Want to explore Israel with me? Be sure to nab one of the last few spots to our Wander Women Israel: A Yoga, Diving, + Adventure Retreat for May 27-June 3, 2021 or High Flying Israel: An Aerial Arts + Yoga Retreat for June 5-10, 2021.
Regular Alex in Wanderland readers know it’s pretty rare for me to write a whole post about food. I still have some lingering picky eater insecurity, but more so I just don’t really lose it over local delicacies the way some travelers do. It’s something that I sometimes enjoy experiencing on the road, but I’d never consider myself a foodie traveler. I like to eat what I like to eat, and rarely to do I abandon that entirely for a new national cuisine — a taboo confession in a world where the Travel Channel could be mistaken for a food station and entire blogs, magazine issues and docu-series are regularly launched celebrating the art of travel to eat.
That said, I loved eating in Tel Aviv. And it’s a good thing, because one of the first lessons I learned about traveling in Israel is you will always be some degree of uncomfortably full. Food is a love language here — prepare to be romanced.
The national palate aligned closely with mine, but was still full of discoveries and surprises which made it a joy to explore, and nearly every meal turned out to be a cultural experience as well. I did essentially no research for this before arriving in Tel Aviv (with the exception, hilariously, of one taco place) and have to give all credit for the discoveries in this post to my Israeli friends and hosts.
One warning — check opening hours carefully before heading out. Many restaurants close Friday and Saturday.
Saluf and Sons
With reasonable prices, a hip atmosphere, a great location aside Levinsky Market, and a delicious menu of Yemenite cuisine, Saluf and Sons deserves every bit of buzz it receives.
These dishes are meant to be shared, so go wild on the menu of incredible stews, soups, salads, and needless to say, hummus — and don’t be surprised if the waitstaff plies you with shots of arak afterward. The big tables are communal, so take a seat and make some friends.
I’ve already raved about Citizen Garden once in a previous post, but anywhere that serves watermelon pizza deserves an encore. Between sweet smoothie bowls, savory veggie bowls, and some of the most creative toasts I’ve ever seen, your body and your Instagram account will thank you for eating here.
And take your time. With a cute cafe interior and a lush garden out back, you’ll likely want to linger.
I’m always a huge fan of checking out local markets when I travel, for equal parts the snacking and photography potential. Carmel Market and Jaffa Market are arguably Tel Aviv’s most famous markets, but Vibe Israel took us ever so slightly off the beaten track to explore Levinsky Market instead.
Our fearless leaders (and I do mean fearless, considering how hungover our little group was this particular morning) were BE Tel Aviv Tours, who offer a fun and lively roster of street art tours, vegan food tours, nightlife tours, and tours of all of Tel Aviv’s most popular markets.
Had I strolled through this market solo, I can imagine I would have snapped a bunch of photos, maybe tried a few familiar looking treats and then strolled right out. Having a tour guide was great — we learned so much about the history, people, and food that make up Levinsky Market.
My friend Becky wrote a whole post about her favorite stops on our tour — don’t miss it! One of my favorite stops on the tour wasn’t something I ate but a moment of sweetness.
In one bakery, Becky and I were pointing at and discussing various pastries (standard stuff for us, really) when we realized the group had moved on. We rushed to leave but the woman behind the counter chased after us with one of the pastries we’d been discussing. We tried to pay her but despite the fact that we didn’t share a language, she made it clear that she wouldn’t accept a shekel and just wanted us to get the chance to try. How sweet!
Cafe Levinsky 41
Lovers of all things lush and twee should flock to Cafe Levinsky 41, my favorite spot in Levinsky Market. While I don’t drink coffee, arguably their star fare, I went wild for the custom artisanal sodas garnished with a botanical garden’s worth of springs and blooms.
There’s a rotating menu of fresh baked goods for those feeling peckish, and a pickup truck that’s been given new life as a place to sit back and sip. You might not expect an old storage unit to hold what I’d argue must be the most photogenic cafe in the country, but Tel Aviv is full of surprises.
the lovely team at Vibe Israel — aren’t they cute!
I met an Israeli friend for dinner here one evening and our meal stretched nearly to midnight, at which time it was still tough to get a table. The hipster vibes are hard to beat, with Time Out Israel calling it “possibly the coolest place in Tel Aviv.
While I naturally let the local take the reins here and happily split everything she ordered off the Middle Eastern menu, our favorite thing — aside from the wine — was a simple sweet potato, baked and seasoned to perfection and served with the reverence of a fine steak.
photo by Time Out Israel
Street food inspired Miznon checks all the right boxes: great vibes, delicious simple eats, and reasonable prices. The pita-style sandwiches are so popular they’ve even made their way to what I consider Tel Aviv’s sister city: New York.
The one place on this list that I am personally responsible for identifying — unsurprisingly, a taco joint. And actually, now that I think about it, not even actually to my credit after all. Colorful and cool Taqueria was raved about to me by a British dive instructor in Egypt who delighted in the joys of being able to eat pork in public when she went to Tel Aviv on vacation.
It was worth the gushing — in fact, I ate here twice. (In my defense, I was coming off eight months of living in Asia, which is not exactly known for producing quality guacamole. I was in a deficit!) While I mostly stuck to Middle Eastern fare in Tel Aviv, Taqueria is just one example of the diverse cuisines you can enjoy here.
You can file this under “something I never would have chosen for myself yet very much enjoyed.” Dining in the dark restaurants have become fairly trendy around the world — though Nalaga’at, or “BlackOut” in English, is the only one in Israel (out of fourteen on the planet.) When I heard we were eating here, my chest tightened a bit — it took me years to work through my phobia of the dark, and I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite place to be. But I’ve come a very long way, and I was willing to try it.
We locked our things in lockers in a lit welcome lobby and followed the waiter in, hands on each other’s shoulders, to the complete black darkness. With sight removed, the rest of your senses are heightened and sharpened, or so the theory goes. Interestingly enough, I found eating without a visual pretty straight forward (though obviously I was the one who knocked over their drink at the table). The surprisingly tricky part? Carrying on a group conversation without any non-verbal communication cues! We often interrupted each other.
The menu was actually fairly familiar, which I found comforting given how out-of-sorts the rest of the experience made me feel. One of the most poignant moments of the night was the reveal that all the staff at Nalaga’at are blind or visually impaired, making them the perfect guides for such a unique evening. To no one’s greater amazement than mine, I found myself truly enjoying this night with the lights out.
Actual photo from Nalaga’at — ha! Just kidding…
As a lover of both craft cocktails and all things down the rabbit hole, I couldn’t have been more obsessed with Bellboy Bar — until we went into the private back room. The Butler is a private speakeasy for special events, and we were lucky enough to attend a mixology workshop there with Vibe Israel.
The drinks were cheeky, winking creations by one of Israel’s most renown bartenders, while the bites were enough to make this shoot to my list of places to sit down for a full meal upon my inevitable return to Tel Aviv.
how much does this cup look like Dave?!
Bellboy serves brunch on Fridays and Saturdays (remember, this is the Israeli weekend) and dinner seven nights a week. The drinks here are pricey, but in my opinion they are crazy worth it — these are works of art on par with what you’d get at The Aviary in Chicago, there’s a happy hour every day from 6-8PM!
Expect every single thing you eat or drink here to be fun!
All across Israel — and the world — Jewish families gather on Friday evenings for Shabbatt, a traditional meal. But what’s just as important as what’s on the table is the people around it — the quality time with loved ones is cherished.
Shabbat is one of my favorite things about Jewish culture and I’ve been lucky to be invited to many with friends in New York and casual ones thrown together abroad on the road. With the friends and friends of friends I have in Israel, I’m sure I could have attended ten more. But not everyone has those kinds of hookups – which makes Betzavta a brilliant idea.
Betzavta allows travelers to experience authentic Shabbatt dinners with local host families happy to open their doors and their arms. Betzavta means “together” in Hebrew and the company aims to nurture true friendship through a shared cultural experience. It’s super reasonably priced, and such a unique experience — don’t leave Israel without attending Shabbat!
Is there anywhere I need to add to my list for my next trip to Tel Aviv? Don’t be shy — let me know in the comments! Would you travel to Israel just to eat?
Many thanks to Vibe Israel for hosting many of the meals in this post. Credit for many of the photos in this post, including all of those from Saluf and Sons, Bellboy, and Betzavta, are courtesy of our trip photographer Or Kaplan.
A note about plastic straws: when I posted about some of these experiences on social media, I received comments about my use of plastic straws. Thank you for holding me accountable! While I’ve become well adept over the years at remembering to say “no straw, please” when ordering for myself, it often slips my mind until it’s too late when I’m on a hosted experience and someone else is doing the ordering for me. I always have room to grow and this is something I’m going to work on.