A coffee shop on Sheinkin Street, Tel Avivi. Courtesy GoIsrael.
by Ed Wetschler
The best restaurants, clubs, and hotels of Tel Aviv – and even those that aren’t at the top of the heap – always surprise visitors. In part, that’s because visitors aren’t expecting so much shellfish, tattooed skin, and secular attitudes in an Israeli city. In part, too, they’re surprised at how distant Tel Aviv is from the eastern European Jewish culture with which Americans and Europeans are more familiar. Last year Tel Aviv went all out to celebrate its 100th anniversary, and it was a banner year for Israeli tourism. So after all those concerts and other special events, is the party over?
If you’ve read Part I of this two-part report (or if you’ve ever spent more than 20 minutes in Tel Aviv), you know that the party is never over. Here are some tips on enjoying it in 2010:
Tel Aviv Restaurants
Dr. Shakshuka at work. Photo by Ed Wetschler.
Best doctor in Tel Aviv? Dr. Shakshuka, at 3 Beit Eshel Street, in the Jaffa flea market area. This “doctor” cures hunger, not illness, by preparing shakshuka, a rustic, red-and-yellow, tomato-egg dish he makes in a pan over foot-high flames. You can enjoy this delicious gloop at a table outside or in the dining room of Dr. Shakshuka’s “Tripulitan Oriental Restaurant: Home Food,” where cookware and knickknacks hang from every inch of the ceiling. Tripulitan is convenient for Jaffa flea market shoppers and a terrific value at dinnertime.
If you’re searching for the apotheosis of falafel, go to the tiny falafel shop on Sheinkin Street, about 25 yards downhill from Allenby Street and the Carmel Market. The countermen tuck crispy, spiced falafels into spongy pita with fried potatoes and every imaginable condiment. The “small” sandwich costs 13 shekels (about $3); the large is 18 shekels. I watched a soldier on leave standing outside, dribbling hot sauce on his rifle. With food this good, who could keep a rifle clean?
Shrimp anyone? A dish from Kimmel. Photo courtesy of Kimmel.
For sophisticated Tel Aviv dining, Kimmel (6 Shahar Street; 03-5105204) offers an eye-pleasing French farmhouse look, replete with dark wood and baskets and such. Kimmel serves a perfect frozen Margarita, rare meats with a tahini reduction, and exquisite ravioli with cream sauce as well as other savory dishes that ignore Judaism’s traditional wall between meat and dairy meals.
Boya, a hangar-like space in the northern port complex ( 03-5446166), goes even further. The cuisine at Boya includes artful presentations of calamari, mussels, even spare ribs. It’s all sinfully good, too. If you’re a quasi-observant Jew or a vegetarian with occasional lapses, you’re going to face temptation here.
Tel Aviv’s Club Scene
The long and ever-changing list of clubs in Tel Aviv includes Hachalonot Hagvoim (High Windows), a three-level, glass-floored, back-to-belly scene at 113 Ha’chashmonaim St.; Evita, a gay club at 31 Yavne St. where straights are welcome; and Mish Mish, which offers more retro music at 17 Lilenblum St. Indeed, Lilenblum Street is full of clubs that draw good-looking young and/or young-at-heart people who want to dance all night.
But if you want something really different, with no hint of Madrid or Miami, check out Nanuchka (28 Lilienblum St.), a restaurant that serves lamb and casseroles in a handsome, early 20th-century house with pop art and poetry on the walls. At 10 p.m. or so, the manager cranks up the music, a younger crowd starts filing in, and people dance, especially in the room with the bar. The music is Georgian party songs, then it’s Sephardic disco, Gypsy Kings, R&B — the best of each — and it rocks.
A pretty young woman jumps up on the bar and starts dancing. Another woman joins her, and the booty shaking gets competitive. Sexy? You bet. By now the crowd is not just dancing, but singing. One of the women comes over to a friend of mine and asks her if she’d like to join them up on the bar ….
Hotels in Tel Aviv
You’ve gotta rest sometime, especially in Tel Aviv. The Hotel Montefiore, a new, 12-room property in a 1920s building on 12 Montefiore Street (near Prince Albert Square), makes this New Yorker wish he were hipper. The restaurant-bar is decorated with fashionistas drinking flavored vodkas and eating chicken tika or mussels with lemongrass. Guest rooms feature burnished wood floors, high ceilings, enough gadgetry to thrill Silicon Valley types, black marble bathrooms, and a bookcase with all kinds of curiosities. The Playmate Book, a collection of the best girlie shots of the past 50 years, speaks volumes of this hotel and this city. Rooms from $280.
Room at the Park Plaza Orchid. Photo by Ed Wetschler.
Best hotel value in Tel Aviv? The Park Plaza Orchid, at 79 Hayarkon Street. Its tres sleek, modern rooms overlook the beach, as do the large pool and high-ceilinged, glass-walled bar, and the hotel offers guests free use of bicycles and a fitness center. At $195, this place offers high-priced amenities at mid-price rates.
Ed Wetschler has written for The New York Times, Delta Sky, and other major print and electronic media. He is president of the New York Travel Writers Association.