For some, the mere thought of traveling to Israel is terrifying. And while I’m not an international affairs expert, I am an avid world traveler and I’m here to tell you that I have never, ever, ever felt safer than when I traveled to Israel. I have never been to a place where my safety was so blatantly and outwardly the #1 priority of government enforcement. Something I can’t even say about my own city of Chicago.
Okay, soapbox moment = donezo.
Now let’s talk about what we’re here to talk about: eating, drinking, shopping, dancing and sleeping. And man, oh man, there is so much goodness of it all to go around in Tel Aviv.
A truly international, liberal, multi-cultural, fashionable, entrepreneurial epicenter comprised of mainly Millennials, it’s safe to say that Tel Aviv might be the hippest city ever. The juxtaposition of progressive and modern concepts cast against an ancient history, all set on a beach is unlike any place you’ll ever experience. And me and my best gal pal Megan Taylor (whom you might remember from Bali and Portugal) were #blessed to experience so much of it.
You ready? Let’s go.
WHERE TO STAY:
I’m a boutique hotel girl myself, and my go-to resource is always Design Hotels when I’m looking for the most stylish destinations in this genre. (Props to Megan Taylor for introducing me to this site.) It pointed us to the Brown Tel Aviv, a chic and happening spot, boasting a lobby that is a mid-century Soho House with a dash of pop-art. The rooms possess the same quality. We were greeted with a bottle of Israeli red wine and gourmet chocolate for no good reason, and who doesn’t love no good reasons? The Brown’s rooftop lounge is thee it-spot for a happy hour cocktail, complete with a hot tub and epic views of the Israeli sunset.
If you’re looking for a less sceney and a bit more modest (but equally as special) hotel, Lily & Bloom is your sweet-dream come true. A hop-skip-and-a-jump off of the infamous Rothschild street, the understated but impeccable modern minimalist decor is the most refreshing way to begin and end each day. The farm-to-table breakfast buffet serves up Israeli staples such as cous cous and shakshuska, as well as smoked salmon and eggs along with fresh pressed juices. The absolute best part about Lily & Bloom is the location. A 20-minute walk to the beach, a 10 minute walk to Shabazi Street, set in the middle of Rothschild neighborhood and literally across the street from the best rated restaurants in the city, Lily & Bloom is your perfect choice.
WHERE TO SHOP:
If you’re looking for designer boutiques you can’t find anywhere else in the world, Shabazi Street in Neve Tzedek is your spot. Most of these one-of-a-kind shops are the manifestations of born and bred Israeli designers, and let me tell you, the talent here is on fleek. Expect to find winding, brick-laden side street after side street, with a bevvy of stores filled with hand-crafted sunglasses, embellished sneakers, draw-dropping wedding gowns, modern jewelry, an array of althleisure and inspiring home goods.
WHERE TO EAT:
I’m not sure people realize just how cutting edge the food scene is in Tel Aviv. Of all the 18 cities I have been to in the last two years, I experienced the best food in Tel Aviv and that’s not an exaggeration. Israel is in the heart of the Mediterranean, and the produce is unparalleled. Most of the restaurants are locally driven concepts focusing on the freshest vegetables in utterly simple presentations.
We went to Night Kitchen on a Tuesday at 7pm and it was packed to the brim with beautiful people. This #1 rated restaurant on Trip Advisor possesses a straightforward menu of small plates, packed with so much flavor you’re not going to want to share. Cauliflower with tahini and herbs, Artichoke Carpaccio, and Battered Shrimp with ponzu and mint were among the all star highlights. The fact that they serve Israeli sangria by the carafe is also a major bonus.
If you’re a hummus fan, than Abu Adham will turn you into an evangelist. It’s truly a holy experience. In this obscure, hole-in-the-wall joint hidden in a side street strip mall, the Hummus is the main event. The falafel, the Israeli salad, the pickles and the olives are all just side shows to the overly abundant plate-full of the creamiest, richest chickpea and tahini medley of your life. Abu Adham is the epitome of what people call a “hidden gem.” If you go to Tel Aviv – you cannot miss experiencing it.
Dalida had me with its Spicy Feta Brulee: a creme bruleed dish that is all at once spicy and delicate, sweet and savory, rich and light. If you were to eat any dish in Tel Aviv, it would be this one. The small space is dimly lit only by candlelight with a laid-back but super sexy vibe. Additional standouts were the Lamb Kabob’s with pistacios, Raw Zucchini Salad with roasted red pepper sauce and Cured Salmon, smoked buffalo mozzarella, pine nuts, salicornia and purple basil.
Messa is fine dining at its absolute best. The menu is driven by world renowned Chef Aviv Moshe, and has been described as Mediterranean-Middle Eastern “haute-cuisine” with an Italian and French flair. A long, cascading dining table is the centerpiece of the dramatic dining room, with high top chairs atop a marble floor and glowing chandeliers. Choose from appetizers like Thai Sashimi with wasabi sorbet and Crab Gnocchi with bleu cheese fondue and quail yolk, and entrees like Truffle Ravioli with lemon cream and Carmalized Salmon with coconut mousse. PS: don’t forget bring those deep pockets to Me$$a.
The self-described magical and charming Puaa has been relishing a 16-year streak inside the flea markets of Jaffa, Tel Aviv’s oldest neighborhood. (No small task for the competitive food scene here.) But there’s nothing dated about Puaa. If anything, the veggie-forward cafe feels as happening as ever. That’s because tourists and locals alike flock here to get down with Roasted Cauliflower, Curried Pumpkin Dumplings and an all day breakfast that includes Fried Challah and fresh fruit jam.
WHERE TO DANCE:
You’ll soon learn that dancing is my favorite extracurricular activity EVER and that there’s nothing that makes me happier than an obscure DJ who knows how to control a room with killer sound. Hence my love-affair with the nightlife of Tel Aviv. It’s hard to describe a scene so progressive and so hip and yet at the same time, so utterly authentic and unpretentious. Alas, I’ll try.
At first glance, Alphabet looks like your basic bar, until you realize that there’s a wall that divides it into two spaces, catering to two different music tastes: hip-hop vs. electronic. Pick your poison. On both sides, the bartenders are friendly, the drinks are stiff and the sound-system is so state-of-the-art, it will make your body move even if you’re not trying.
Skip two minutes down the street from Alphabet, venture past a synagogue, wind past a falafel stand, give your best smile to what must be a grimacing (but totally friendly) bouncer, head two levels below street level, pull back a thick black curtain and enter Radio. I swear to God I have never been to a cooler bar with better indie dance music and more uninhibited people in my life.
If you’re into late LATE nights, hit up Jimmy Who for electro-beats and a room full of posh punks, a la Berlin. Kuli Alma, Deli and Hoodna Bar also get honorable mentions.
Expect to be surprised in Tel Aviv. Not simply by its talent, its artistry, its innovation and its deliciousness. But also its warmth, hospitality, kindness and, you guessed it, safety. If you’re heading that way and have more questions, feel free to hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org, and leave a comment below on your Tel Aviv tips for the rest of my readers enjoy.
In the spirit of all my photos, I guess I’ll say “Peace.” Or rather… “Shalom.”