Pita is a carbohydrate wonder, with a pocket that appears mysteriously during the baking process and can be filled with almost anything you want. It’s no surprise that pita is the unchallenged ruler of Israeli street food: It has long since stopped being a way to catch a bite in transit, and has become the new and challenging playing field of many chefs. Assembling the pita is a real art: Although it looks like a simple task, finding the ideal proteins and creating the surrounding salads are not. Only the best chefs can figure out how to do it and compete for the loyalty of hungry eaters.
Whether you favor the beloved crispy falafel with tahini and amba (a mango chutney), or seek adventure in the form of juicy variety meats and upgraded salads, the offerings in Tel Aviv are always surprising. From veteran pita stands to new places that are revolutionizing the genre, this is a world in which “magicians” and “doctors” are doing holy work in the kitchen. We decided to go on a journey in search of the perfect pita.
Falafel Hakosem (The Magician’s Falafel)
A man who understands the genius of excellent street food is Ariel Rosenthal, the magician who 17 years ago started a modest falafel stand that has become an empire. The understanding that street food is an experience of flavors, smells and a connection to the busy street has transformed Hakosem from just another food stand to an art of entertaining no less exciting than that of a trendy chef’s restaurant. The fresh ingredients, creative portions and friendly service justify the long lines of hungry customers waiting for a taste of the outstanding pita prepared here.
What goes in the pita? A spicy and comforting portion of Moroccan fish (48 shekels), the famous Hakosem falafel, which started it all (19 shekels); juicy shwarma (36 shekels) that goes great with the variety of fresh salads, headed by the fine hummus whose quality is the result of the personal import of chickpeas and excellent Al Arz tahini. The portions also come in a platter version, but who needs it?
Hakosem, Shlomo Hamelech 1, Tel Aviv
If you’ve been to Rothschild Boulevard in recent months and have come across the legendary cardboard figure of Dr. Shakshuka peering among the bushes, you were probably happy to discover that the most famous shakshuka in Jaffa (eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers, and onions) has arrived at the city’s trendiest boulevard. Bino, Dr. Shakshuka’s most recent addition, operates in a younger and simpler format than the original restaurant, and combines the Jaffa classics with new and equally tasty dishes. Bino Gabso, who declares a special relationship with the beloved pocket of dough, retains the desirable title of “doctor” and proves that even at the age of 65 it’s possible to surprise people within the round soft borders of pita.
What goes in the pita? Bino’s addictive mutton shwarma with spicy chuma pepper, tahini and eggplant salad (38 shekels); a super-shakshuka in pita or in a skillet, which can receive upgrades of merguez (spicy frankfurters) and mushrooms (22-45 shekels). In the new dishes section they are offering the Shaul Evron mix, which includes a variety of spicy internal organs, a dish dedicated to Bino’s dear friend (38 shekels). Vegans will also find consolation here in the guise of egg-free shakshuka with mushrooms (45 shekels) and pita and falafel with cabbage and tahini (19 shekels).
Bino, Rothschild 73, Tel Aviv
Jasmino, the hottest name in Tel Aviv street food, has earned songs of praise for its juicy, unusual chunks of meat. Its owners decided to waive attractive design, superfluous sophistication and even music, and instead focused on creating a marvelously tasty and affordable assortment of pitas. Along with an excellent strategic location – which at noon serves the passerby from bustling Allenby Street and at night continues with the partygoers at the parallel Har Sinai complex – it’s clear why the place has already become a sensation.
What goes in the pita? On the menu listed on the ceramic tiles there are only four choices, with everything prepared on site of course: the famous kebab from a mixture of mutton and veal (28 shekels); beef hotdogs with spicy seasoning (29 shekels); chicken breasts (30 shekels); and a cool twist of veal heart in a spicy marinade (28 shekels). Sometimes there are equally amazing specials of lamb tonsils (45 shekels); flank steak or rump steak (45 shekels); and mixed internal organs (28 shekels). All these are arranged with amazing precision inside the pita, along with spicy pepper and onion hot from the grill, a fresh vegetable salad, tahini and a pinch of amba.
Jasmino, Allenby 97, Tel Aviv
Mifgash Haosher (Happiness Joint)
This small and charming place on King George Street was established over four years ago. Since then it has managed to create a reputation for itself as one of the most fun pita places in town. At Mifgash Haosher, owned by Bentzi Arbel and Omri Kravitz, there is true respect for the concept of street food; they lend the experience a feeling of meticulous preparation and a lot of attention even to the smallest details. The ingredients of every portion are first placed in a stainless steel bowl, so that all the flavors and ingredients can blend in harmony before being placed inside the pita. You can have fun eating at one of the small tables on the street, or you can take the pita and sit on one of the pleasant benches on nearby Masaryk Square.
What goes in the pita? The on-target menu offers a daily portion of happiness on a plate (but that’s for another article), or hidden in pita, of course. Aside from light-colored and extra crispy falafel balls (18 shekels), you’ll also find an inspired idea in the form of sabich (fried eggplant with hard-boiled egg in pita) with sour cream and sweet potato (22 shekels); cauliflower sabich with a brown egg and vegetables (26 shekels) and a lighter pita with chickpeas and curry, along with a tart labaneh (20 shekels).
Mifgash Haosher, King George 105, Tel Aviv
Eyal Shani’s pita empire is probably responsible for the pita revival on the streets of Tel Aviv. Shani’s genius lies not only in his amazing ability to turn simple ingredients into a culinary addiction (which could in theory be prepared at home), but also in the precise and pioneering analysis of the needs of the average Israeli diner. With three local branches, two in Europe and another two locations in process in Australia and the United States, Shani is providing great public relations for Israeli cuisine and the perfection that pita can contain.
What goes in the pita? The new inspiration is called a falafel burger; it comes with sour cream, red onions, a pickle and of course roasted tomatoes (27 shekels). Among the old favorites you’ll find minute steak (46 shekels) and the excellent ratatouille made from eggplant, squash, tomatoes and onions that are roasted slowly in the oven and combined with an egg (34 shekels).
Miznon, King George 30, Tel Aviv
Shai and Eyal Kitzis, the owners of the Asian eatery The Bun in the Carmel Market, decided after six years of activity to take on their next culinary challenge. A few months ago the two started a new stand at the entrance to the Carmel Market (a few meters from The Bun), where they grill several great skewers that are not especially sophisticated, and serve them in pita with a selection of additions. It’s worth mentioning that you won’t find tables and spacious seating here, but if you’re already spending a day of wandering around in the market atmosphere - don’t hesitate to eat standing up and let the tahini drip out.
What goes in the pita? Lovers of the skewer genre can say “eeny, meeny, miny, moe” and end up with a familiar classic that any hungry person would be happy to get: chicken breast, kebab, lamb internal organs, merguez sausages, slow-cooked short ribs and a mixed vegetarian cauliflower pita (30-45 shekels). You’re invited to add to the pocket tahini, sumac onion, amba (of course), greens, tomato salad on the grill and spicy green peppers.
Carmel, Hillel Hazaken 18, Tel Aviv
Sometimes you don’t have to attack the pita in a roundabout manner. It’s enough to focus on one portion, and simply to make it as good as possible. Frishman Sabich, which is owned by Danny Pe’er and Itzik Sapir, has long been famous for specializing in the romantic triangle formed by the egg, the pita and the eggplant, and does so with great success. The original location on the corner of Dizengoff and Frishman streets has managed to expand to the nearby Frishman Falafel, and to create additional branches throughout the country. We’re the winners.
What goes in the pita? At Frishman Sabich they understand the uniqueness of every diner and along with the good old sabich (19 shekels) they also offer cheese sabich with feta that replaces the hummus (23 shekels), a healthy version that comes in a whole wheat handmade pita; a vegan sabich without an egg and even portions in gluten-free pita (24 shekels). All the portions are also available on platters (29 shekels)
Frishman Sabich, Frishman 42, Tel Aviv