If your family is anything like mine, we start talking about our next meal while we’re still eating the current one. Lately, there’s been a lot of discussion about a host of modern Israeli restaurants that are delighting taste buds around the country with fresh ingredients, contemporary techniques and lots of ridiculous pita bread, hummus and more. Since we live travel a lot, we’ve been making our way to many of them, and it’s easy to see why Americans are smitten.
1Ba-Bite – Oakland
Owners Mica Talmor and Robert Gott really want restaurant-goers to feel at home in this casual dining spot. Ba-Bite comes from the Hebrew word babait and they’ve managed to infuse a little piece of home from the Middle Eastern, Oakland and Oregon. The menu’s focus is on crafted salads but there’s a little bit of everything for everyone. Plus, the menu’s always changing, giving you a reason to come back.
2Balaboosta – New York
This is truly where the Mediterranean meets the Middle East. There’s the Brick Chicken, which combines Israeli couscous with a classic Italian gremolata and refreshing taste of apricots. Or take the Shrimp Kataif — delicate Arabic pancakes with green tobiko. Pair dinner with wines from France, Galilee, Portugal, Greece, Isreal, Italy or Serbia.
3Bar Bolonat – New York
Bar Bolonat is part of Chef Einat Admony’s trio of modern Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurants. It’s all about breaking bread here. Shareable plates and sharp flavor is a staple on the seasonal menu.
4Butcher & Bee, Charleston and Nashville
It was supposed to be just a gourmet sandwich shop when it opened on King Street in 2011. Now Butcher & Bee is part coffee shop, part bakery, part sandwich shop and part delightful restaurant where you can get dishes like lamb tartare and grilled harissa radishes with tahini and dried mangos.
5Ema – Chicago
Chef CJ Jacobson’s menu focuses on dips, mezze and spreads. The Orange County native signature dishes are Spicy Hummus, House-Made Stracciatella with Vine-Ripened Tomatoes, and Lamb Kefta Kebabs.
6Freedman’s – Los Angeles
Los Angeles Times called it “Jew-ish,” and for good reason, too. Matzoh ball soup, potato latkes, and schnitzels are definitely on the menu. But the potato latkes come to you shaped like waffles and fried crisp with a sliver of cured sea trout. It’s also technically a deli but a deli that serves a smoked Whitefish salad with caviar and cucumber on bagel alongside a $14 martini.
7Madcapra – Los Angeles
If you want falafel, then go to Madcapra. The menu is simple— four types of falafel either in sandwich or salad form. But simple means fresh, vegan-friendly and organic sourced straight from Southern California.
8Miznon – New York
This popular Israeli restaurant now boasts outposts in New York’s Chelsea Market, and in Paris too. We dare you to resist their pitas packed with punch and deliciousness. And the cauliflower…. Oy, it’s to die for!
9Shaya – New Orleans
A wood-fire oven cooks almost everything at this Louisiana Israeli restaurant. Small plates, hummus, lamb, tartare, salads—it’s all made to share family style.
10Timna – New York
Timna is simultaneously named after Israel’s Timna Valley and the ancient city of Yemen. From ice cream to fresh bread to cheeses, most everything is made in-house under the careful tutelage of Moroccan Chef Nir Mesika. Except for the specially imported items from the Middle East and Mediterranean like tahini from the Palestinian city of Nablus.
11Zahav – Philadelphia
Award-winning Chef Micheal Solomonov is considered one of the best chefs in Philly. Veal carpaccio served with a coffee brined egg and preserved lemon exemplifies the multiple cultural influences in Solomonov’s dishes. And you’ll probably get a peek at Solomonov as he kneads bread in Zahav’s open concept kitchen.
12Zizi Limona, Brooklyn
Another Chef Nir Mesika concept, Zizi Limona is one of the most authentic experiences in Brooklyn (sorry gentrifying hipsters). Lamb-stuffed vegetables, black baba ganoush, fattoush, and masabacha tell Mesika’s personal story of his grandfather baking for the Moroccan King, his mother’s life in Casablanca, and his own childhood in Israel.