An ancient city with a young heart, Jaffa has a diverse and vibrant culinary scene that sweeps in locals and internationals alike.
To know Jaffa is to experience its hidden corners, to walk down narrow alleys crammed with historic relics and the scent of herbs and spices. The Jaffa flea market has always been a cultural crossroads of people selling and exchanging goods, and the revival of its parallel roads, now full of cafés, bars and restaurants, has recaptured the vibe and voice of a historic neighbourhood. Abandoned warehouses and old lots have become the stage for culinary talents; from hummus empires to bohemian cafés and from chef’s tables to experimental kitchens, the essence of Jaffa remains untouched.
In the heart of Jaffa, amid incessant traffic and crowds of children riding on bicycles, lies Abu Hassan. There is no season for hummus, as the ever-present crowd outside the restaurant can attest. Table turnover is quick, as the menu is simple and the waiters fast-moving. Diners devour perfect, crispy falafel, soft pitta bread with sauces, sweet lemonade and custom-made hummus bowls. Specials include sabich, pitta bread stuffed with grilled aubergine and a boiled egg, and masbacha (a type of hummus) with warm chickpeas and spicy peppers. Vegan and vegetarian options are available.
In the beginning, only the neighbours knew; slowly, the news spread of a hidden spot, an Ibiza in Jaffa, called Cassis. The restaurant features an open kitchen and a large terrace with beachside sofas, round dining tables and a bar for casual tapas and drinks; you can also book a table indoors on cooler nights. The stage is the open kitchen and the backdrop none other than the glistening sea. Fish and seafood are sourced directly from Jaffa Port to create a Mediterranean menu infused with flavours of Arabia and the southern Mediterranean. Pair several starters and a selection of salads with chilled wine and enjoy the view.
Facing the sea in the Jaffa neighbourhood of Ajami, this family-run restaurant is famous for its festive atmosphere and is a favourite among locals and visitors. It’s common to hear the occasional birthday tune broadcast in Arabic; diners clap their hands in celebration before turning back to enjoy their food. Waiters zip in and out of the busy kitchen with a selection of tapas, including hummus, tahini, sliced and seasoned vegetables, and fried aubergine and cauliflower served with pitta bread. Recommended dishes include the grilled sea bass and the fried shrimp and calamari served with salad, mejadra rice or fries.
Located on a pedestrianised street near the flea market, Café Puaa is one of the most popular cafés in the neighbourhood. The charming, cosy setting offers indoor and outdoor seating and exudes an air of nostalgia, with antique portraits, tables and mismatched chairs (all for sale) – having lunch at your grandparents’ just got cooler. Café Puaa is a great spot for afternoon coffee and cake after a tour of the city, as well as for breakfast and lunch, offering wholesome Israeli classics and salads. After sunset, locals come together for drinks, shared plates for dinner and live-music specials.
In the heart of Old Jaffa’s flea market, Selas offers a chef’s table experience with Asian recipes to fire up the night. Curated by chef Or Ginsberg, an avid skipper and winner of Israel’s cooking series Game of Chefs, the menu includes sushi delicacies, innovative sashimi and everyday specials based on the catch of the day and seasonal ingredients with Mediterranean nuances. About 400 plants and hundreds of herb-stuffed jars adorn the interior, setting the stage for bold, flavourful and experimental dishes. For a more theatrical evening, reserve seats at the bar, to enjoy the colours of sashimi and the scents of aromatic cocktails.
Bar, Cocktail Bar, Gastropub, Contemporary, Fusion, Mediterranean, $$$
With wild plants and an almost untouched design aesthetic, this bar and open kitchen is located in Jaffa’s antique market, spread across three buildings that form an internal courtyard perfect for the live-music and DJ sets that often accompany dinner. Chef Eli Stein has created a Mediterranean menu with a strong emphasis on fish and vegetables, while seasonings take the palate on a journey from east to west; there are also creative vegetarian and gluten-free alternatives. Opt for shared salads, stone-oven specials and the salmon skewer with some chilled Israeli white. For a more intimate vibe, book seats at the bar.