The Best Luxury Dining
Until the 1980s, it was almost considered anti-Zionist to spend money and effort on gourmet cuisine. Israel was a practical, egalitarian society, and good, healthful fresh food was all that was necessary to create a sturdy population. But people cannot live by falafel alone, and Israel has developed a group of truly fine, personal restaurants, many rooted in French tradition, but also exploring the cuisine traditions of Mediterranean cuisine.
Craftsmen and interior designers from Morocco were brought to Jerusalem to create this authentic, atmospheric glatt kosher restaurant that celebrates the traditions of Israel's large Moroccan Jewish population. The fine Moroccan cuisine matches the graceful service and ambience. Totally wonderful.
A chic, carefully designed, contemporary setting; a pianist at a white grand piano (Mon nights); and pampering service that includes valet parking are touches that help make this the best of the city's new crop of top-drawer kosher restaurants. The menu is Continental and strong on meat; prices are not nearly as exorbitant as at the competition.
Jerusalem's most sublime French and Mediterranean restaurant offers a charming, unique setting and an ever-changing menu that's elegant and inventive without being pretentious or glitzy.
American Colony Hotel Arabesque Restaurant (Jerusalem)
The Saturday luncheon buffet in the Arabesque Restaurant is a Jerusalem tradition, with a romanticized atmosphere as well as a vast, all-you-can-eat buffet of excellent Middle Eastern and Continental choices. Sadly, this treat is only for lunch and only a once-a-week affair.
The Olive Leaf (Tel Aviv)
With an inventive menu of nouvelle cuisine that's actually hearty, filling, and prepared within the rules of kashrut, plus a view of the Mediterranean, this is the best hotel restaurant in Tel Aviv (in the Sheraton Hotel and Towers), and one of the three best kosher choices in Israel. The decor, like the menu, is elegant without being phony or glitzy. Great luncheon deals.
Carmela Be Nachala (Tel Aviv)
Set in an antique, veranda-laden building that might have been transported from the 19th-century American South, this is a top choice for charm, ambience, and an ever-changing, inventive menu in the French/Mediterranean tradition. Half-portions are encouraged so you can sample more of the menu.
Orca (Tel Aviv)
Chef Eran Stroitman serves a constantly changing menu that's the toast of Tel Aviv, amid a marvelous 1930s art moderne setting. The downstairs bar is among the most chic in town (with amazing tapas); the restaurant's food is filling, delicious, and fascinating.
Catit (Tel Aviv)
Fabulous Chef Meir Adoni has created a menu filled with some of the richest, most lavish dishes in Tel Aviv to critical acclaim and awards. The setting is quiet and charming but not dramatic.
Located in an eclectic and candlelit romantic Jaffa building, Cordelia is an example of food as theater and like nothing else in Israel. Chef Nir Zook's ever-changing menu is designed to surprise, amaze, shock, and usually please.
Mul Yam (Tel Aviv)
The seafood here is the freshest and most exotic in Israel, jetted in from all over the world, expertly prepared, and served in a comfortable, informal setting. Israelis love it.
Margaret Tayar's (Jaffa)
This place has an unpretentious terrace by the sea, and an internationally acclaimed chef who's a Tel Aviv legend and has won international acclaim. The prices are upper moderate, but Margaret can cook up a leisurely tasting feast for you. See also "Best Moderate Dining," below.
Yoe'ezer Wine Bar (Jaffa)
Set inside the cavernous arches of a Crusader-era building, this is a gourmand's paradise created by noted Israeli journalist and food writer Shaul Evron. Here, at your leisure, you can sample from an Elysian collection of European and Israeli wines, accompanied by wonderful breads and cheeses, or feast on a select menu of classic, richly prepared Continental cuisine.
With vistas of the sea and a great young chef designing its menu, this restaurant, set amid the ruins of Caesarea, is the most romantic spot in Israel for a gourmet meal, especially when the sun sets over the Mediterranean.
Picciotto (Zichron Yaacov)
Named for its founder and former chef, an ex-fighter pilot who has moved on to the world of computers, this is a delightful Mediterranean restaurant set in a 19th-century cottage. It's not cheap, but by Israeli standards is a very good value.
Uri Buri (Akko)
Chef/owner Uri Yirmias is a man who knows where to get top-quality fish and seafood and how to prepare it, and who loves to see customers enjoying his dishes. Seaside sunsets and the ambience of Old Akko are extra pluses of this quality, informal place.
1872 Hashmura Restaurant (Haifa)
Named for the year in which the quaint stone mansion it occupies was built, this rustic French restaurant, strong on meat dishes, is an atmospheric choice for a special night out. It's also surprisingly affordable.
With a setting that floats on the surface of the Sea of Galilee like a Fellini dream, Decks offers luxurious meats expertly grilled over olive- and citrus-wood fires. As an extra, you get a complimentary post-dinner disco cruise. Decks is kosher and a great choice for a memorable evening at upper moderate prices.
The Best Moderate Dining
Israel is filled with interesting, affordable restaurants ranging from authentic ethnic and natural Mediterranean to kosher Indian or Mexican and gracefully inventive French. In order to be accessible to kosher diners, many Israeli restaurants offer vegetarian-only menus that are imaginative and affordable. The following is a selection of unusual choices for atmosphere, good food, and good value.
An atmospheric old Jerusalem stone building houses a relaxed place with heavenly food and upper-moderate prices that should be higher (but don't tell them that).
The decor here is inventive eclectic, and so is the cuisine -- unique dishes created by a chef who loves spices and cooks his heart out, creating new tastes and mixing influences from all over the world. Besides the standard menu, there's a nightly tour de force of a dozen specials.
Village Green (Jerusalem)
This inexpensive vegetarian cafeteria right on Zion Square is virtually a public service, and is the best place in town for a healthy, hefty, fast meal. Lasagna, veggie pies, tasty soups, and salads by weight top the menu at this kosher L'Mehedrin restaurant.
This fabulous restaurant offers a vast array of spaghettis in fantastic sauces loaded with fresh ingredients. The Jerusalem branch, set in an old Ottoman-era mansion with a delightful dining garden, is an especially romantic location, but there's also a branch in Tel Aviv.
Levan at the Cinémathèque (Jerusalem)
The view of the Old City walls from the terrace here is breathtaking, the crowd is intelligent and stylish, and the menu is very affordable. Salads, peasant sandwiches, and a good, reasonably priced pasta and fish menu are offered. In cold weather, the indoor dining room can be smoky, but in good weather, a meal or dessert on the terrace is a must.
This kosher Indian restaurant provides a rare opportunity for kosher visitors to sample well-prepared Indian cuisine. The all-you-can-eat luncheon buffets are very affordable. The nonkosher Tandoori restaurants (Tel Aviv, Eilat, and Herzlia) of the same chain are equally excellent, elegant, and a good value.
Manta Ray (Tel Aviv)
On an empty stretch of beach between Tel Aviv and Jaffa, this beach pavilion is open to the sea, the sound of the waves, and the Mediterranean sunset. It serves great medleys of tapas, stylishly prepared fish and seafood, and is a good choice for breakfast or leisurely lunches and dinners.
Margaret Tayar's (Jaffa)
This is a small, authentic place a short walk from trendy Old Jaffa, with a covered terrace overlooking the sweeping Tel Aviv shoreline and a master cook who loves to see people enjoying her creations. Jaffa's fishers adore Margaret -- she gets first choice of the catch. This is a one-woman tour de force whose hefty, unforced dishes (including exquisitely grilled fish) have been lionized in Gourmet. Always call to confirm hours. This is one of the very best restaurants in the country at any price.
Erez Komarovsky has created a one-man world of contemporary Israeli cuisine served in a functional but bright, imaginative space. The entire concept draws on Israeli traditions of brashness, pragmatism, and a touch of poetry. It's always exciting, blessed with heavenly breads, and moderately priced, which makes the taxi ride up from Tel Aviv a worthwhile investment.
Abu Christo (Old Akko)
Fresh fish and a covered dining terrace right beside the sea give this restaurant a delightful Greek Island harborside ambience. You can put together a feast here, complete with Middle Eastern appetizers, for the price of a single main course elsewhere.
Ramon Inn Restaurant (Mitzpe Ramon, Negev)
This hotel restaurant serves the best food to be found from The Dead Sea to the outskirts of Eilat. The evening buffet (get there at 7pm) is filled with gently ethnic, home-style offerings. The large breakfast buffet, open to outsiders, offers exotic jams and fluffy, gourmet pita made less than a minute before it's on your plate.
Eddie's Hideaway (Eilat)
In a tourist town at the end of the earth, where most restaurants plan for customers they'll never see again, Eddie puts his heart into every meal and keeps coming up with Continental and Asian-touched menus that are delicious and inventive.
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