Israeli cuisine is a hodgepodge of many cultures, incorporating Arab, Eastern European, Yemenite, North African, Balkan and Iraqi dishes. Salads, including the aptly named Israeli salad -- a dish of diced cucumbers and tomatoes -- are popular. You can't go wrong with falafel (chickpea fritters), hummus (chickpea paste) or shwarma (shaved-meat sandwiches). Plenty of cheap and quick falafel places can be found in the Ben Yehuda area (Melech Hafelafel and Pinati get rave reviews) or around Mahane Yehuda.
Kosher restaurants are prevalent in Jerusalem, and these establishments adhere to Jewish dietary laws. Kosher eateries are designated either as meat restaurants (where no dairy products are served) or dairy restaurants (where no meat is served, though fish is acceptable). Wherever you go, look for signs advertising "business lunches" -- they're a great deal because you get dinner-sized portions at lunchtime prices.
Editor's Note: Many restaurants close for the Sabbath (from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday); if you're in town then, check ahead to be sure your restaurant of choice will be open. If you have trouble finding somewhere to eat during this time period, ask for recommendations at your hotel.
Ticho House is a draw not only for its food, but also for its location. Just blocks from the busy Ben Yehuda Mall, the restaurant is situated in the peaceful gardens and interior of a 19th-century home, which now also houses a small museum. The kosher (dairy) restaurant offers an enormous menu of fish, pasta, blintzes, sandwiches, omelets and salads, along with a kids' menu. Specialties include onion soup served in bread bowls and "Anna's Strudel," and the fresh bread and lemonade mixed with fresh mint should not be missed. You can print out a discount coupon online. Concerts take place there on select evenings and Friday mornings.
Mingle with Jerusalem's "who's who" at Caffit in the yuppified German Colony neighborhood. The kosher dairy cuisine tends toward the Italian, but you'll also find Continental and local dishes and flavors. Get your fill of green, eating enormous salads in the restaurant's garden terrace. Or try soup in a bread bowl, pasta, crepes, vegetable pies or the Jewish staple of bagels topped with lox. Aid your digestion with a walk around the tree-lined neighborhood, filled with beautiful homes, boutiques and fabulous people-watching opportunities.
Serious foodies will love the eclectic, inventive offerings at Chakra, on King George Street. The chef draws on Israeli, European and Asian flavors to cook up dishes like crispy gnocchi shrimp, white sea fish sashimi with wasabi and ginger, and entrecote kebab on fire-grilled eggplant with tahini. Menus change regularly based on what's in season. Reservations are highly recommended.
Set in an alley near Ben Yehuda, Tmol Shilshom is a hangout for artists and the literary set -- not to mention others looking for delectable kosher dairy cuisine at this bookstore cafe. Appropriately, it's named after the novel by Israeli Nobel laureate S. Y. Agnon. Order up a salad, savory filo pastry, fish dish, cheesecake or hot drink (like sachlav, a sweet Middle Eastern drink made with warm milk and orchids), and settle down with a book or two to peruse. The cafe hosts readings, discussions and musical events.
Meat-lovers can get a taste of Argentina in a kosher setting at El Gaucho steakhouse. Dig into your choice of grilled meats (veal, chicken or several types of steak), skewers or burgers -- sorry, no cheese here. For lunch, go big with a three-course meal (appetizer, salad and main), or get a sandwich or schnitzel with fries.
Israel Lodging: Boutique Hotels and More
Getting Around Israel
Jerusalem City Guide