always rejoice on the incredible wine list and dishes, like Baguette topped with mussels, pork shawarma, and the brilliant “White Pizza.”
2 – Hellena, Caesarea
Perfectly placed right above the sunken harbor of ancient Caesarea, Hellena is an ideal option when touring the antiquities of the Roman era Metropolis. Co-owned by the talented chef Amos Sion and his partner Uri Jeremias, the restaurant offers a wide selection of seafood, meat and vegetarian dishes. They nicely represent the modern Israeli kitchen, with Italian and Greek influences. With the enchanting views of the sea, the personable service, and the great wine selection, Hellena generates an exceptional and unforgettable culinary experience.
3 – Magdalena Magdalena, Sea of Galilee
Don’t let the humble entry next to a shopping center discourage you, as Magdalena is possibly the best Arab gourmet restaurant in Israel! It’s name derives from the nearby ruins of Magdala, hometown of Mary Magdalene. The views of the Sea of Galilee from the elegant hall of the restaurant make it a perfect stop for lunch, or dinner, while touring the north of Israel. Using local and fresh ingredients, Christian-Arab owner and Chef Yussef “Zuzu” Hana fuses the Galilean, Lebanese and wider Mediterranean kitchen into an innovative menu of delightful flavors. Magdalena certainly reflects the recent trend of upscale Arabic restaurants. Don’t miss Shisbarak (lamb and pine Stuffed dumplings), the fried cauliflower, black seafood rissoto, semolina cigars and Malabi for dessert.
4 – El Marsa is a majestic seafood restaurant that reflects the character of Akko itself.
Residing on Akko’s port, El Marsa’s atmosphere is a unique blend between old and new; its modern decor contrasts beautifully with the ancient architecture of this converted 13th-century home. Its Arabic dishes have both eastern and western influences, with an original twist on traditional Middle Eastern cuisine. And its diversified menu offers fresh-from-the-water seafood caught right at the port next-door. Enjoy fresh calamari rings, the latest catch of the day, or creative desserts such as Halva Mousse, as you overlook the tranquil Mediterranean Sea.
5 – Uri Buri Akko
Located in Akko close to the sea front and the 800 year old Templars tunnel, Uri Buri Restaurant is one of the best sea food restaurants in the country. The owner, famous Israeli chef, Uri Jeremias, is a very social and likable person. Sometimes he will personally serve you his beautifully presented and amazingly tasty dishes.
With oysters, octopus, raw shrimp and crab meat on the menu, Uri Buri is obviously not kosher, but that means he is also open on the weekends.
6 – Chakra Jerusalem
Chakra is a local favorite with an extensive seafood selection and eclectic wine list.
This well-loved restaurant attracts locals in the know. Chakra showcases an Italian-inspired menu with a global influence and an extensive seafood selection. The menu boasts handmade pastas, fresh-baked focaccia, and an extensive wine list.
7 – Al Karawan Restaurant ( Abu Al Zozo) -Bethlehem
Located at the Entrance of Bethlehem, just after the check point, this restaurant is one of the old establishments in the little town of Bethlehem, it is famous for is Lamb chops and Kababa, with a fresh middle eastern Mezze
8 – Roof Top wine & Cheese at Notre Dame Center
The most spectacular views across the Jerusalem skyline with the best selection of imported cheese and wine in the city. It is the ideal place to relax and enjoy a fine meal or drinks after a long day of touring or work while watching the setting sun cast its golden hue over the Old City.
9 – Machneyudah, Jerusalem
Named after the Mahane Yehudah market near it, Machneyudah was founded in 2009 by three critically acclaimed chefs (Assaf Granit, Uri Navon and Yossi Elad). They did this with an ambitious desire to redefine high end dining experiences in Israel. And what a success! It’s kitchen combines, like magic, local dishes with various international influences that teases your culinary senses at every plate (try their truffled polenta!). The vintage décor, open kitchen, great music and super friendly staff makes many consider Machneyudah as the best dining experience in Israel. But don’t even think of showing up without a reservation.
10 – Mona Restaurant Jerusalem
Mona opened up downtown about 10 years ago as a bar and over the past five years has transformed into a restaurant. The menu is a mix of Mediterranean and European, with an emphasis on quality ingredients, fresh meat and fish from the Mahane Yehuda marketplace, seafood and fresh pasta for reasonable prices.
The restaurant has a cozy atmosphere and is housed in a beautiful building, which was built in the late 19th-century, was inhabited by Jerusalem’s high society since the ‘50s and later served as the original campus of the Betzalel School of Art and Design. Among the recommended dishes are the red drum with shrimp and two gravies; the seafood stew with butter, lemon butter and garlic; and the shrimp and squid curry with yogurt, squid, asparagus and hot chili.