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.
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.
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.
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.