When it comes to food, Jerusalem is both innovative and contemporary. This diverse city offers everything from sushi bars, to kosher churrascarias, and even social institutions with a unique cultural legacy, including Armenian, Kurdish, Arabic and Jewish restaurants nestled in their own corners of the Old City. Here are 10 of Jerusalem’s best restaurants.
Beit Anna Ticho museum and restaurant is a living piece of history, hidden down an alley behind one of Jerusalem’s busiest streets in the city centre. The house was the very first built outside the walls of the Old City in 1864, marking the beginning of the expansion to the modern Jerusalem of today. Once owned by a wealthy Viennese opthamologist, the house now contains an art collection and historical museum, complete with an elegant bistro café on the site of the former eye clinic. The ‘Little Jerusalem’ restaurant is popular among locals, tourists and expats. The breakfasts are fresh and hearty; the eggs, fish and salad variety is similar to Israel’s kibbutzim (socialist farms), and the onion soup served in a sourdough bowl is particularly recommended. Every Tuesday evening the museum and twinkling veranda are brimming with guests at their wine, cheese and jazz night, where guests sit in the serene garden courtyard to a backdrop of mellow jazz, sampling an exceptional vegetarian Italian buffet, high quality wines, and the very finest cheese to be found in all of Israel.
Update: Please note Little Jerusalem has since closed down and have opened a new dairy restaurant called Piccolino.
Local eateries in Machane Yehuda Market – Azura and Rachmo
Machane Yehuda is the soul of the city’s food scene – a bustling, dynamic exchange between the family vendors on one hand, and on the other; busy locals and tourists. In the heart of the market the discerning observer will notice a number of humble Levant food joints that have been serving both the working class and deliberately low-maintenance political and cultural figures for generations. Azura is popular for lunch, cooking up a cuisine particular to Middle Eastern Jewish culture, such as mejadra rice and a lentil spiced dish. This particular eatery was reportedly a regular meeting spot for the underground leaders of the Yishuv (pre-1948 Jewish community in British Palestine) and remains a favoured joint with the country’s influential elite, though it is somewhat more conspicuous now, given its popularity and regional fame. Another renowned traditional workers’ café sits just outside the shuk; Rachmo has been satisfying hungry locals since the 1930s, and is still reputed for its delicious range of Kurdish/Iraqi dumpling soup – kubeh. The options are always the same – beetroot and onion, root vegetable and turmeric and Swiss chard and spinach. The service is brisk, but that’s all part of the experience.
Israel’s celebrity award-winning restaurant, Machneyuda, has been the trendiest destination in Jerusalem since its 2009 launch. The overwhelmingly successful restaurant was created and developed by winners of Israel’s Iron Chef show Krav Sakinim, Chef Asaf Granit and Chef Uri Navon, alongside local culinary figure and champion of Jerusalem’s ‘slow food’ movement, Chef Yossi Asaf. The trio has realized its dream of serving guests ‘happy food’ in a unique dining experience, combining seasonal cuisine within a homely interior featuring crockery taken straight from one chef’s grandmother’s house. Guests can sit within full view of the open kitchen and order signature dishes such as shikshukit — deconstructed spiced beef and lamb kebab served with a tahini yogurt sauce — or soft polenta with asparagus, mushroom ragu and truffle oil. Alternatively, guests can opt to enjoy a bespoke evening at the Chef’s bar, where one of the chefs will personally curate a custom made tasting menu experience.
Adom at the First Station is the newest venture by the successful Jerusalem-based restaurateurs Assaf and Noam Rizzi, who have been welcoming guests to their three popular haunts since they opened the original Adom in 2001. By their own admission, Adom serves the most ‘complicated food’ of the three restaurants, offering a Jerusalem-French fusion cuisine in a sleek setting. The experimental menu is particularly fish-heavy, with dishes such as drum fish sashimi with artichoke, grapes, pickled beetroot and yoghurt, and seaweed risotto with split blue crab, alongside inventive meat and vegetarian plates.
Proudly describing themselves as ‘the original taste of Middle Eastern food’ – Pasha’s restaurant serves Palestinian cuisine that one would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere in the city. Among the Arabic dishes are the oven-baked mansaf, a Jordanian lamb dish cooked in fermented yogurt sauce, served with rice and nuts, and mussakhan, a traditional Palestinian chicken dish cooked with mixed spices, onions and pine nuts, served on a pile of taboon flat breads. The selection of mezze salads and appetizers is quite possibly the best and most authentic found anywhere in Jerusalem. For dessert, guests can enjoy sweet pastries, soaked in honey and stuffed with nuts, and a nargeila water pipe to smoke sweet tobacco, as is commonly done after the meal has finished.
Hummus in the Old City: Hummus Lina and Abu Shukri
Within Jerusalem’s old city walls lies the Armenian, Jewish, Muslim and Christian quarters, each with their distinctive archeological and architectural landmarks, their own distinctive shuk, and an array of ethnic restaurants. Common to all quarters is the variant of hummusia, a small hummus restaurant. These can be found in both Jewish and Arab villages and towns all over the region, and whilst the experiences are often similar (hurried service, a sparse menu, soft warm pita breads, massive bowls of creamy hummus drowning in olive oil, and a side plate of chopped tomatoes and onions), debates nonetheless rage over which hummusia serves the best hummus. In the old city of Jerusalem, there are a number of competitors, not least the original two hummasias of the old city; Abu-Shukri in the Muslim quarter, whose legendary reputation has wafted out of the city and attracted visitors from across the globe, and Hummus Lina in the Christian quarter, a 60-year old family-owned restaurant that is without fail always packed to the brim.
Located in the Old City is the under-appreciated Zalatimo – a tiny institution, open only sporadically and serving just one specialty, and praised by journalists and famous chefs, such as London-based Yottam Ottolenghi. The hole-in-the-wall pastry shop is nestled in a corner of the Muslim quarter, near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The only dish on the figurative menu is murtabak, also known in the old city as zalatimo – a special thin pastry, filled with goats’ cheese curds, fried, and then topped with sugar syrup and dusting of sugar. This savory and sweet concoction is an age- old family recipe, and is the most delicious treat in the Old City. Directions: Exit Church of the Holy Sephulchre and turn left down the street in the corner. Take the first street on the left and walk a short way. Zalatimos is tucked behind a small staircase on the left.
In many ways the most unusual dining option in a city of unique and varied gastronomy, Eucalyptus is a biblical-themed restaurant. Housed in a 19th century stone building overlooking the Old City walls, decorated with oriental rugs and murals, the restaurant offers three tasting menus, titled ‘King David Feast’, ‘Song of Songs Feast’ and ‘Queen of Sheba Feast’, all of which are inspired by the agriculture and food mentioned in the Bible. Appetizers include chicken-stuffed figs with sweet and sour tamarind sauce, the most unusual ‘wild mallow cooked with wild spiced reminiscent of the siege [of Jerusalem]’, and the ‘Jacob and Esau special’ – red lentil stew, the type for which Jacob traded Esau in return for the birthright naturally belonging to his brother.
The famed American Colony boutique hotel opened in 1902 in a converted pasha’s palace near the Damascus gate of the old city, in what is now a predominantly Arab neighborhood. The historic establishment has various dining options open to non-guests, including the Arabesque dining room in the main house, serving continental and Arabic cuisine, Val’s Brasserie Lounge, serving European-style afternoon tea and dinner, and the tranquil Courtyard, beneath mulberry trees and set around a stone fountain, serving light plates at breakfast, lunch and dinner. The American Colony is the destination of choice for many politicians and journalists, for its old-world charm and oasis of calm positioned strategically on the boundary between East and West Jerusalem. After dinner, be sure to head down to the Cellar Bar, originally the hotel’s dairy, with ancient pink stone floors, low cavernous ceilings and tasteful furnishings, for a tipple in an enchanting space, favoured over the years by many a famous cultural figure.