I’m a foodie. Which means I’m a big fat fatty. But hey, who else would you take food advice from, right? I make it a point never to get my hair cut by a bald barber. He has no respect for my hair. And you should never take restaurant tips from a thin man. So here are some of my favorite Tel -Aviv eateries and why you should never eat there. Seriously. Stay away.
1) Benedict. Breakfast is served here 24 hours a day. They’ve also got bacon and a bunch of other breakfast foods you haven’t had in a while. Like pancakes. Good old fashioned pancakes. And mimosas. Pancakes and mimosas. At three AM. Heaven, right? Well not so fast. First of all you have to wait. I’m not talking a few minutes. I’m talking a few hours. Which sucks donkey balls when you’re hungover and hungry on a Saturday morning. What’s worse is that those pretentious mofos don’t take reservations on the phone. So you have to actually show up, have the hostess write your name and then sit outside with the rest of the zombies and wait for your name to be called. Which could be as late as dinner time. But they only serve breakfast. And I’ve waited. And I’ve cursed them and their stupid egg balls. Or their English breakfast resplendent with beans and sausage. And sadly it’s always, always been worth the wait. So never go there. Ever. It just means that I’ll have to wait another hour.
2) Younis. You haven’t lived in this country until you’ve had lamb kabob at a gas station. Seriously. A gas station. Tucked away at the intersection of Ben Tzvi Street and Herzl in Tel Aviv is a “Paz” gas station with a small grill restaurant owed by Arabs called “Younis”. You are treated like royalty from the moment you sit down. I’m not exaggerating when I say twenty five small plates, including falafel, tehina, Arabic salad, olives, pita bread … are set in front of you. And the kabob is ridiculously tender and the lemonade that comes gratis is refreshing (and so sour you’re eyes start twitching) And it’s cheap. I’m talking 40 NIS per person. But why shouldn’t you eat there? Well, if you mind the fumes from the gas station, the shouting or the unbearable heat inside the restaurant (you’re like two meters away from the huge grill) than skip it. Otherwise marchaban.
3) Nanutchka. Some people consider Georgia (the country) the Switzerland of Eastern Europe. This gem of Georgian cuisine is in the historic section of Tel Aviv on Lillenblum Street and even if you’re not in the mood for some Khachapuri or some Kuchmachi or any other kuchimoochi you can’t pronounce, don’t sweat it. Just hang out at the cool bar and look around you at the awesome decorations. It’s a visual treat. Problem is its super expensive. And super trendy. And super cool. Which we don’t like, since we’re not very cool and we stand out. Like high school all over again…
4) Goocha. There will always be a special place in my heart for this seafood restaurant on Ben Gurion and Dizengoff. M. and I had our first date here. We go back on every anniversary. The food is delicious. Seafood paella. Shrimps. Mussels. A cornucopia of non-kosher that makes you feel like you are not in Israel. Yes, it’s expensive and yes they try to tack on a “security fee” on each bill (tell them to remove it. You are not obligated to pay) but M. loves, loves, loves the Lychee cocktail. So don’t ever go to Goocha. That’s our spot. You’ve been warned.
5) Mezcal. I miss Mexican food. Not real, authentic Mexican food. Tex Mex. A good burrito. Maybe some soft tacos. Unfortunately I haven’t found a decent Mexican spot since I’ve been here. Which is why I kinda liked Mezcal. It was a taste of Mexico with a bit of tongue in cheek. Like the video they had on loop of a Mexican TV show featuring bumble bee man (El Chapulín Colorado). The whole place is awesome, with Frida Kahlo paintings, skeletons hanging from the ceiling and some kick ass frozen margaritas. M. hated the carne asada as well as every thing she was served. Even the Chicken Mole that I devoured. Ay yay yay senorita! So stay away from this Florentine eatery on Vital Street if you don’t like limes, irony or sangrias.
6) Burgerim. M.’s got celiac which is a food allergy. She can’t eat gluten which is a protein found in wheat. So we have to look for places that cater to our needs. One of those places is a small hamburger joint (now a franchise) on Herzl Street in Tel Aviv called “Burgerim”. They have killer little trios of burgers that come on gluten free buns. I’m more of a quinoa salad with marinated grilled chicken and fries kind of guy but I’ve had those devilish little burgers. They rock. Just don’t go to any of the other franchise restaurants. Because they suck.
7) 24 Rupee. Let me just preface this by saying I’m not a big fan of Indian food. Or street food. So you can imagine how I feel about Indian street food. Yet there’s something unique and charming about this simple, vegetarian Indian restaurant on Shocken Street. I worked with the owner, U., briefly on his very emotional and personal documentary about his search for the “Secret Ingredient” in India. The food itself wasn’t spectacular (it was cheap though) but what stood out was how kid- friendly it was. You take your shoes off at the door. You sit down on cushions and carpets and there is a whole chest full of toys and books in the corner. D. went off exploring while M. and I had a very nice dinner. So go there if you want, just be prepared for random kids to climb all over you.
8) Tipico. Rotisserie chicken, seasoned and roasted potatoes and a diced “Arabic” salad with tomatoes and cilantro. That’s it. That’s all they got. You can order a full chicken or a half. No frills. Just good god damn chicken. It’s easy to miss this little gem amongst the artisans and the fabric stores on Nahalat Benyamin but do so and you’ll be a friar. Big Time. There’s only a few tables outside and the place reeks of roasted chicken inside so that kinda sucks. So bring a change of shirt.
9) Orna and Ella. I’m a big fan of any restaurant where the waiter/waitress volunteers to take your screaming son and escort him on a full tour of the kitchen/patio while I, the strung-out dad, get some much needed respite. It happened once in Akre at the wonderful Uri Buri restaurant and once at this quaint café turned restaurant on Sheinkin Street. They serve a unique mix of home cooking with gourmet cuisine. I didn’t care. I just needed a few minutes to drink my beer in peace and quiet. Only downside is the price and the pretentiousness. Seriously? Fig Brioche with Roquefort cheese? On white linen? It took me half a bite (albeit a tasty one) to consume that bad boy. So yeah bring lots of cash and eat before you go.
10) Falafel Benin (Johnny). No list of eateries in this city would be complete without a go-to falafel joint. So I picked the one on Tchernihovsky Street near Allenby not because he is the best (he’s a close second to “Hakosem” on King George) but because they offer gluten free pita bread so both M. and I can go hog wild on a Friday morning. We people watch as all the good looking Tel-Avivians head to the beach or the Shuk. The Falafel is cheap (like 15 NIS) and damn good. And the place has old pictures of Tel Aviv in the 40’s which I love. Downside is there’s nowhere to sit without smelling like a grease ball afterwards so I usually opt for the bench down the street. Where inevitably I find myself wedged in between a tourist from Hong Kong and a couple from Russia. Only in Israel.
So take it from me and avoid every single one of these places the next time you’re in Tel Aviv. Better yet sit at home and order a pizza. It’s cheaper. Besides, you’ll have to fight the traffic and you’ll never find parking in Tel Aviv. Ever.