There are hundreds of Italian restaurants in Israel, from fancy fine dining to the neighborhood pasta joint. The list that follows barely scratches the surface, but it is a quick guide to a few places that serve good food and, by and large, offer good value.
No attempt has been made to rank them: they are listed in alphabetical order. Purely pizzerias have been excluded; although nearly all the restaurants below offer pizza, that menu item was not included in my considerations. On the other hand, there is a bit of geographical diversity, and two kosher establishments.
All the restaurants have English menus, and a wait staff that speaks some English; all also offer some sort of discounted lunch deals, at least on weekdays (Sundays through Thursdays).
AlfredoThis spacious kosher restaurant, nestled on an elevated green patch in the center of the Ofer Business Park in Kiryat Arieh, serves not only the nearby office workers in the hi-tech complex but also the observant community of Petah Tikva (although there is a branch in Rishon LeZion as well). It boasts large picture windows, and an al fresco area overlooking a fountain
Alfredo is open for business seven days a week, starting with breakfast (except Saturday), which is served until 5pm on weekdays and all day on Fridays. Business lunches, served weekdays from 11am to 5pm, starting at a very reasonable NIS 49.
There are no specialty cocktails, although there is a short cocktail list in Hebrew only. A short wine list features house wines—one white one red—by the glass. Imported and domestic beers on tap and in bottles are available, along with the usual soft drinks.
The menu categories include Appetizers (grilled antipasti vegetables and fried finger foods), Soups, Salads, Pasta and Fish, plus specialties from the brick oven, whence emerges a variety of baked sandwiches and quiches in addition to both white and red pizzas.
The six fish dishes comprise baked and fried whole fish, as well as a hearty Fisherman’s Cauldron—St. Peter's fish in a spicy tomato sauce, served with the house focaccia. There is a nice selection of pastas in various shapes and sizes, in choices of cream and tomato sauces.
Alfredo is known for its soups—cream of mushroom or onion—served in bowls fashioned from whole grain bread. A recommended pasta dish is the artichoke ravioli in an excellent pesto cream sauce.
Since the English dessert menu is an abbreviated one, on the business lunch menu only, it is worth asking for the dedicated dessert menu in Hebrew; fortunately, it is illustrated with helpful photos of the many decadent (and large) desserts. There are several options for chocolate lovers, and one that is sure to entertain is the one with “decadent” right in the name: the shell of the chocolate egg melts as the waiter pours hot chocolate sauce over it.
Alfredo. Kosher. Em Hamoshavot 94, Petah Tikva. Tel. (03) 923-0643.
Bindella Osteria and BarBindella, the Israel branch of a prominent Swiss restaurant chain, has long been known as one of Tel Aviv’s poshest Italian restaurants. And it even managed to kick its game up an extra notch last summer, when Chef Yoram Nitzan, of Mul Yam fame, moved in to helm the kitchen.
Outside the kitchen is a handsomely elegant interior with all the trappings of an upscale restaurant: leather-bound menus, impeccable service, and a dedicated sommelier to guide patrons through the extensive wine list, featuring wines primarily from Israel and Italy.
While a Bindella experience can understandably be pricey, the lunch menu offers a starter, main course and a non-alcoholic drink for only NIS 85. And a recent innovation makes an evening outing budget-friendly as well: a bar menu offering a choice of three tapas-sized dishes plus two drinks—wine, beer or a specialty cocktail—for NIS 129 per person.
Regardless of menu, a meal starts with complimentary house breadsticks planted in salt. The skinny sticks are positively addictive, and come in an endless supply.
The categories of the main menu are vegetarian antipasti; fish, meat and seafood appetizers; pastas; and fish, meat, seafood and poultry main courses. There are also daily specials, and a soup of the day, which should never be underestimated.
Recommended dishes at Bindella include the vitello tonnato (the best I’ve encountered in Israel); the four-cheese ravioli with shrimp and fresh tomato in crab stock and brown butter; the Sicilian branzino (Mediterranean sea bass); and the tagliata di manzo—medallions of sirloin steak encrusted in black pepper.
Standouts among the nine tapas on the bar menu include the arancini foie gras and the gnocchi all’amatriciana.
There is a separate dessert menu featuring no fewer than nine tempting dolci, including a rich apricot panna cotta, the exotic Crimson Bora Bora, and the decadent Chocolate Forest.
Bindella is open seven days a week for lunch (12:30pm-4pm, 3:30pm on Fridays) and dinner, from 6pm until the last customer. Business lunches are served every day except Saturday. Valet parking is available.
As we were going to press, it was announced that Bindella is closing its doors. The restaurant will operate until March 31.
Bindella Osteria & Bar. Not kosher. Montefiore St. 27, Tel Aviv. Tel. (03) 650-0071.
CicchettiIn the restaurant’s own words, “Cicchetti is not exactly a restaurant, not exactly a wine bar, but a unique kind of place with its own atmosphere: warm, cheerful and welcoming.” Indeed, this triangular-shaped eatery with a long bar, high tables and a limited number of regular tables has the cozy feel of a neighborhood institution.
The name of the restaurant sums up the menu: Cicchetti means small plates in Italian; and while no dishes are larger than medium-sized, virtually all of them are large enough for two to share.
Cicchetti offers quite a few specialty cocktails, plus twists on classics; a good choice here is the eponymous Bellini. There is a good selection of aperitifs, an international wine list, and domestic and Imported beers on tap and in bottles.
The menu categories are primi (starters), verdure (veggies), pasta, forno (brick oven), crudo (raw fish and braseola), street food, and dolci (desserts). Even though the menu is not large, there are always daily specials to keep the regulars coming back.
The first dish to order at Cicchetti is a no-brainer: the “tasting plate for two,” which comprises assorted grilled vegetables, cheeses, cold cuts, marinated white beans, bruschetta and aioli. Other recommended dishes are the Aspargi, in a Parmesan foam and truffle oil; Carciofi (artichokes) alla romana; and Arancini that are arguably the best in town.
Of the five pastas here, the Linguini Nero is a must for seafood lovers who like a touch of heat: black pasta with shrimp, calamari and mussels in a sauce of white wine and herbs.
Among the four desserts, the limoncello explodes into flavor with the taste of the liqueur.
Cicchetti is probably best enjoyed during happy hour—5:30pm to 7:30pm daily—when everything on the menu is discounted 30 percent.
Cicchetti. Not kosher. Yehuda HaLevi St. 58, Tel Aviv. Tel. (03) 685-3499
CieloCielo, a landmark on the culinary scene in Jerusalem for 25 years, is the quintessential intimate restaurant for a quiet repast or a romantic dinner. The relaxing mood is set by lilting Italian background music, which eventually morphs into pleasant baroque strains.
There are no specialty cocktails, but there is a bar, and a carefully curated wine list with vintages from Israel and Italy. Wines are generally available only by the bottle, but occasionally by the glass. If the homemade limoncello is available, order it for a digestif or aperitif.
Meals at Cielo start with a plate of tomato bruschetta and house focaccia, the latter very different from any other in Israel: more like dinner rolls, these yeasty treats with butter are irresistible.
The menu categories are Appetizers, Salads, Soups, Pasta, Main Courses and Desserts. The main courses comprise veal, beef, chicken and fish/seafood; the veal and beef sections dominate, with six entrées of each. There are daily specials, generally in the first course category, which also includes some pasta options.
In fact, a good way to sample Cielo’s pasta is to order the lasagna and cannelloni combination, offered as an appetizer. When available, other good starter choices are the crab ravioli in butter and lemon sauce, and the Coquilles St. Jacques, which is found all too rarely in the capital.
Five of the six beef dishes on the menu are tournedos, and these generous portions of filet mignon are definitely the stars of Cielo’s menu. Three of these outstanding dishes—and two of the veal entrées—are made with the restaurant’s signature cream sauce. The pink trout with lemon and capers is recommended in the fish category.
Desserts at Cielo continue at the same level of excellence as the courses that preceded it, whether it is the authentic tiramisu, the gelati made in-house and drizzled with a secret wine sauce, or the mascarpone cream version of zuppa inglese.
Cielo is open for lunch and dinner six days a week, and for dinner only on Fridays. Two-course business lunches, served weekdays from 1pm-4pm, start at a reasonable NIS 60.
Cielo. Not kosher. Ben Sira Street 18, Jerusalem. Tel (02) 625-1132
FrancheskaYou will need to use this bizarre spelling of Francesca to locate this restaurant’s website, or even find it using Waze, but don’t let that deter you. With a proven track record of 16 years, crowds of up to 900 people on a Saturday, and 1,500 members in its loyalty club, this spacious beachfront restaurant on the Rishon LeZion boardwalk is one of the most popular in the area.
One of the major draws of the restaurant is something that is quite unusual for an Italian eatery: all meals come with the house ciabatta bread and eight dips/mezze, some of which can be quite addictive. There are even unlimited refills.
The cocktail list—which includes two generously sized specialty cocktails—is rather idiosyncratic: the names are in English, but the descriptions are only in Hebrew. Fortunately, the extensive wine list is bilingual. There are imported and domestic beers on tap and in bottles.
The menu categories include first courses, salads, pizza, pasta, main courses and desserts. All of the dishes, including the seven first courses and three salads, are large enough to share—in the case of the salads, by the whole table.
All pasta dishes are made with fresh sauces from scratch, not ones that have been sitting in pots. The dry pastas are imported from Italy, while the ravioli, tortellini, gnocchi and lasagne are made in-house.
The thin-crust pizzas are baked in a brick oven and come with a choice of nine toppings. In addition, there are five specialty pizzas.
Among the main courses are nine fish and seafood dishes, two with pasta and one in risotto. Sister restaurant Pepe, located right upstairs, specializes in fish and seafood, so the freshness of the catch is assured.
The meat category includes two chicken dishes, one surf-and-turf, and five beef dishes. The owner recommended the lasagne stuffed with a rich veal ragout.
There are seven standard Western desserts, and one new Middle Eastern one not yet on the menu: malabi a la mode with pistachio ice cream and whipped cream.
The restaurant is open seven days a week, including for breakfast. Noteworthy are the business lunches, since they include a main course, drink and all the mezze for prices starting at NIS 66. They also have extended hours: Weekdays from 12:30pm to 6pm, and Fridays until 5pm.
Francheska. Not kosher. HaTayelet, Rishon LeZion. Tel. (053) 944-1354.
Italkiya BapishpishimThe Italian in the Flea Market is characterized by its large al fresco area straddling one of the key corners of Jaffa’s flea market. Fortunately, there is a sizable enclosed area as well, for year-round dining.
There are four cocktails, and an international wine list with a few available by the glass. Domestic beer is available on tap and in bottles.
The menu categories are antipasti and primi (first courses), pizza, pasta and main courses. The eight first courses, plus at least one one daily special, run the gamut of possibilities: raw and cooked appetizers, and salads.
Seven pizzas are listed on the menu, all made with tomato-based sauces (even the sweet potato pizza). There are vegetarian and meat options.
The pasta section list 10 dishes (not including a daily special), with a nice variety of meat, seafood and vegetarian choices. Moreover, the sauces in this category are not just red.
There are only three permanent main courses, two beef and one fish. The chuck roast with polenta is amazing: tender, succulent chuck braised in Marsala wine and espresso, accompanied by a creamy Parmesan polenta.
Other recommended dishes include the hearty panzanella salad; the gamberone al acqua pazza—juicy shrimps in lemon, white wine, olive oil, chili and garlic confit aioli; and the lasagna, with its ideal balance of meat, bechamel and mozzarella.
The recently overhauled dessert menu comprises classics like tiramisu, affogato and panna cotta—although the latter comes with an interesting twist of vanilla and sage. The fruit tart uses seasonal fresh fruit and comes with sour cream instead of the usual mascarpone.
Italkiya Bapishpishim is open seven days a week from noon to midnight. The restaurant serves business lunches Sunday through Thursday, from 12pm-5pm.
Italkiya Bapishpishim. Not kosher. Olei Tziyon 16, Jaffa. Tel. (03) 682-9678
Kofinas, an atmospheric Mediterranean bistro located in a moshav in the Sharon, occupies a restored building that was a bakery in the 1930s. It has been lovingly restored, with a small museum annex, and plenty of seating in natural light (although less al fresco than one might expect in the countryside).
The restaurant opened featuring Mediterranean cuisine with a Balkan influence, but has since been transformed into a predominantly Italian eatery, complete with imported brick oven. It recently revised its menu, but the current English menu has not been updated and is unreliable; hopefully, the new one will be ready by the end of the month.
Kofinas offers two specialty cocktails and a refreshing house red sangria. There is a limited wine list, plus rotating monthly wine specials. Imported and domestic beers are available on tap and in bottles.
The menu categories comprise 12 starters, four salads, six pastas, and eight main courses featuring fish, meat and chicken dishes. By and large, however, the main courses reflect more standard Israeli fare—like chicken liver, pullet and schnitzel—than Italian.
A separate pizza menu lists eight, thin-crust, red and white pizzas—including some rather creative ones, like a white pizza with mozzarella, mushrooms, truffles, mascarpone cheese and chestnuts.
Recommended starters include the Orto mozzarella, a veritable vegetable garden with generous scoops of fresh mozzarella on a red pepper coulis; the crudo (raw) fish, akin to a Mediterranean ceviche; and leek fritters—crunchy balls of mashed leek with cheese. The Filet Francesca—nicely seasoned cubes of prime quality steak—is an excellent main dish.
There is no dessert menu in English, but the Kofinas Boom—a layer of flourless chocolate cake topped with vanilla mousse, macarons and cherries—and the nutella calzone are house favorites. The cheesecake is bakery quality.
Kofinas is open seven days a week from 9am and serves breakfast, business lunches and dinner, or just coffee.
Kofinas. Not kosher. HaShibolim St. 3, Moshav Zur Moshe, Tel. (09) 772-2672
With its red checkered tablecloths, Piazza has the look and feel of a neighborhood eatery, even though it is right on the main drag of Dizengoff. All the walls are glass and there is a lot of greenery, so even the inside feels like a courtyard; the glass panels are opened up in summer.
There are three specialty cocktails, and an International wine list, with most wines available also by the glass. Imported beers are available on tap and in bottles.
The menu has three separate categories for starters, antipasti and salads, while other categories are pizza, pasta and main courses. The menu also features symbols for vegan, spicy, and “can be made vegan.”
The menu includes two full pages of pastas (plus daily specials), with a nice variety of cream and tomato-based sauces. There also nine pizzas, one of which is white. Both the pastas and pizzas may be ordered made with whole grain spelt dough (which is not, however, gluten-free).
The truffle pizzetta—one of Piazza’s signature dishes—is actually an antipasto, and definitely recommended, as are the grilled artichokes in the same category, and the fettuccine with shrimps and artichokes among the pastas.
Chicken dominates the main courses, but there is also beef, fish and seafood. The tagliata—slices of sirloin steak served on a sizzling pan—is a dish that will please any meat lover. (Tip: The meat keeps on cooking on the hot skillet, so take off right away.)
In addition to the usual desserts (tiramisu, crême brûlée), there is a mascarpone and nutella pizza that is large enough for four people to share, and superlative cheese cake large enough for two.
Piazza is open seven days a week from noon until midnight, although the restaurant takes a break between 5pm and 6pm on Fridays and Saturdays. The business lunch deal is 10 percent off the entire bill on weekdays from 12pm to 5pm.
Piazza. Not kosher. Dizengoff St. 99, Tel Aviv. Tel. (03) 527-4488.
ShineShine, aka Cafe Shine, at the corner of Frishman and Shlomo Hamelekh Streets (just a block off of Dizengoff)—began its life as a café, and still has the atmosphere of a neighborhood café. Four years ago, after it had been operating for a decade, the restaurant installed a brick over and switched to Italian cuisine, while retaining a good deal of its traditional menu—and also ramping up its vegan options.
A good deal of the menu is devoted to breakfast, which is served virtually all day (until 5pm). The rest of the menu categories are starters, salads, sandwiches, main courses and desserts, with a multitude of vegan options throughout the menu.
There are three specialty cocktails and a house white sangria. The limited wine list features predominantly imported wines, with all but one available by the glass. Imported and domestic beers are available on tap and in bottles. During happy hour, weekdays from 5pm-7:30pm, all alcoholic drinks are 50 percent off—including wine and beer—while cocktails are 25 percent off.
The Italian influences are evident in every category: there is a fresh caprese salad, and sandwiches can be ordered on focaccia. Daily specials are often baked in the brick oven—even seafood and fish, which are come out moist and perfectly cooked.
Shine’s sister restaurant is HaPizza, and there are more than a dozen pizzas on offer, with a choice of plenty of additional toppings. The menu advises that “neither our pizzas nor the tomato sauce are made with oil, sugar, or any other weird stuff.”
All the pastas are homemade, and they comprise 10 of the 15 main courses. A variety of sauces come with the six types of pasta; no cream sauce has a place on the permanent menu, although it may appear as a daily special.
Desserts include the Italian classics tiramisu and affogato, but Nitzan’s cheesecake is a specialty of the house.
Shine is open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with the exception of Fridays, when the restaurant closes at 5pm. Lunch deals are offered on weekdays from noon until 5pm: add NIS 14 to the price of a main course and receive a drink and a starter or salad.
Shine. Not kosher. Shlomo Hamelekh St. 38, Tel Aviv. Tel. (053) 938-1400.
SiloThis spacious restaurant in the Peres Park complex in Holon specializes in what it calls “Meditaliano” cuisine. Shaped like a silo, the restaurant boasts a pleasant al fresco seating area on a wooden deck overlooking the artificial river of a water park.
The full bar at Silo offers eight specialty cocktails, including two non alcoholic, plus a hot sangria cocktail. Imported and domestic beers on tap or in bottles, as well as alcoholic cider, are served in frosted mason jar glasses with handles.
Silo actually has four separate menus: a breakfast/brunch menu, a lunch menu, an evening menu and a similar Saturday menu. Only the evening and Saturday menus are in English, but the brunch is a buffet, and all the dishes on the lunch menu appear on the evening menu as well. There are sufficient vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, as well as a kids’ menu.
The outstanding feature of the lunch menu is the spread of 13 mezze that is complimentary with every meal order seconds. Noteworthy are the grilled vegetables, stuffed mushrooms, eggplant-tehina mousse, and a creamy polenta with broccoli—and refills are allowed!
Besides pizza, which is baked here in a wood oven, the lunch menu categories are From the Stovetop (mostly meat dishes) and From the Wood Oven (mainly chicken and fish), with three pasta dishes falling in the former category, and one—lasagna—in the latter.
The regular evening menu features nine appetizers, six pizzas (using Silo’s secret flour mixture), six pastas, three fish/seafood dishes, one chicken and one beef main course. The fish emerged from the wood oven moist and flavorful on the inside with nicely crisped skin.
Desserts here are large and tempting, featuring Italian (tiramisu and mascarpone cream with fruit) and international classics (cheesecake, chocolate nemesis), but the truly original is the amazing basbousa with baked apple, anglaise sauce, Indian spices and pistachio ice cream.
Silo is open seven days a week, serving its breakfast buffet until noon, lunch until 5pm, and dinner until midnight. The weekday business lunch, served 12:30pm-4:30pm, comes with focaccia, the salads, a main course and a glass of natural juice all for the price of the main course alone.
Silo. Not kosher. Shderot Yerushalayim 210, Holon. Tel. (03) 573-3315
TitoThis shopping mall restaurant is the latest concept from the Benedict chain: an Italian eatery inspired by the family-style restaurants made popular by Italian immigrants to the USA. The idea is that tables order large dishes meant to be shared by 2-8 diners, much as families do in their homes.
Even the specialty cocktails here are meant to be shared—by four persons—although they may be ordered individually as well. The wine list consists of two house wines, one white and one red, both imported from Italy and sold by the glass. Imported beers are available on tap and in bottles.
Tito’s menu categories are starters, salads, pizzette (three small pizzas), pasta, and one meat and one chicken main course, as well as three fish/seafood dishes. The pasta is made fresh daily from Italian flour and egg yolks, although egg-free and gluten-free pastas are available upon request. There are nine pasta dishes in the pasta category, one in the appetizer category (cannelloni della casa); and a special pasta just for kids.
Recommended starters include the testa parmigiana—a head of cauliflower, coated in breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese, served with a truffle-bechamel sauce; a classic caprese salad with fresh mozzarella cheese; and the calamari—a mound of fried squid rings served with a mint aioli sauce.
Of the three salads in that category, the Caesar salad—hearts of romaine, shredded chicken, medium-boiled egg, shaved Parmesan and seasoned croutons—is authentic and satisfying.
The pastas include three vegetarian options, and come in either cream or tomato-based sauces. Good choices are the pappardelle con funghi—ribbons of pasta with large mushrooms in crême fraîche and porcini stock; and the house cannelloni—a long strudel of thin pasta filled with shredded beef in a cream and Parmesan sauce.
Good choices of main courses would be the Osso Buco Milanese—1.25 kilo of veal shank on the bone served with a saffron-Parmesan risotto, and the Seafood Arancini—fried risotto balls served on bed of spinach with shrimp and calamari in a butter and white wine sauce.
Desserts come only as whole cakes or trays that would serve 6-8 people. A no-brainer for first-time visitors is the Tito Mix—a sampling of four layer cakes: lemon meringue, chocolate-orange cream, raspberry cream and red velvet, a rare treat in Israel.
Tito is open seven days a week, from noon until 11pm. Come for lunch on weekdays between 12pm-5pm, and your bill is subject to a 15 percent discount. Tito also offers take-away and delivery service.
Tito. Not kosher, Azrieli Mall, Derekh Rabin 53, Givatayim. Tel. (03) 631-7080
UnoLocated in a prestigious office building across from the Golda Arts Complex (the Opera House and Tel Aviv Museum), Uno is one of the premium kosher Italian restaurants in the city. It boasts a long bar, as well as indoor and outdoor seating.
Uno offers six specialty cocktails, including one that is more suitable as a dessert drink. There is a limited wine list, but ten wines are available by the glass. Imported and domestic beers are available on tap and in bottles.
The menu categories are Raw Fish, Salads, Primi (first courses), Pasta and Specials, Pizza, Fish (as a main course) and one Soup of the Day. There are eight starters, one of which is the house focaccia with dips of mild tomato salsa in olive oil and eggplant mousse. An interesting appetizer is the Malfatti (also misspelled as malfetti)—chewy spinach and ricotta dumplings in a tomato cream and Parmesan sauce.
There are three dishes in the raw fish category, two of which rotate: the ceviche, made from different fish, depending on the catch of the day, and salmon, which can be marinated in different ways. The salmon in a spicy citrus caramel marinade with green onion, cucumber and peanuts hints at an Asian influence.
There are five salads with bountiful ingredients, each large enough to share. The Endive salad with romaine lettuce, arugula, red onion, fresh persimmon, hazelnut and blue cheese in a red wine vinegar dressing represents a nice interplay of flavors and textures.
There are nine pastas and one polenta dish is in the Pasta and Specials category, plus one pasta (ravioli) in the Appetizers category. Fans of blue cheese will appreciate the Strozzapreti in a creamy sauce of butter, blue cheese and Parmesan.
Uno offers five specialty pizzas, all made with a tomato sauce. There is also a choice of three additional toppings.
There are seven desserts, including the standard tiramisu. The Mascarpone cream in a strawberry sauce with berries, pistachio ice cream and streusel is recommended.
Uno is open Monday-Thursday from 11:30am until 11:45pm, and Saturday nights after Shabbat ends. Business lunches (served weekdays from noon until 5pm), comprise an appetizer, focaccia, main course, and a soft drink, starting at NIS 59. Closed Fridays for private events.
Uno. Kosher. Weizmann Street 2, Tel Aviv. Tel. (03) 693-2005.