So we recently returned from our trip to Israel, and the question I seem to get the most often is “What was the best thing about Israel?” And while we went on many great trips and saw tons of interesting and historic places, for me the best thing about Israel was two-fold: first, just getting to live there day-to-day and enjoying the feeling of being a local, and second, the food. I’ve been back only a short time and I’m already missing my favorite markets and fruit vendors and the amazing challah and burekas.
Therefore, I will devote the next few and final Israel blog posts to some of our favorite and not-to-miss gastronomic recommendations from our trip. I’ve already done that on the café/breakfast front but I would not be representing half of our family fairly if I did not give due diligence to the meat places we frequented.
WHERE TO EAT:
We ate a lot of meat in Israel. I mean A LOT. Kosher meat restaurants were everywhere and unless you live in Brooklyn or Manhattan, it’s hard to not enjoy the feeling that you could walk into just about any restaurant and order whatever you like. That being said, the following were our favorites – not just because they were kosher but they tasted really good. And trust me, there were plenty of restaurants we would not go back to again.
Papagaio – We made a final pilgrimage to this Argentinean churrascaria or steakhouse in Talpiot before we left Jerusalem, bringing our total visits to four (although one of them was for Shabbat take-out). For those of you who have never been to an Argentinean steakhouse – this is all about the meat. Nine different kinds, all prepared on the grill. When you sit down at the table, you are given a number of salatim and a tabletop sign that you use to control the flow of the food – if you display the green side, the meat keeps coming, and if you want to slow down, the red stops it. And it’s quite a show. Meats carved table-side from rolling carts and from giant skewers with a knife the size of a small machete. The restaurant also brings over sides – french fries, sweet potatoes in chili sauce, and warm rolls as well. You should go to Papagaio hungry but DO NOT fill up on the salads, sides and bread – you will be very sorry. Amongst the meat – absolutely fabulous and spicy chicken wings, chicken liver in a balsamic sauce that are delicious, pargiyot (grilled dark meat chicken kabobs) and whole spring chicken, kabobs (ground meat with seasoning on a skewer), stewed meat (I’d pass on this although sometimes they put a bowl on the table), amazing ribs, and entrecote skewers and roast. Of course, the ribs and the entrecote come later in the equation so you have to save some room for them. But if meat is what you’re after, you can’t go wrong. And it just keeps on coming, as long as you like. Just keep the green side of your sign up.
Black Bar ‘n Burger – Black is located fairly near Mamilla mall on Shlomtzion HaMalkah. Steve’s first experience with this restaurant was several years back when he was referred to the place for a late night bite but after discovering both burgers and ice cream on the menu made a quick get-away. But about a year ago, Black went kosher and we’re happy campers. The burgers are thick and juicy and seasoned well. Like many burger joints in Israel, you can choose the size of your burger depending on how hungry you really are (160 grams, 220 or even 330 grams). There are an array of sauces that are available to you to put on your burger (thousand island, barbecue etc.) but we like ours fairly basic to let the quality of the burger shine through. As a starter make sure to get the onion loaf (battered and deep fried onion strings) which is way too big and indulgent for two people but we would order it anyways. We’ve also taken the kids there to enjoy a burger at lunchtime and they do a good kids’ menu, which included many main courses with options on sides, a drink and dessert. Beware Black is more nightclub at night than restaurant, so it’s not great family ambience but worth the trip for the burger.
Buffalo Steak House – Buffalo Steak House on Emek Refaim was probably Jake’s (our 8 year-old) favorite place to eat. If offered the choice, this is where he would choose to go and given that we lived right near it, he wanted to go there a lot. What made the whole thing even sadder for us was that when he went, he didn’t want no kid’s meals No, he wanted steak, lots of it and rare! And to their credit, Buffalo did a great job with a piece of prime rib or entrecote. They also had a delicious burger and even good variations on salad for lunch which somehow made me feel like I was eating a little lighter. Buffalo also sells it’s meats – from a lovely looking case by the front of the dining room, if you’re so inclined.
Roza’s – Roza’s has two restaurants, one down near Yoel Solomon on Jaffa Street and a new outpost in what used to be CoffeeShop at the intersection of Rahel Imeinu and Emek Refaim. We’re weren’t sure that they were going to finish the new Roza’s in time for us to go there before we left Israel, but with 10 days to spare Roza’s opened. The kids were obsessed with the place for some unfathomable reason, literally stopping by to check out the menu before it was open, giving us the daily update on the renovation, and talking about it so incessantly and that we dined at Roza’s on its first full day of operation. The waitress did little to make me like the place nor did the service, but I have to say that the chicken sandwich I ordered, which came on a soft roll with grilled onions and peppers was unbelievably delicious and it had a really good Dijon mustard sauce as an accompaniment. Jake’s steak wrap (or burrito, as he called it) was great, as was Steve’s steak sandwich, while Sammy feasted on guacamole. Roza’s has a good menu and we’re suckers for anything remotely resembling Mexican or Latin American cuisine. Had we stuck around the country a little bit longer, Roza’s might have replaced Buffalo as our family favorite.
Sami & Sima – If you continue walking west on Agrippas street past Mahane Yehuda about 3 blocks down on opposite corners you’ll find two grill restaurants respectively called Sami and Sima. These are classic Israeli grill restaurants and we were slightly partial to Sami (since we have a Sammy) but really it’s hard to go wrong at either one. When you sit down, you’ll receive an assortment of salatim – from red and green coleslaw to pickled vegetables to corn & mushroom salad – you could easily make a meal of just these salads. And the meat – take your pick – pargiyot (or dark meat kabobs), entrecote, lamb chops, kabobs (ground beef), a mixed grill options, and of course schnitzel and hot dogs for the kids, all done on the grill. Add some warm pita, baba ganoush or hummus and Israeli salad and it’s an inexpensive and delicious meal.
Meatos – Check out the post from my birthday in Tel Aviv. Meatos is an awesome kosher meat place in Tel Aviv and a must-go if you’re planning a meal there.
Hummus with Meat – Okay so this obviously isn’t a place – more like a recommendation. While really good hummus can be found all over Israel, on many menus, you can find hummus with meat. It’s a fairly simple dish – ground seasoned meat, sometime with pine nuts, served over a bed of hummus. This became one of Steve’s favorites in Israel and really makes hummus fell very much like a meal rather than an appetizer. Just add a chopped Israeli salad and some pita and you were good to go. This is a dish you can find in all of the basic “Aish” places (basically grill restaurants). Some of our favorites were at Rachmo in Mahane Yehuda, Ima’s and a really fabulous version at this obscure meat restaurant called Susanna way up in the Golan near Katzrin.
WHERE TO BUY
Everyone has their favorite places of where to buy meat and after several recommendations and trial and error I ended up with mine. Truth be told, I wasn’t particularly picky about my chicken, I was able to find fresh, natural, often organic chicken almost anywhere. I was, however, picky about where I bought my beef and lamb.
First, a quick note about purchasing meat in Israel. If you buy at a supermarket, you will notice a poster behind almost any butcher counter showing you the cuts of meat with corresponding numbers. The butchers would like you to order by number. While some of this is obvious (e.g. ground beef), all the pictures don’t necessarily correspond to American cuts and so I ended up with something once or twice that was supposedly “London Broil” but when I prepared it like London Broil it nearly tasted like cardboard. So you are better off pointing to what you need in the display case or if you don’t speak Hebrew, finding a butcher that can speak some English.
Super HaMoshava: While it was at the pricier end of the spectrum, the butcher counter at the Super HaMoshava in German Colony had nice cuts of meat and I found them friendly and helpful. They often carried short ribs which was not a cut found everywhere, yet a family favorite. When you needed a steak, the butcher would slice it to order and all around I found the quality to be terrific. One of the two guys that work the counter speaks English so between that and my basic Hebrew I did just fine (there was also often bi-lingual speakers around in line who could help decipher). Super HaMoshava also sells turkeys for Thanksgiving, which was highly convenient.
Mahane Yehuda: I had my favorite butcher down at the shuk. He can be found on He-Haruv (one of the more off-beat alleys) on the north side and closest to the vegetable stand. The meat was exceptionally good, the place was clean and he would always grind, cut or slice to order. He spoke decent English and always had good suggestions. I bought lamb, ribs, roasts, and other assorted meat. This was my usual Shabbat destination place.
Madane Habira: Too late in the trip, my friend Abby took me to this great butcher on Shmuel Hanavi. This small butcher shop with a teeny tiny parking lot out front is owned by a lovely guy who inherited the shop from his father. Don’t go mid-day because the place is likely to be closed while he makes lunch for himself and his two (Arab) staff. When you walk in, the place is small and packed full with both frozen packaged meat and condiments and sauces of every variety. But when the butcher found out that I wrote a food blog, he proceeded to take me over to his little cooking corner where he was preparing a London broil-like cut that was he was preparing with a combination of a garlic shug (garlic & spices in olive oil) and soy sauce that was so delicious and tender that I couldn’t stop eating it. It’s also really important if you go here, not to be fooled by all the frozen packaging. The shop packages their own products and I bought meat kabobs filled with tehina that were to die for – literally you just put them in the broiler for a few minutes and they turned into these juicy half dollar size kabobs that oozed with just a bit of tehina when you cut into them. Amazing. They also make delicious meat-filled kneidlach that we had several times as dinner – just throw them into boiling soup with some carrots and vegetables and voila. When we take our next sojourn to Israel, this will be the first butcher shop that I go to.
While there were so many more places that we went and that I could write about, the ones listed here are those that were tried and true for us. So next time you’re in Israel and craving some meat this list should get you started. And let me know if there’s somewhere we should put on the list for our next trip there.