The Unexpected Pleasure of Eating Out in Jerusalem

Buffet at the Inbal Hotel, Jerusalem
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I didn’t expect to eat particularly well in Israel. I had memories from my last visit of endless amounts of falafel, fish and salad, and not much else. But I was pleased and surprised to find that the food had changed out of all recognition. Eating out in Jerusalem was one of the many pleasures of this trip.

Buffet at the Inbal Hotel, Jerusalem
A varied buffet in the Executive Lounge of the Inbal Hotel

Local and International Cuisine

Of course, you will find lots of Middle Eastern food here. There is no shortage of hummus and falafel (fried balls of crushed chickpeas), or of halva, a sesame-based dessert. And tahini, a versatile sesame paste, seems to turn up everywhere. I even had tahini on ice cream in one restaurant; doused with honey and nuts it was an unusual but surprisingly enjoyable combination.

Hummus
Pinnable image of a traditional Israeli hummus

But the population of Jerusalem has its roots in communities around the world, and there is also a thriving international cuisine. There are Armenian cafés in the Old City, and Italian and Mediterranean restaurants in the new town. What you often find is a sort of fusion, different cuisines adapted to local ingredients. This is particularly evident in the breakfast buffets served in large hotels: a dazzling array of salads, hot and cold dishes, fish and cheeses.

What You Need to Know When Eating Out in Jerusalem

Several Israeli restaurants follow a strict kosher regime. The rules of kosher are complex (if you’re interested you can read more here), but one important principle is that meat and dairy cannot be combined at the same meal. Some kosher restaurants are described as “dairy” (serving no meat) while others serve meat but no dairy products. Both types of restaurant include fish on their menus. Some hotels follow the same pattern: my hotel (the Dan Panorama) was “dairy kosher”, with no meat, as was the Inbal Hotel, where I was treated to an excellent buffet in their Executive Lounge.

Polenta
You’ll find lots of Italian and Mediterranean food in Jerusalem

You also need to be aware that there is a virtual shutdown of restaurants in the new city during the Jewish Sabbath (from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday). During this time the easiest place to find a meal is within the Old City. On a lesser scale, many restaurants in the Christian and Armenian quarters of the Old City close on a Sunday.

Eat with locals on BonAppetour

Eating Out in Jerusalem: My Recommendations

One thing that struck me was that Jerusalem has a lot of top class and expensive restaurants. It also has excellent cafés and street food. However, mid-range restaurants are harder to find. If you are here for a few days and on a budget, you may find that alternating street food with upmarket restaurant meals is a good solution.

Armenian Tavern, Jerusalem
It is worth visiting the Armenian Taverna in the Old City just for the decor!

I had an excellent, although rather pricy, meal in the very popular non-kosher Chakra (this is where I had the ice cream with tahini). Equally good, and a bit cheaper, is the dairy kosher Anna Italian Café (see my earlier post on Anna). For cafés and street food try the stalls of the Machane Yehuda Market and the winding streets of the Old City. (The Armenian Tavern, not far from the Jaffa Gate, is notable for its cheap food and speedy service, and it is worth visiting for its décor alone.) Or you could try a tour with BiteMojo, trying small “bites” of food at restaurants and cafés around the city.

(Disclosure: I had hosted meals at Anna and with BiteMojo, but ate at Chakra and the Armenian Taverna at my own expense.)

A Selection of Local Wines

Much of my food was washed down with excellent local wines. That was unexpected: despite frequent references to wine in Biblical times, the modern Israeli wine industry barely existed last time I was there. However, over the last twenty years or so there has been a big expansion of winemaking in Israel, and there are now around 300 wineries across the country. There is even kosher wine (again, the rules for this are a bit complicated…)

Overall, both the food and the wine in Jerusalem came as a surprise to me. A modern restaurant and café scene, and lots of great experiences.

Looking for a hotel in Jerusalem? Check out the recommendations on Booking.com.

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About Karen

WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren. I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 60 countries at the last count). I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica (I still hope to get there one day…), and my current favourite destinations are Italy, Spain and North America. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way.

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9 thoughts on “The Unexpected Pleasure of Eating Out in Jerusalem”

  1. I loved the food in Jerusalem. However, I could eat hummus endlessly. Your suggestions for changing it around are good. I remember well the spectacular breakfast buffet at the Dan hotel in Tel Aviv. Was it as wonderful in Jerusalem?

    1. It was a pretty good breakfast buffet at the Dan, with loads of variety. The one thing that stood out for me was that there was a whole honeycomb – I’ve never seen that at a buffet before!

  2. We’ve also been surprised at the excellent wine and variety of food available; although we always go back to the Middle Eastern favorites as we don’t get them back in our area of the States.

  3. What a lovely unexpected culinary find! I had no idea that there were so many wonderful dishes to choose from and international dishes too. I guess we’ll need to visit Jerusalem.

  4. I always eat really cheaply in Israel just because I love the street food so much that I don’t get tired of it. They make hummus better than anywhere, and with proper fresh pita bread, I’m happy. But you’re right, the restaurant scene has become really world-class in recent years, and so has the wine.

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