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Monday, July 9, 2012

The Enlightened Traveler:
When In Tel Aviv, Do as The Tel Avivim Do

The dynamic residents of Israel's bustling second largest city know how to live.

Modern Tel Aviv has stunning beaches and charming neighborhoods, if you know where to look
On every block, in every Tel Aviv neighborhood you'll find a cozy cafe, chic wine bar, funky coffee joint, tantalizing ethnic eatery, or world-class restaurant. Enthusiastic diners spill out onto sidewalks where they perch at tables and carry on until two or three in the morning, even on weekdays.

It's hard not to fall in love with a city whose population derives so much pleasure from good food and lively conversation.

("Lively" is an understatement. The Tel Avivim don't converse, they debate – about everything from politics to who makes the best pizza. Or as the old joke goes, "Four Israelis, five opinions!")

Tourists congregate mostly at the large, graceless chain hotels that hug the city's shimmering Mediterranean shoreline; along Dizengoff Street, its hit-or-miss main shopping boulevard; or at the bars and restaurants of the renovated, crowded Old Port.

While its  beaches are fabulous, Tel Aviv isn't really a resort destination. Nor do you go there to shop.

Much has been written in the last few years about Neve Tzedek, one of the earliest Jewish neighborhoods dating from the last quarter of the 19th Century. It was neglected until the 1980s when gentrification and preservation efforts brought boutiques, wine bars, and restaurants.

Today it is one of the city's most fashionable and expensive districts, frequented late into the night by tourists and locals alike. Particularly notable: The Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance, home to two of the country's leading troupes, Inbal and Batsheva.

While Neve Tzedek remains a popular entertainment quarter, savvy locals often head in the other direction at night toward the less well known Ibn Gvirol Street, home to some of the city's hottest and most interesting eateries.

Elba: new addition to Ibn Gvirol's many restaurants
The municipal government upgraded and refreshed this modern, wide boulevard a few years ago. Its arcaded buildings provide shelter for a stroll on a rainy or stifling day. Tel Avivim flock here because they know that there's something for everyone to enjoy on Ibn Gvirol.

Elba (at No. 36) is a sophisticated, pricey wine bar that opened to great anticipation a few months ago. It's minimalist interior would look right at home in New York or London.

Chef Yair Yosefi was born in Tel Aviv, cooked in Paris (at Le Grand Vefour and Lasserre) for ten years, and returned to start Elba. Yosefi is offering new interpretations of Israeli, French, and Mediterranean dishes, including a signature slow roasted chicken that undergoes a 48-hour preparation and cooking process.

Ha Miznon: modern twist on a pita joint

At the opposite end of the scale sits Ha Miznon, a tiny street food joint serving up fluffy, warm pitas filled with a remarkably delicious assortment of unlikely ingredients: short ribs, chicken livers, and shrimp plus house-made tahini sauce, pickles, peppers, and other condiments.

Another specialty is a whole cauliflower, unhurriedly roasted to delicious, tender perfection.

Eyal Shani, who previously ran several noteworthy high-end restaurants, is the talented chef behind this very affordable, locally popular establishment.

The scene is so casual and the food so original and tasty that you will want to come back again before you leave Tel Aviv.

Ha Miznon is at No. 23 Ibn Gvirol. The sign is in Hebrew only, so ask to make sure you're at the right place.

We'll have more on the many pleasures to be found on trendy Ibn Gvirol plus hotel recommendations and additional Tel Aviv travel tips in a subsequent post.


  1. This is the best travel blog...so informative. You make me want to go to every place you write about.

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