Israeli restaurants are sophisticated and varied, as one would expect from a country with immigrants from dozens of countries and a well-traveled population. Be sure to sample the culinary traditions of the Middle East at neighborhood restaurants. Here you fill up on dishes such as hummus and warmed pita bread accompanied by a variety of skewered grilled meats, bowls of falafel, and an astonishing array of fresh salads and mezze. Unlike the street version, pita is served on the side to tear into pieces and dip into mezzes, and portions tend to be very generous. Restaurants in Eilat, Haifa, and Tel Aviv take advantage of their seaside location to serve the best in seafood dishes, and in the major cities it's not difficult to find authentic Italian, Georgian, Latin American, French, Japanese, and American food.
While "kosher" once meant "boring," the number of inventive and sophisticated kosher restaurants is growing. Restaurants certified as kosher by the local rabbinate in every city are required to display a dated and signed Hebrew certificate. All the major hotels throughout the country are kosher and their restaurants and cafés welcome nonguests. The website eLuna is a good source for listings, reviews, and discount coupons for kosher eateries.
Meals and Mealtimes
Hotels serve a huge, buffet-style breakfast called arukhat boker, comprising a variety of breads and rolls, eggs, cereal, excellent yogurt, local cheeses, olives, vegetables, fish salads, and such American-style breakfast foods as pancakes and granola. (It's generally included in hotel rates.) You can find the same spread at many cafés. Outdoor coffee shops serving salads, sandwiches, cakes, and delicious coffee abound. Every city and small town has modestly priced restaurants that open midmorning and serve soup, salad, and grilled meats.
Many restaurants have business lunch specials or fixed-price menus, but à la carte menus are most common. A service charge (sherut) of 10% to 15% is sometimes levied and should be noted separately on your bill.
Because Friday isn’t a workday for most Israelis, Thursday night is the big night out at the start of the weekend, when cafés and restaurants fill up quickly. Friday mornings at Israeli cafés are the equivalent of the U.S.–style Sunday brunch.
Credit cards are widely accepted in restaurants, but always check first. Tips between 12% and 15% can usually only be paid in cash, but sometimes restaurants can add the tip to your credit card if you ask. If you’re dining in a smaller town or village, make sure you have sufficient cash with you, as credit cards are sometimes not accepted.
Reservations and Dress
Dress in all but the most expensive Israeli restaurants is generally casual. Except for some restaurants in five-star hotels, men don't need a jacket and tie. Israeli restaurants in the larger cities fill up in the evening. Unless you're dining early—before 7 pm—reservations are advised for all except the smallest neighborhood restaurants.
Wines, Beer, and Spirits
Wine has deep roots in Israeli culture. Israel is one of the earliest wine-producing areas in the world, and the symbol of Israel's Ministry of Tourism is a large cluster of grapes borne on a pole by two men—straight from the Bible story of the spies sent to fetch fruit from the Promised Land. Wineries built during the 19th century are still producing wine today, and a plethora of boutique wineries have sprung up in the past decade. Dalton, Domaine du Castel, Tishbi, Yarden, and Carmel are good bets and on many Israeli wine lists. As for spirits, those with a taste for Greek ouzo may enjoy the comparable local arak. Sabra is a locally produced chocolate- and orange-flavored liqueur.
The commercially produced beers in Israel are Maccabee and Goldstar (lagers), and Carlsberg, Heineken, and Tuborg are popular imports. Beer is most commonly available by the bottle, though most bars serve it on draft. In recent years, the microbrew trend has hit Israel, with more than 20 boutique breweries producing craft beers and some winning awards in international competitions. Ask for Dancing Camel or Malka, if you’re adventurous. The Palestinian beer Taybeh is very popular and often available in Israeli bars.