At a time when even chefs are being called up for military reserve duty, it is no surprise that our annual roundup of top restaurants that opened in the past year has been interrupted by the war, which continues to take its toll on Israel’s culinary scene.
In fact, two prominent victims of the ongoing hostilities are the restaurants that were featured here in Part 1: lamentably, both Flame and Artel Fornal are currently closed (although the former is expected to resume operations soon).
Other restaurants suffered similar fates, while some had to close briefly but subsequently managed to reopen. Most closed because business was falling off and the country was in no mood to carry on as usual, while some were forced to shutter their doors because of personnel shortages caused by workers being called up for reserve duty. In fact, one chef featured below, Gil Dahan, was called up during the first week of the war, and is expected to have to return to active service in the near future.
Remarkably, meanwhile, there were even restaurants that opened their doors for the first time even after October 7. One of the purposes of this article is to salute the indomitable spirit and resilience of these culinary entrepreneurs, and the homefront slowly begins to regain some sense of normalcy. As the intensity of the fighting, along with the threats of rocket attacks, decreases, it is also important for the country’s economy to regain its footing, on its way to recovery.
What follows, therefore, is a list and descriptions of notable restaurants that either opened in 2023 or reinvented themselves in some way. Space constraints limit me from highlighting more than 10 restaurants, as well as from including detailed reviews. There are more than this number that deserve recognition, and certainly more outside of Tel Aviv and the center that we were unable to get to.
Our list comprises only full-service restaurants that serve dinners (and for the most part, value lunches as well) plus alcoholic beverages – wine, beer and cocktails. There are also representatives of different ethnic variations, plus two restaurants that are certified kosher. Most – but not all – offer adequate vegan and/or vegetarian options, as well as gluten-free dishes.
Even though most of the restaurants are not kosher, only one serves pork. Several offer worthwhile happy hours on weekday afternoons, with significant discounts on drinks and food.
The menus are all bilingual, and the wait staff can be relied on to speak English. Most, but not all, offer choices of indoor and/or al fresco seating, as well as table and/or bar seating; it is advisable to indicate a preference when making reservations.
Finally, as usual, each restaurant’s recommended dishes are listed in the order of their appearance in the menu section. Nor are the restaurants rated; rather, they are simply listed in alphabetical order.
Cena Tel Aviv
This formerly southern Italian restaurant has been turned into a French-style bistro by talented Chef Gil Dayan, formerly of Weiss, which was one of our top restaurants of 2021 and is now closed. Cena, whose Italian (and now kosher) incarnation has now been relocated to Eilat, is part of the OTH Group of restaurants and bars located in Brown Hotels throughout the country.
The menu comprises four sections: Starters, Vegetable (including salads), Sea (fish and seafood) and Meat. There is also a sizable separate specials menu, which varies nightly. The separate Dessert menu features delectable sweets by pastry chef Michal Goldberger.
Recommended: The house breads with apricot brandy butter; trout confit bruschetta, yellowtail sashimi, scallops with peas in shrimp stock; lemon tart, Irish cream zabaglione.
Cena @ The Theodor Brown. Not kosher. 10 Herzl St., Tel Aviv. Tel. (03) 717-2600.
Master Chef winner Naifa Mulla is the talent in the kitchen of this eponymous restaurant in a coveted location next to the Suzanne Dallal Center in Neve Tzedek. Her modern interpretations of Shams cuisine (native to the Syrian-Palestinian Levant) are truly distinctive. The restaurant’s soundtrack plays pleasant contemporary Arabic music.
The menu comprises four sections: Pastry (savory creations), Vegetables, Fish (no seafood) and Land (all meat, mostly lamb). There are limited vegan/vegetarian and adequate gluten-free options. The separate dessert menu is also rooted in Middle Eastern traditions.
Recommended: Zaatar fetayer, mussakhan cigar, musaghanat; fish tartar, sea fish sashimi; roasted cabbage skewer, vegetable siniyeh; malfouf; Beirut nights, labane panna cotta
Naifa. Not kosher. 4 Yehieli St 4, Tel Aviv. Tel. (077) 938-6487.
This casual wine bar in an atmospheric quarter of Jaffa has recently changed chefs and revised its menu, including a popular weekend brunch. While Par Derrière clearly retains its emphasis on wine degustation, with private rooms for tastings, it also appeals to a wider range of clientele: brunch patrons are known to encompass even families with small children.
The regular menu comprises five sections, three of which are untitled but evidently appear to be in the order of sizes of the dishes contained therein, corresponding to appetizers, intermediate and main courses; the menu categories are rounded out by Side Dishes and Desserts. At Friday and Saturday brunch, it is possible to order from the regular menu as well as four dishes from the brunch menu, which shares its one page with the children’s menu.
Recommended: The house sourdough bread with herb butter; pickled fish in labaneh, baked beets with Gorgonzola and pistachios, beef tartare with romesco sauce; winter vegetable salad with fish confit; chocolate mousse with zaatar and a ginger cookie.
Par Derrière. Not kosher. 7 Bat Ami St., Jaffa. Tel. (03) 629-2111.
Pop & Pope
Acclaimed Chef Shahar Shabtay, fresh off his stint as executive chef of El Al Airlines, recently added a sumptuous brunch menu to the repertoire of his upscale and extremely stylish restaurant Pop & Pope. Situated on the 14th floor of a skyscraper, the premises offer stunning views of the area of metropolitan Tel Aviv and beyond.
The new brunch is highly reminiscent of the one served previously in Shabtay’s late, lamented Asian restaurant Nithan Thai. The fixed-price meal comprises a lavish spread of nearly a dozen courses brought to the table for sharing, along with a wooden tray laden with breads, rolls and burekas, complete with dips, plus choices of one main course. For those who do not want the gluttony to end, there are four desserts created by the restaurant’s pastry chef, Ofer Ben David.
Recommended: We honestly didn’t find a single dish among the splendid table spread that disappointed us, but we most enjoyed the tuna truffle salad, beef tartare with fried cabbage, beets with goat cheese and Mekong salad; dashi cream shrimp (main course); crème fraiche cheesecake (dessert).
Pop & Pope. Not kosher. 28 HaArba'a St., Tel Aviv. Tel. (03) 759-5000.
Rothschild 48 Brasserie
The R2M Hospitality Group belonging to, and run by, celebrity restaurateur Ruti Broudo, underwent quite a few changes in 2023. In addition to the original Brasserie, the iconic restaurant CoffeeBar shuttered its doors; the latter now operates as CoffeeBar Express, on the basis of take-away and delivery only, while the former was transformed into a part-time restaurant and primarily a branch of Delicatessen, which has now expanded to seven outlets.
On the other hand, R2M opened R48 Hotel and Garden, a very upscale boutique hotel and dining complex on Rothschild Boulevard. Chef Ohad Solomon, formerly of CoffeeBar, is the executive chef, overseeing Chef’s Table – a tasting menu experience (currently suspended) – and Rothschild 48 Brasserie, a restaurant that is open five days a week.
The menu, revised daily, comprises four sections: Appetizers, First Courses (salads, cold and hot dishes), Main Courses and Desserts. A good number of the dishes are transplants from CoffeeBar.
Recommended: The house Italian bread with dips; grilled calamari, mackerel carpaccio; hanger steak skewer; malwa pudding.
Rothschild 48 Brasserie. Not kosher. 48 Rothschild Blvd. Tel Aviv. Tel. (03) 556-0011.
On the premises of a former karaoke bar, this slightly funky restaurant that doubles as a night spot and event venue is said to be the only place in Israel serving traditional Ukrainian food. You know it’s authentic when three native Ukrainian women cook up a storm in the kitchen in order to send out generous portions of hearty, filling food.
The trilingual menu is quite extensive, comprising seven sections: Soups, Cold Appetizers and Salads, Hot Appetizers, Deruny (latkes, or potato pancakes), Main Courses (three specialties: pot roast, halubsti and chicken Kiev), Halushki and Varenyki (two kinds of dumplings) and Desserts. There is an especially intriguing alcohol menu, featuring homemade infused vodkas and fruit liqueurs, available as shots and tasting flights.
Recommended: Borscht; tongue salad; stuffed cabbage, chicken Kiev; horseradish root in chocolate sauce, symiki (cheese fritters).
SHO? Not kosher. 3 Karlebach St., Tel Aviv. Tel. (053) 330-8016.
Slow and Bro Smokehouse
This handsome new restaurant In the heart of Raanana’s industrial area is dedicated to the culinary art of American BBQ. Slow and Bro is one of the very few places in Israel where one can enjoy fresh smoker-to-table fare.
The menu comprises six sections. Starters, Sandwiches, Main Courses, Salads, Kids and Desserts (which rotate). There are very limited vegetarian/vegan options, but much of the menu is by its very nature gluten-free.
Recommended: Mixed grill (a platter of three kinds of barbecued beef with sauces and pickles); goose breast salad; smoked apple with cinnamon.
Slow and Bro. Kosher. 5 HaTa’asiya St., Raanana. Tel. (09) 765-9999.
Tandoori Lands End
The venerable Indian restaurant Tandoori, for decades a Dizengoff Circle institution, has relocated to the Tel Aviv boardwalk and modified its name in the process. It has also extended its hours and is now open for three meals a day.
The menu has been revamped, but it is still extensive, retaining many of the old Tandoori favorites but with additions, including Sri Lankan dishes that one would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in Israel. The dinner menu comprises no fewer than 10 sections (some with sub-sections as well): Vegetarian and non-vegetarian Appetizers, Soup, Salad, Breads, Paneer (Indian cheese), Rice (including biryani and pilaf), Curry, Clay Oven (tandoori), Children and Desserts. There are plenty of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options; neither pork nor seafood are on the menu.
Recommended: Garlic naan (bread from the clay oven); onion bhajia; pumpkin soup; Tiranga salad; green fish curry; butter chicken; gulab jamun.
Tandoori Lands End. Not kosher. 76 Herbert Samuel Quai, Tel Aviv. Tel. (03) 629-6185.
Urban Frame Chef and Sushi Bar
Frame is a veteran chain known for its excellent food, and the claim to fame of the newest branch is that it is kosher. Urban Frame also caters to a different clientele: by day it serves (and caters) lunch to office workers in this densely populated area of central Tel Aviv, while at night it is packed with a younger crowd. The restaurant does brisk takeout and delivery business, and the rather small and cramped premises are not meant for leisurely lingering.
The trilingual menu is completely electronic (on an iPad), requiring lots of page reloading in order to peruse the extensive menu, whose categories encompass Starters, Sandwiches (buns), Deals (i.e., value lunch), Salads, Meats, Noodles and Rice (stir fry dishes) and Sushi (including nigiri, sashimi and combinations). There are dedicated vegetarian and gluten-free menus, and a separate “Bisrabak” menu featuring more commonplace Israeli fare, such as burgers and schnitzel.
Recommended: Thai egg roll; iron chef sushi combination; Asian root vegetable salad; beef Szechuan (noodles); coconut roll.
Urban Frame. Kosher. 38 HaMasger St., Tel Aviv. Tel. (03) 649-8080.
This eatery, the new little sister of the well-known Jaffa restaurant Casino San Remo, is a pizzeria at heart, but with surprisingly gourmet dishes as complements. It is casual to the max: mostly outdoor seating on basic furniture stationed at the corner of Jerusalem Boulevard close to where the subway light rail tracks emerge from underground to street level.
The one-page menu comprises four sections: Heart (appetizers), Soul (intermediate dishes, including pasta), Sourdough Pizzas (all medium-sized) and Sweet Surrender (three desserts). Talented Chef Dani Reznick and his young sous-chefs execute a menu devised by another chef featured in this article, Gil Dahan.
Recommended: Roasted fennel in citrus sauce, seared calamari, shrimp kebab; mushroom ragout pizza; stewed persimmon with mascarpone cream.
Venus. Not kosher. 5 Jerusalem Blvd., Jaffa. Tel. (077) 980-0530.