Israel’s enterprising second city leads the way in envelope-pushing food, all-week nightlife, and boutique hotels deeply rooted in their storied surroundings. Travel journalist Chris Schalkx separates the wheat from the chaff in this HAP guide to Tel Aviv.
WHERE TO STAY IN TEL AVIV:
Taking over a former convent and the 19th-century French hospital on the edge of Old Jaffa, The Jaffa hotel melds neo-Roman archways and Corinthian cornices with hyper-modern artworks by Damien Hirst and furniture by Japanese designer Shiro Kuramata. British designer John Pawson took his signature pared-back approach and let the building’s past take center stage, which is most apparent in The Chapel Bar, where stained glass windows throw rainbow hues over seats from mustardy velours. The suites in the old wing, with their triple-height ceilings and beautifully weathered plaster walls, are the most atmospheric, while the rooms in the modern annex open to snug balconies with – in most cases – ocean views.
This over-a-century-old hotel was built in the heart of the historic American–German colony by the Drisco brothers, who came to the area as colonists in the mid-19th century. It changed hands in 1870, and eventually grew into one of the finest hotels in the region, attracting the likes of Thomas Cook and Mark Twain. The hotel lost its luster in the tumultuous 1940s and eventually became derelict. After years of careful renovation, the hotel reopened as The Drisco in 2018, honoring its past with suites and studios infused with classic touches – think high arched ceilings and bathrooms clad in Carrara marble. Don’t miss dinner at Mediterranean-Israeli fusion restaurant George & John by young-gun chef Tomer Tal.
WHERE TO EAT IN TEL AVIV:
This casual but wildly popular spot by hot-shot Israeli chef Eyal Shani puts its focus on ultra-fresh local ingredients, and serves deceptively simple dishes where produce shines: think carpaccio from fig, amberjack sashimi, and smoky eggplant with tahini. The must-order dish, though? The roasted cauliflower, slightly charred and dressed with nothing but extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.
This all-day diner in the lobby of the Mendeli St. Hotel is one of Tel Aviv’s most beloved brunch- and dinner spots. For good reason: its daily changing menu, which draws on the freshest available ingredients, could include everything from cheese tortellini with kombu butter, beef tartare with local cheese, and Gillardeau oysters drizzled with house-made hot sauce – all intricately plated like edible artworks. Come early for the breakfast buffet with local cheeses, house-baked bread, fresh salads, and a small a-la-carte menu featuring creative mains such as anchovy brioche and bourekas with kimchi.
WHERE TO DRINK IN TEL AVIV:
After trawling around the bustling Levinsky market, the fizzy gazoz drinks at Cafe Levinsky deliver a sweet relief from the stifling heat. This pint-sized spot, hard to miss thanks to the giant bougainvillea erupting from its facade, specializes in artisanal sodas infused with everything from house-made kombucha to fermented fruits, flowers, herbs, and syrups.
A real-life offshoot from an eponymous radio station, this hipster honeypot in the courtyard of an unassuming shopping center is one of Tel Aviv’s coolest after-dark spots. Here, DJs spin everything from electronic music to indie beats, while craft beers and excellent pizzas from chef Eyal Shani are served on picnic tables at the heart of the complex.
WHERE TO VISIT IN TEL AVIV:
Taste the city with Delicious Israel
The best way to get a grip on Tel Aviv’s multitude of markets, restaurants, and hole-in-the-wall kitchens is a tasting tour of the city. Tour outfit Delicious Israel, founded by American expat Inbal Baum, teams visitors with resident chefs and foodies for walking tours around Tel Aviv’s most food-centric neighborhoods, pointing out the best hummus, shakshouka, and Palestinian desserts along the way.
Tel Aviv’s largest market (or shuk) is, unsurprisingly, a cacophony of loud hawkers, bargaining shoppers, and sizzling shawarma. Come here to ogle the fish, vegetables, and gem-like fruits that end up on many of the city’s top tables, and pick up suitcase-friendly souvenirs such as Negev honey, jars of pickled olives, and spice blends scooped from fragrant mounds of sumac, zaatar, turmeric, and chili. Come hungry: you’ll want to sample the baklava and boureka pastries, or nab a chair at one of the many bistros and cafes lining the market’s perimeter.
Explore Neve Tzedek
This low-slung suburb on Tel Aviv’s southern end was the first Jewish neighborhood to sprout from Jaffa. Today, it’s one of Tel Aviv’s most happening suburbs, home to some of the city’s best restaurants, boutiques, and hotels that have taken over Neve Tzedek’s Art Nouveau and Bauhaus buildings. Along its main thoroughfare, Shabazi Street, you’ll find more contemporary jewelry ateliers than you can shake a stick at (seek out Agas & Tamar for gorgeous gold pieces), French-tinged boutiques (concept store Numéro 13 stocks international indie labels), and homeware stores (hit up Badim for colorful textiles). On the food front, nab a spot on the tree-shaded terrace of Mediterranean-inspired mainstay Suzanna, or head for haute Japanese at the sleek TYO.
Wander around Old Jaffa
Just south of Neve Tzedek sits Jaffa, a cobblestoned maze of alleys and archways bordering an ancient port with mentions of its existence dating back to Biblical times. In recent years, the area has been reinvigorated by hip new arrivals such as Soho House and the Hilweh Market concept store for Palestinian design. Other draws are the restaurant-studded boardwalk and the century-old flea market, which has been turned into a bar- and restaurant hub.