Jacklyn Rome, Entrepreneurial Consultant
“Tel Aviv is the total flipside of Jerusalem, a modern Sin City on the sea rather than an ancient Holy City on a hill. Hedonism is the one religion that unites its inhabitants. There are more bars than synagogues, God is a DJ, and everyone’s body is a temple.” – Lonely Planet, Tel Aviv ranked #3 in top cities to visit in 2011
Take your stereotypes of life in the Middle East or of Tel Aviv as being situated in a religious country and throw them out the window. Tel Aviv is a ultra-liberal and vibrant modern metropolis situated along 14km of sandy Mediterranean beaches. The true spirit of this outdoor city is found not through exploring cultural or historical monuments, but by spreading your towel out on the beach or pulling up a chair in one of Tel Aviv’s several cafes. From May to early October, you’ll find the beaches along Tel Aviv’s coastline packed with young beautiful people, hear the incessant hum of balls flying through the air as the Israelis play “matkot” or paddleball along the shore, and see tourists and locals alike enjoying swimming in the warm Mediterranean water. Even after the sun has set, the beaches transform into nighttime cafes where you can sit and listen to the waves crashing while enjoying locally grown watermelon served with feta cheese. While the beaches are the most popular meeting point during the summer months, Tel Aviv’s cafes serve as a local hangout for Israelis year-round. The cafes are filled to the brim from dusk until dawn with patrons lingering over a meal, talking business, creating the next big start-up, or catching up on gossip with their “chevre” or crew.
The Israeli Breakfast
One of the quintessential experiences in Israel is indulging a traditional Israeli breakfast. An Israeli breakfast is most often served with a “café hafooch” or a latte, juice, eggs, freshly baked breads, a variety of cheeses, tahini, and a finely chopped vegetable salad. The term breakfast is a misnomer for this feast, which will likely keep you full until dinner. While living in Tel Aviv I spent time in search of the perfect Israeli breakfast, and settled on the following recommendations:
Benedict – A restaurant that specializes in breakfast and is open 24 hours a day. Enjoy everything from the classic eggs benedict to the Israeli specialty shakshuka, three fried eggs served in a pan of spicy tomato sauce.
Tazza d’Oro – An incredible café in the old Neve Tzedek region of the city, which is lined with beautiful boutiques and trendy restaurants. Breakfast includes an Egyptian dish of hummus served with a hard boiled egg, a mushroom omelet drizzled with truffle oil, or a healthy breakfast served with egg whites and a surprisingly delicious root salad of celery, carrots, beets, and turnips.
Brasserie – a French bistro located in the heart of the city at the Rabin Square, which serves the closest thing to a New York brunch you can find in Israel. The Brasserie serves wonderful pastries and elaborate breakfasts accompanied with Peach Breezers, Bloody Marys, and their own original alcoholic concoctions. It is also a great place to enjoy lunch or dinner while watching people stroll through the square. Reservations, particularly for brunch or dinner, are highly recommended.
Fun in the Sun
While Tel Aviv does not offer the same rich architecture, monuments, or museums as its European counterpart cities, what it lacks in cultural heritage sites, it makes up for in cafes, cuisine, and nightlife. The city has the world’s largest concentration of Bauhaus buildings, with over 4,000 structures dating from the period of the 1930’s to 1950’s. As a result, it has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The following are my recommendations for things to do during the day while in Tel Aviv.
- Go for a walk on the Tayelet, or boardwalk, a path along the beach with a beautiful view of the port of Jaffa. The Tayelet’s wide sidewalks with swirling stone patterns are often filled with joggers and dog-walkers. Begin walking in the late afternoon and catch the sunset as you stroll.
- Wander through Neve Tzedek, the most European-looking section of Tel Aviv and one of the oldest, with recently renovated private homes, several upscale boutiques, and cafes lining the major streets.
- Walk along Rotschild Boulevard, known to be the most beautiful street in Tel Aviv. Rotschild has a pedestrian walkway where you can take in older gentlemen playing backgammon, grab a coffee at one of the stands lining the street, or look out at the packed restaurants and cafes.
- Check out Sheinkin street, filled with both upscale and vintage clothing stores, good restaurants, and the who’s who of young Israeli society.
-Blend in with the crowd at Shuk HaCarmel, the bustling food bazaar that sells everything from souvenirs to toys, fresh vegetables, spices, and fruits. Don’t be put off by the screaming vendors, it is simply part of the local charm.
- Stroll through the old port of Jaffa, the predominantly Arab district at the south of Tel Aviv, where you can enjoy views of the rest of the city or walk through Shuk HaPishpishim, the local flea market. While Israelis often enjoy debating where you can find the best hummus in Tel Aviv, the popular majority has settled on Abu Hassan in Jaffa. Don’t expect a calm sit-down experience, as Abu Hassan usually has long lines and the waiters will slam down large dishes of hummus in front of you, expecting you to scarf down the hummus as part of a virtual assembly line of patrons. The menu consists of only two types of hummus, of which I recommend the Mesabacha.
-See the city on two wheels. Tel Aviv has recently installed rent-a-bike stands called Tel-O-Fun throughout the city, which are a very convenient way to blend in the locals and cover more ground while exploring the city.
In recent years the Israeli culinary industry has exploded, now offering a wide variety of cuisines from Middle Eastern inspired tapas to gourmet French cuisine. While there are several more amazing restaurants than could be included on this list, these are some of my favorites.
HaSalon (Ultra High End)– Celebrity chef Eyal Shani’s exclusive restaurant (open only two days a week) seeks to resemble a living room. The restaurant serves the most exquisite gourmet cuisine with a special emphasis on fresh vegetables, meats, and fish with a Middle Eastern twist. The ambience is unparalleled as you watch the chefs work in their open kitchen, pound carpaccio on your table with a rock, and even dance on the tables to music provided by their in-house DJ.
Messa (Ultra High End)– Situated on Rehov Ha’arbaa, Messa is well known as one of Israel’s finest gourmet restaurants serving Nouvelle French cuisine. The restaurant’s beautiful stark white décor, long flowing drapes, and marble floors set the stage for artfully crafted dishes and extensive wine list. While the menu changes often, prepare to enjoy dishes such as truffle ravioli with lemon cream and olives, caramelized foie gras with tahini paste and date honey, or seafood couscous in crab and lemon thyme broth. If you prefer a more casual yet trendy atmosphere, you can also check out at Messa’s sleek black-on-black bar next door.
Herbert Samuel (High End)– One of the newer high-end restaurants in Israel situated in the southern portion of the city overlooking the ocean. The menu offers a variety of tapas-sized Mediterranean dishes including vegetables, fish, meats, and pastas and the wine list includes both handpicked domestic and international wines. Don’t miss some of their signature desserts such as the churros dipped in hot chocolate.
Orna and Ella (Upscale)– Situated on the trendy Shenkin Street, Orna and Ella provides a cozy home-style atmosphere with simple décor and good quality food. The restaurant is particularly well known for their sweet potato pancake appetizer served with sour cream and chives. Other recommended dishes include the chopped salad, the black bean soup, and chicken curry served over a bed of rice.
Café Noir (Upscale)– Café Noir is well known for its signature dish, lightly breaded and fried chicken, pork, or veal schnitzel served with a heap of mashed potatoes or French fries. This dish has become a classic favorite for Israelis young and old and originates in the Germanic countries that several Jews emigrated from. The bistro also serves a variety of other dishes including lamb kebabs, hamburgers, steaks, and salads.
Haj Kahil (Local Fare)– For a taste of classic Middle Eastern fare head to Haj Kahil, an upscale Arab restaurant situated right underneath the famous clock tower in Jaffa. Enjoy a plethora of local salads and dishes such as tabbouleh, skewered meats, taboon-baked flatbreads, and kanafeh (sweetened noodles and goat cheese with syrup) for dessert.
La Shuk (Local Fare)– La shuk is one of the several market-based restaurants that has recently sprung up around Israel, where all the items on the menu are based on freshly sourced market produce. The restaurant is in a great location, right underneath Dizingoff square, and offers dishes such as Israeli salad, fried cauliflower drizzled with tahini, and tabbouleh salad with shrimp in a colorful atmosphere. If your trip to Israel includes Jerusalem, make sure to go the Machne Yehuda, the market-based restaurant that inspired La Shuk – it is truly one of the finest dining experiences in the country.
And the party is just beginning…
Tel Aviv is the party capital of the Middle East, offering a bustling and diverse nightlife. Israeli culture seizes living life the to the fullest, which includes partying to the wee hours of the morning. Whether neighborhood bars or enormous dance clubs are your style, Tel Aviv’s varied options offer something for everyone. If you are there during the summer months, go to the port of Tel Aviv, known as “the Namal” to one of the oceanside dance clubs packed with locals and tourists, where you can party until sunrise while listening to the waves crash underneath your feet.
If bars are more your style, check out HaMaoz, one of the most popular bars in Tel Aviv, packed from the afternoon until night and designed to look like someone’s home, complete with a shower and bathroom reading material. A similar bar with a homey concept and outdoor patio is HaShachen, towards the northern part of the city. The Dizzy Frishdon is another popular spot in a great location that has more of a Western atmosphere. All of these bars are filled with young Israelis meeting for a beer or scoping out the local pick-up scene. If you are looking for a more relaxed evening, head to Par Derriere, a slightly hidden French wine bar behind a red door on King George Street. Once you get past the grungy entrance you’ll enter a quiet and romantic candlelit lounge under a canopy of trees.