Jerusalem’s culinary scene is as varied and colourful as the traditions that make the City of Gold such an intoxicating, multi-layered experience. Here, you’ll find an array of budget restaurants that serve dishes ranging from traditional Middle Eastern favourites like falafel and shawarma to vegan fusion bistro fare and trendy street food.
Fish and Chip Shop, Restaurant, Israeli, British, $$$
In recent years, Jerusalem’s bustling Mahane Yehuda Market, a traditional old-world bazaar, has become the go-to location for trendy spots like FishenChips, which brothers Shlomi and Aviram Ochana opened in 2010. The seafood at FishenChips is sourced from the owners’ father, who runs the fish stand just a few stalls down, and is fried in beer batter and served with chips, local salads and tangy sauces. In the evening, you can sip a foreign beer or try the Israeli anise-flavoured liqueur arak while you enjoy the open-air art gallery that appears when the market’s stalls shutters are down, revealing aerosol portraits of historical and contemporary figures, from the Bible’s King Solomon to Bob Marley, painted by local graffiti legend Solomon Souza.
Nagila is a family affair: it was opened by wife and husband Gila and Yonatan Folds and their daughter Hannah Jasmine is the restaurant’s chef. The cosy café is tucked away on a little alley in the historic Even Yisrael neighbourhood in the centre of Jerusalem. The menu offers a variety of dishes, combining Indian, North African and Israeli flavours. Freshly squeezed juices and vegan desserts round off Nagila’s menu, with many gluten-free options available. This spot is a great choice for brunch or dinner.
Tmol Shilshom is named after Israeli Nobel Prize laureate S Y Agnon’s 1945 novel Only Yesterday. This establishment has earned a reputation within Jerusalem’s cultural scene as ground zero for writers, artists and musicians, as well as those who just want to rub shoulders with them. The restaurant has hosted readings by the nation’s top authors, from Amos Oz to Orly Castel-Bloom, in addition to concerts and other performances. It also offers delicious traditional Israeli dishes such as shakshuka and grilled eggplant in addition to other Mediterranean fare.
Food Stall, Hole in the Wall, Israeli, Middle Eastern, $$$
While Hello Yemen is located next to a gas station on a major thoroughfare near the outskirts of the city, locals consistently rave about this hole in the wall’s shawarma – the spicy, vertically grilled Middle Eastern meat dish served in a pitta or laffa. Hello Yemen offers veal, chicken and turkey shawarma, slathered with tahini and spicy Israeli zhug spread, to which diners add vegetables and pickles from a well-stocked salad bar. In addition to shawarma, Hello Yemen serves steaks, kebabs and Jerusalem mixed grill (a flavourful combination of organ meat seasoned with onion, garlic, cumin and turmeric). What Hello Yemen lacks in ambience it makes up for with powerful flavours and generous portions.
Café Shalva combines a Mediterranean-Italian menu of fresh fish, pastas and salads with its mission of providing meaningful employment to individuals with disabilities. Operated by the Shalva National Center, a non-denominational organisation that promotes comprehensive care and social inclusion for people with disabilities, the café offers diners the chance to support a truly equal opportunity employer while enjoying seriously tasty eats. With a menu featuring desserts such as Parisian chocolate cake with melted truffles and vanilla ice cream, supporting a good cause never tasted so divine.
Israel has experienced a burger craze during the past decade, with a number of speciality restaurants opening up in the Holy Land. Burgers Bar has emerged from the scrum with one of the nation’s best all-beef patties – the burgers here are cooked to order and jazzed up with an array of toppings, a laundry list of sauces, and fresh chips and onion rings. The Burgers Bar in Jerusalem’s Old City is literally steps from Jewish, Christian and Islamic holy sites, including the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, making it the perfect place to feed the body after nourishing the soul.
Situated in the heart of Jerusalem’s Emek Refaim neighbourhood, which straddles the historic German Colony and Baka districts, Ben Ami serves up flavourful entrees, rich desserts and a wide selection of coffees, wine and beer. During the day, its comfy café atmosphere is perfect for sipping a latte and munching on a pastry in the company of friends or while working on your laptop. In the evening, Ben Ami draws an artsier crowd, with live music inside and plentiful seating outside. Come to the area before the shops close on Emek Refaim, which is home to funky boutiques and bookstores, but don’t forget to arrive at Ben Ami while a good table on the sidewalk is still available.
To say Israelis take their hummus seriously would be an understatement, with entire restaurants devoted to this warm, creamy chickpea-based dip that bears little resemblance to the little tubs of pasty spread that somehow pass for hummus in many parts of the world. When you taste the real deal at a restaurant like Ben Sira, you’ll understand why this dish inspires such devotion in the Middle East. Here, you can pair your hummus with crunchy falafel, spiced ground beef, fresh-baked pita or any number of warm or cold Israeli salads. An icy lemonade or Goldstar beer goes with everything on the menu, and the restaurant’s black coffee is the perfect way to complete this uniquely Israeli meal.