It was recently pointed out to me that I probably know Tel Aviv better than I know my current home city – which made me think that a highlights post could be useful to others who are visiting this interesting and dynamic city for the first time or others just looking for a few new spots to try on an upcoming visit.
There are plenty of reasons to visit Tel Aviv. The beach, the people, the ever developing and changing food culture, Israeli wines, the Bauhaus architecture, the weather, and of course the history.
But maybe not the politics. I will leave it with the fact that I believe that you have to visit the place to better understand. The lens through which the world sees Israel portrayed can only be interpreted and then commented on once you have seen it yourself.
So – what to do, where to sleep, eat and drink in Tel Aviv?
I like to stay within walking distance of the sea. The beachfront is impressive and offers miles/km of walking, running, biking, scooting, swimming, surfing, outdoor gym, volleyball, kadima, people watching, restaurant, bar options and of course sand (it’s good beach sand, not that rocky stuff you get elsewhere on the Mediterranean). The beach front promenade is being renovated (finishing later 2018) and is a great investment made by the city
I tend to avoid the larger hotels... I know some that like the reliability of the Hilton, the David Intercontinental, the Sheraton, etc - but for me they feel like any other hotel in the world and my preference is always for the smaller, quirkier, unique hotels that better reflect where they are.
Mendeli Street Hotel – boutique-y and the rooms are on the small side but super comfortable and they have possibly the best breakfast in Tel Aviv courtesy of Mashya (see restaurants below)
Market House Hotel – boutique hotel in Old Jaffa next to the market… flea market by day, hub for dining, drinking and socializing at night. Try to get one of the rooms with a balcony. Glass floor panels in the lobby show old Jaffa ruins discovered during renovation.
The Setai – right on the ‘corner’ of the Old Port in Jaffa. Was under construction for years and is now open. It looks great from the outside and website and the location is excellent. Will try to stay there at some point.
Brown Hotels – I have not stayed in them but walk past them, some are in good locations and look like solid options from the outside/lobby.
Mediterranean / Middle Eastern?: it is a difficult and catch all category to assign… let’s just call it Israeli Cuisine:
Pua - a bit of a clunky website but don’t be put off by it and go. Ask for a table outside (one side of the street is smoking, the other is non but it does not really matter). The salads are good, and don’t be discouraged by the menu item called ‘Meat Sandwich’ – it is excellent; as are the dumplings and the fish kebab.
La Shuk - terrible website. Great food. Dizengoff Square is under construction so sit inside/at the bar.
Mashya is one of Tel Aviv’s top rated restaurants and is busy almost every night of the week. It is innovative Israeli cuisine and uses local and seasonal ingredients. A bit spendy, but super tasty - it is in the Mendeli Street Hotel so can feel a bit redundant if you are staying there.
Container - in the Old Jaffa Port. Go here during the day, sit outside after you have been trekking around all over the city and have a refreshing beverage and snack. Excellent view of the water and equally excellent people watching.
Night Kitchen - reminds me a lot of La Shuk (above) but is perhaps a notch or two 'trendier' reflected in both its decor and the people that visit it. This could be because of the location as well... who knows - it is a good, fun restaurant - another 'multiple dishes to share' concept.
Dr Shakshuka - I like this place because of the logo, which is also a near life size stand up sign on the street and when I walked in – there he was in real life! Use google for other reviews in English / your language.
Hashomer 1 - this is kind of a street food stand off of the HaCarmel Market - but if I am going to recommend one street food stand - this is it. I get the chicken in a roll thing and I think you should too... maybe with a side of the eggplant and a local beer (Goldstar does not count as local by the way)
Barvazi Urban Sandwich - get the Mac & Cheese with meat (photo above). I would have gone back the next day for another one but schedule changes intervened! Again – google it for directions and whatnot. Their insta is worth the link and definitely try some of the other sandwiches too...they are always inventing new ones.
Herzl 16 - come to see the shell of the first elevator that was ever installed in Tel Aviv (maybe Israel?) and stay for the coffee and egg sandwich (I have not eaten anything else there but apparently its good too)
Dallal: it’s a little expensive but I keep going back here. It is in Neve Tsedek, and like visiting someone’s house for dinner (where everyone sits at separate tables and keeps to themselves). Decent local wine selection, terrible local beer selection.
Popina: also in Neve Tsedek (at the top end) the concept here is innovative sharing plates. They are all good, go with their recommendations on the night.
North Abraxas – no plates! Lot's of people at the front and you can't tell who works there! Different dishes all the time! Eyal Shani is maybe the most well known chef from Israel in recent years. Also the home of the roasted/blow torched cauliflower global trend (see Instagram and this article)
Port Said - another Eyal Shani restaurant tucked away off of Allenby Street. Good fresh food, good environment.
Fish Restaurants: It’s not called seafood here… and of course, being on the Sea, you have to go to a fish restaurant…
Barbounia: You pick out the fish you want to eat from a line-up, then sit and eat all of the fun salads and dips and pickled stuff (they bring you something like 12 little dishes) while they cook it.
Manta Ray: An institution in Tel Aviv. Everyone goes to Manta Ray once. Usually on an expense account. The location is everything. It is literally on the beach. It’s expensive, but go at sunset on a nice day and you will not care. The food is very good too.
I know – it took this long to post hummus spots in Tel Aviv!? My top 3 are as follows, and apparently great hummus does not equal great website:
Mashawsha – my go to hummus place. Apparently it is a ‘lighter style’ of hummus from the north which is why it is ok to have it for dinner. (I have been told that hummus is too heavy and therefore is only a morning or afternoon meal. I also do not adhere to this advice). I get the hummus and a small Israeli salad which looks like:
Abu Hasan – the oldest, the most often top rated in Israel, and maybe the most authentic. Get there early-ish as there can be lines, and they close up shop when they run out of hummus for the day (I know from a long, hungry walk back to my hotel that they are not open at night).
Magen David - there is a lot of misinformation out there on this place – it was never a synagogue...it is just a design choice. It does have good hummus and is in the ha’Carmel market so a great option if you are in the area there. Again only open in the kind of 11am to 3pm-ish range.
Hakosem - There is really only one falafel (and shawarma) place for me (they have hummus too… and other stuff) I get the ½ falafel pita and a ½ shawarma pita ad then roll back to my hotel feeling proud of myself. It’s great. I go every time I am in TLV.
Other solid options are Falafel Gina: this is all in Hebrew so good luck, but they have three locations and then Shemesh Shawarma. Not in Tel Aviv (it is in Ramat Gan) and currently in the middle of some pretty terrible construction for the light rail outside… but if you are nearby – you owe it to yourself. I cannot find a decent website for it at all so here are some images
Yes, burgers. A huge (and competitive) burger scene popped up in TLV in recent years. My best: Vitrina. The burger is great and the way the fries are done is the differentiator (half regular, half sweet potato with lemon zest). That link is also a good site, and has their top Tel Aviv burger ranking spot-on....
Markets: I’m picking two… one authentic and one kind of a concept like you find in Madrid (a renovated space that is all indoors and is a destination to eat, browse local foodie stuff and not haggle).
Carmel or Ha’Carmel: full on market experience but now cleaned up and has trendy restaurants and a brewery on the small side streets that spur off. It is also next to Nahalat Binyamin crafts market on Tuesday and Friday
Sarona Market: the whole area used to be terrible and now Sarona Market is at the hub of a reinvented area that is totally worth a visit… it is just kind of on the opposite end of the spectrum from Ha’Carmel!
These days it is rare to find something that you can bring back that is not already sold by Amazon… Go to one of Zielinski and Rozen shops (Jaffa Flea Market and Dizengoff Square are most convenient) and bring back body wash, room spray, scent (the perfume/cologne is unisex) and maybe a candle.
The nightlife scene in Tel Aviv changes often and while it is universally known for being great, it is fickle… so check the google or these links:
Snack: If you see Paletas on your travels - stop and try out some of the different unique flavors... I'm partial to the Matcha, Pistachio, and Mahlabi. They are not popsicles... much better.
and the juice bars... choose a combo... pomegranate/carrot? pineapple/banana... etc. The juice stands seem to be on every other corner
If you are thinking of exploring further - here is a look at a trip to Jerusalem and the Negev desert area in the south - it was an amazing experience. Get out and see it for yourself.
By the way – the tap water is fine to drink. Enjoy!