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what? No Intrepid Traveler thread on Israel???

Just bought tickets to Israel for next year. Will be staying with friends who live in Jerusalem (and we will be hitting Tel Aviv as well) so I'm sure they will have good ideas for foodie places...but might as well get some input from the Rockwellians.

any suggestions?

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what? No Intrepid Traveler thread on Israel???

Just bought tickets to Israel for next year. Will be staying with friends who live in Jerusalem (and we will be hitting Tel Aviv as well) so I'm sure they will have good ideas for foodie places...but might as well get some input from the Rockwellians.

any suggestions?

You'll get better suggestions than mine. I had a job in the '80s that took me to Israel maybe a dozen times, but my memories are a good 20-25 years out of date.

In general, the food was humorously bad. I remember one night on the Dizengoff when we were looking for something to eat, and most places were closed because it was the sabbath. We ended up in a Romanian restaurant that pretty much had cow parts simmering in a stew pot as the menu. And these were not prime parts. I believe I ended up with beef heart as my dinner.

Another meal, in a sea side setting in Jaffa, we went to a seafood restaurant and ordered the standard. Out came fish parts that were breaded and fried, and I recall that the fish were not split lengthwise, but rather split down the middle. So you could get the front or the back of the fish, but not a whole side or filet.

On one visit, there was a nationwide warning that the St. Peter's fish were not safe to eat. On another visit, I recall that my fresh draft Maccabee beer had floating matter in it. And so it seemed to go.

And don't expect gracious service. Rudeness is a national pastime.

That said, I have never eaten a better strawberry or a better grapefruit in my life, and the street filafel and the little ethnic Yemeni or Morrocan hideaways have some seriously good food. Be prepared to know generally what you want to eat as you enter the restaurant, because you'll usually be asked "meat or dairy" as you walk in the door. And without question, the absolute best shwarma I have ever eaten in my life was in East Jerusalem....which may not be accessible to you, but the Palestinians really know how to prepare food.

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Don't take my post out of context. I'm sure things are different than they were a few decades ago!

That said, the ethnic Palestinian, Moroccan and Yemeni cuisines will undoubtedly be your favorites. Remember that Israel is really only a few decades old itself, and much of the cuisine that the settlers brought with them derives from less than interesting foodie destinations like Russia and Eastern Europe. I don't know that a truly "Israeli cuisine" has emerged yet.

And again, if you like fresh fish and fresh citrus, along with really good filafel and shwarma, you'll eat well.

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Israel is great eating country - if you like fresh foods and homey, less-fancy cooking. I been many times, but sadly my last extended visit was a decade ago. So I don't really have any specific recommendations except to go to a shuk like Mahane Yehuda in Jerusalem and eat some of the best produce - hmmm Jaffa oranges, hummus, and pastries. I never really did much fine dining in Israel and still not sure how that seen has evolved. I do have a good recommendation though on where to get more info - check out Delicious Israel, run by an old friend from the DC area, Inbal Baum, who now lives in Israel and puts together eating and foodie tours and classes in Israel - she should be able to help you out:

http://www.deliciousisrael.com/home.html

inbal@deliciousisrael.com

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what? No Intrepid Traveler thread on Israel???

Just bought tickets to Israel for next year. Will be staying with friends who live in Jerusalem (and we will be hitting Tel Aviv as well) so I'm sure they will have good ideas for foodie places...but might as well get some input from the Rockwellians.

any suggestions?

Like Kibbee, my personal experiences are insanely out of date. However, here are a few tips:

  • If a menu item is translated along the lines of "white beef" or "white steak," it is not veal. It is pork. And that's fine, unless you have given your waiter specific instructions about how you want it cooked so it is bloody and pink inside.
  • Schwarma beat the hell out of anything I've had stateside. This includes turkey schwarma.
  • In general, vegetarian dishes are excellent. Falafel bars rock.
  • Be careful about ice cream--make sure you are not getting a non-dairy version! The same goes for whipped cream.
  • Standard advice for tourists is to avoid eating food at open-air markets. Street dust gets over everything and sanitation may not be up to your standards. That being said, Israeli yogurt is pretty good and seems to help fight off foul bowels.
  • If you are a drinker of decaf coffee only, might want to bring an emergency supply. It was hard to find.

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wellll, I just got back from 10 days in Israel. Bottom-line...you can eat very very well in Israel. I have tons of info to add/photos etc. It's going to take several days to enter it all...

We were visiting friends who have lived in Jerusalem for approx. 2 years, so they were well versed in getting around the country. Even though we were based in Jerusalem we actually didn't spend a lot of time there since we were traveling around so much. The country is very small, it only takes about 90 minutes or so to travel the width and heading North/South most places in Central/Northern Israel can be reached within two hours. That said, if you get stuck in traffic, esp. around rush hour, traffic can be a bitch.

Travel Note: Make sure you carry your passport with you, esp. when driving around. Jerusalem is basically surrounded by the West Bank and roads in and out have security check points. The security check points basically look like toll booths along the New Jersey Turnpike...except with armed members of the military. Be polite. Don't be a dumbass. They have automatic weapons. You don't. Otherwise, we didn't experience any security issues. Large sections of the West Bank are controlled by the Israeli military and travel around Israel is - currently - very safe.

Israel is not cheap. Restaurant prices run average to DC and can quickly escalate to high-end DC prices. That said you can also eat relatively cheaply at falafel and hummus joints. I would recommend trying to eat cheaply during the day and save up the shekels for nights out.

Jerusalem Area

Lebanese Food Restraurant (Abu Ghosh) - Lebanese Food Restaurant...that's what the sign says. Located in Abu Ghosh, approx. 15 minutes west of Jerusalem (you will need to drive). Abu Ghosh is considered the Hummus Capitol of Israel. We ate here our first night in country and it was exactly what we needed. Super casual, lots of families with kids, it is basically what we would consider a "mom and pop" restaurant in the U.S. Get hummus, I would suggest getting several different styles, but definitely Hummus and Chickpeas. Amazing falafel. The Labeneh will blow you mind. Lamb Shishlik (kebab) was also excellent.

Rama's Kitchen (Judean hills above Abu Ghosh, you will need very good directions or GPS) - Only open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Rama's Kitchen does farm-to-table that would make Alice Waters weep. The farm starts two feet from the restaurant, chickens roam the property, and the food is excellent. The menu is seasonal. We had: Taboun Bread with Good Things (basically great bread cooked in their Taboun Oven with various dips, olives, chutneys etc.). Tomato Salad with Green Tehini. Shakshukah (more on that later). Chopped Lamb Pastry. Goat Cheese Tart. Pretty much everything we ordered was great and the presentation was amazing. Loved this restaurant. Loved.

French Hill Falafel (Mt. Scopus neighborhood Jerusalem, near Hebrew Univ.) - Basically an open air falafel stand with some plastic lawn furniture. Great falafel. The small, served in a pita, will fill you up for several hours. The large, served in laffa, will fill you up all day!

Abu Shukri (Old City Jerusalem) - The Abu Shukri family is infamous around Israel for hummus. Apparently different branches of the family war over who does it best with competing hummus restaurants. Regardless, the hummus is good. The falafel is delicious. And if you get hungry roaming the Old City, this tiny cafe is the place to go. How do you find it? Locate the Fifth Station of the Cross and turn around. It's directly across the Via Dolorosa.

Machneyuda (Near Mahane Yehuda market, Jerusalem) - Ate at the chef's table, considered one of the toughest reservations to score in town. My friends booked it 45 days in advance. Machneyuda shops daily at the Mahane Yehuda market. Food is seasonal, menu changes weekly. The chef's table is basically an orgy of food and alcohol and a riot of activity. Arak flows free. The chefs break out into song and turn their pots and pans into muscial instruments. Chef is likely to breakout into a drum solo between serving dishes. Opened with amazing selection of crudo. Next up was a mason jar of polenta and mushrooms with truffle oil. Followed by Deconstructed Beef and Lamb Kabob with sweetbreads and hummus/pita. Fourth course was Duo of Risotto - Cauliflower and Mushroom. Branzino "Jackson Pollack" style with seared vegetables, harissa, pesto, pickled lemon, tapenade and buffalo yoghurt. A platter of meat (bone marrow, tenderloin, kabob, lamb shank, lamb stew wrapped in lamb caul fat). A tower of desserts - Ode to Reese Peanut Butter Cup, Ode to Snickers Bar, Semolina Cake with Tahini Ice Cream.. Honestly it was waaaaaay too much food. But it was pretty amazing.

Yudaleh (Near Mahane Yehuda market, Jerusalem) - Machneyuda's sister restaurant across the street. Tapas/wine bar style restaurant which basically consists of a horseshoe-style counter with a stove in the middle. One wall opens to the street. Great lamb/beek kabob over tahini-yougurt sauce, topped with a pile of greens. Good marinated artichokes. Solid fatoush salad. Again the Arak flows freely. I actually prefered this place over Machneyuda...although they are both good restaurants.

Beit Jala sausage - We spent St. Patty's Day at a party at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem. Typical St. Patty's Day nonsense. However, the caterer was from Beit Jala a small Arab-Christian village near Bethlehem, which apparently has a pork sausage making tradition. If you should run across these tiny little sausages, scraf down as many as you can. Delicious.

Tourism around Jerusalem

It's all about the Old City- Western Wall. Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Stations of the Cross - and various religious sites around the city. The Old City is a maze of streets souk style. Virtually every street in the Muslim and Christian Quarters are lined with shops selling just about everything. Consider visiting the Austrian Hospice, you can take the stairs to the roof and get a good panoramic view of the Old City (Muslin Quarter, near the Demascus Gate) There are plenty of cafes and places to eat. Be a tourist, takes lots of photos.

One site to consider is the Western Wall Tunnel, which is basically an archeaological dig under the city along the Western Wall. It takes about an hour for the tour, it's fairly interesting. Basically if you have time to do it, then consider doing it...if not, don't worry about it.

Mahane Yehuda market is several blocks of open street market. Tons of produce, meat, fish, sweets, nuts and dried fruit, olive oil, great cheese shop. If you like street markets (and who doesn't) then worth a wander around.

More to come tomorrow!

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I was not aware of this until my daughter told me--she will be going to Beirut this summer--that if you have travelled to Israel, and it is stamped in your passport, you can not go to pretty much any other country in the Middle East. Not sure about Egypt, which is kind of dicey at the moment anyway, but according to the U.S. State Department website, if you have Israel stamped in your passport, you will be denied entrance to Lebanon.

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Tel Aviv/Jaffa

Our stay in Tel Aviv was much too short. With 14 kilometers of beach, clubs that stay open all night, and plenty of galleries, shopping, and food, Tel Aviv is cosmopolitan and a party town. Just south of Tel Aviv, is the funky bohemian port of Jaffa filled with junk stores to hip boutiques. Jaffa is famed for its flea market. Tel Aviv and Jaffa basically run into each other, but both have a completely different vibe and visiting both is worthwhile.

Beach Cafes – Skip the hotel breakfast buffet and wander down to the beach. The promenade is lined with beach cafes - Grab a table and enjoy. Look for a dish called Jachnun, a flaky rolled bread from Yemen that is served with side dishes for dipping – hard-boiled eggs, a grated tomato dip, peppery shug, hummus, tahini. Jachnun with some fresh squeezed juice and coffee…on the beach…a perfect start to the day.

Juice Bars – All over Tel Aviv, and indeed most of Israel, are little kiosk juice bars serving fresh squeezed juice (orange, lemon, pomegranate, carrot, whatever is in season). Israel has intensive greenhouse agriculture, esp. in the desert areas which provides a year-round growing climate. Hit the juice bars as often as you can!

Molly Bloom’s – They claim to be the first Irish pub in Israel…Sometimes you just need a pint of Guinness and some soccer.

Carmel Market – Carmel Market is one of the primary street markets in Tel Aviv. Roughly 5-6 blocks long, the Northern end of the market sells mostly cheap junk, around the midway point you will start seeing more food. And the Southern end is primarily food stalls. Look for the handful of guys cooking up lamb patty sandwiches, kinda like a lamb miniburger stuffed into a pita with grilled onions, hummus, tahini, and chopped tomato salad...great street food.

Dr. Shakshouka – Located in Jaffa, Dr. Shakshouka specializes in…shakshouka. A Tunisian dish, shakshouka is a thick saucy dish of tomatoes, onions, peppers topped with poached eggs, served with bread or pita. Total stoner food.

Container – Located near the end of the Jaffa waterfront in an old warehouse, Container is a trendy restaurant, bar, music and art space. We had pickled sardines with beets, apples, cucumber and feta (an ok dish), seafood risotto nero (tasty, but the rice didn’t really come out risotto style), drum fillet ala plancha (great piece of fish). Cool space, food was solidly decent.

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I was not aware of this until my daughter told me--she will be going to Beirut this summer--that if you have travelled to Israel, and it is stamped in your passport, you can not go to pretty much any other country in the Middle East. Not sure about Egypt, which is kind of dicey at the moment anyway, but according to the U.S. State Department website, if you have Israel stamped in your passport, you will be denied entrance to Lebanon.

This is indeed true...you can get a second passport from the US state department, one for Israel travel and one for other Middle East travel.

Interesting note - If you land travel from Israel to Jordan you must cross at the Allenby/ King Hussein Bridge crossing. Even though there is a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan, Jordan still does not recognize the annex of the West Bank by Israel as legitimate (at the time of the annex in 1967, Jordan controlled the West Bank). Because of this Jordon refuses to stamp your passport as have entering Jordan via the Allenby Crossing, they instead stamp a strip of paper that is inserted into your passport. So even though I have a Jordanian visa in my passport and spent two days in Jordan, I have no stamps in my passport indicating that I entered and departed the country.

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Northern Israel

Akko (Acre)

Akko is an ancient port town that served as a crusader entry point into the Holy Land. Perhaps not a “must do” while in Israel, but if you are in Northern Israel/Haifa area, then Akko is a pleasant afternoon trip. The old section of town is a maze of meandering streets and souk. The harbor area contains several waterfront cafes – smoke some hookah (Nargila in Israel), drink a beer, and watch the sun set.

Uri Buri – Considered to be one of the best fish/seafood restaurants in Israel. We went with the Chef Tasting: you tell the staff what you like/dislike and they bring out half portion sizes of their top dishes and you tell them when to stop bringing out the food. We blew through 11 dishes and two bottles of wine…for lunch. Some really good stuff including an amuse of crab bisque; salmon sashimi with wasabi sorbet; amberjack ceviche; a stir fried mussel, calamari, shrimp and Israeli couscous dish; crabmeat in a crazy rich butter sauce; St. Peter’s fish with beets.

Galilee/Golan area

The Galilee and Golan Heights area is a major wine producing region of Israel, esp. for a myriad of boutique wineries. The Golan Heights soar over the Galilee Sea, providing awesome panoramic views, warm days, and cool nights. The Golan Heights is another controversial area of annexed Israeli land and the area is still littered with mine fields and blown up military equipment. Don’t stray too far off the beaten path!

Ein Gev – A kibbutz and holiday resort along the eastern shore of the Galilee Sea. The waterfront has a harbor and small fish restaurant. Sit outside along the trellised deck and enjoy lunch. Really good bread; an anti-pasty (their menu needed a good edit!) brought us a plate of various pickled veggies and dips; the kibbutz salad was an excellent plate of fresh veggies, nuts, seeds, and tart lemon/olive oil dressing.

Most of the boutique wineries are really just production sites, as they grow their grapes in other areas of the Golan. Therefore most of the wineries are nothing more than a large warehouse with winemaking equipment.

Chateau Golan – This winery has more of traditional “chateau” winery feel. We had a tour of their production site, including their very cool cellar. Sampled four wines, but nothing really stood out - too much cab and merlot for me. However, considered to be one of the better Israeli wineries.

Pelter - A more bare bones operation located in what looks like a light industrial area of a kibbutz. Really friendly staff. Let us sample a dozen wines. The real discovery of the tour was the incredible goat cheeses and goat yogurt the winery is now producing under the Bara – Lucky Goat Cheese label. Amazing stuff.

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For some reason I couldn't post photos last week, sooo....here are some food porn photos from Israel:

Dinner at Machneyuda

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View Kitchen from the Chef's Table

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Opening selection of raw fish

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Deconstructed kabob with tahini/yogurt

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Platter of meat: Lamb shanks, marrow, tenderloin, lamb stew

French Hill Falafel

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Rama's Kitchen

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Farm to table dining

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Tel Aviv's Carmel Market street food

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Lamb in pita, grilled onions, hummus, tahini, hot peppers

Uri Buri (Akko)

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St. Peter's fish with beets

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Shrimp, artichokes, lemon sauce

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Mussels, calamari, shrimp, couscous

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Scallops, cream/butter, seaweed

Lunch at Ein Gev (Galilee area)

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We were in Jerusalem in January.  All of the food we had generally speaking was quite good, but Mahneyooda was the best meal we had.  Really enjoy the food and the place is jumping with a very good scene and drinks. Highly recommended.

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This trip seemed a whirlwind to me, and I can hardly remember where we ate. Actually, many places were just random Shwarma and Falafel joints, and I don't think I ever bothered to even look at their names. I do recall a couple places, however:

Steakiat Hatzot: We had an excellent meal here, as good as I can recall. We had the Jerusalem mixed grill and an assortment of sides. The mixed grill was delicious and I'd really like to know what assortment of spices they use. The best dish was, surprisingly, the eggplant. It had an almost creamy texture, and a tasty smoky flavor. we were fighting over who got to finish it.


 
Another place was in the First Station complex tho I can;t remember its name (not Adom). Anyway, I had this tasty lamb stew, that had an interesting presentation.
 
Everything else is a blur.
 
Something just came back...It turns out that I'm friends with the head Rabbi at the new Ritz in Herzilya. This is a thing that does not suck; he's a rockstar in that place and it doesn't hurt to dine with rock stars. The things they can do with sauces given they can't mix meat and dairy is amazing. The space is beautiful and looks out over the harbor. The bartender at the rooftop pool makes a refreshing cocktail.  Back to the blur...
 
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Sad to report that the great Rama's Kitchen is temporarily closed due to a fire suffered back in November 2016.  From newspaper reports sounds like it was a brush fire that went out-of-control.  The restaurant was a complete loss except for the Taboun oven.  They have plans to rebuild.  

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Much of Jerusalem shuts down Friday/Saturday, so you might want to hit Jerusalem first and weekend in Tel Aviv.  

Machneyuda (chefs counter if you can snag a reservation) and its sister restaurant across the street Yudaleh (counter wine bar type place) are top choices in Jerusalem. 

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Our most recent trip to Israel was in June. I agree with the recommendation to spend Shabbat in Tel Aviv unless of course you want to have a traditional shomer shabbat experience in Jerusalem, which if you have family to spend time with is very relaxing.

Hotels

We stayed at the Mamilla hotel in June 2017 and January 2014 trips to Israel and very much recommend it. The rooms are relatively large and modern as are the bathrooms. Hotels in Tel Aviv you have two options - big corporate or small boutique. There is nothing in between. I personally NEED to be near the beach. We stayed at a cute place right near the Carmel Market called the Hotel Nordoy. It is new and very cute/chic. 

Restaurants

The food in Israel is actually really excellent. More traif delicacies are available in Tel Aviv than Jerusalem. @the.hungry.tourist on Instagram is Israel-based and his social content is a font of helpful ideas of where to eat and food tourism. On our most recent trip to Israel we had a family wedding in Jerusalem and didn't get a chance to eat more than some street falafel and a quick visit to Machaneh Yehudah. However, we spent a few days on our own in Tel Aviv and can recommend:

Miznon, OCD TLV (its very trendy but it was good), al-Ashi in Yafo (probably our favorite meal of the trip), Hummus Abu Hassan (I hope you like raw onion), Claro, and Mashya. Definitely try both green and red shakshukas at breakfast and watermelon and Bulgarian cheese on the beach.

If you want a good private tour guide, DM me and I'll provide you with a name. I really do recommend having someone take you around. Not for safety, just for context.

 

 

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10 minutes ago, lekkerwijn said:

 

If you want a good private tour guide, DM me and I'll provide you with a name. I really do recommend having someone take you around. Not for safety, just for context.

 

Yes.  While I haven’t been in a while all those I know who have traveled fairly recently had private tours.  The experiences were marvelous

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Bump for some recommendations. I'm headed to Tel Aviv for a work trip next week. It will be my first trip to Israel. I imagine I will have couple of evenings free, so I would appreciate any/all recommendations. Thanks!

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