Gault & Millau, the second most important French restaurant guide after Michelin, recently issued its ranking of the best restaurants in Israel. In honor of that event, I decided to dedicate this article to ranking the best vegan restaurants in Tel Aviv.
I deliberately did not include restaurant chains, or restaurants outside of Tel Aviv since I’m unfamiliar with them (what I’ve tasted here and there was no great shakes, though maybe I missed something). So I apologize in advance to those worthy vegan restaurants whose acquaintance I’ve yet to make.
Here are the results, moving from the northern part of the city southward. The grades are not from one to 10, but reflect the unique character of each of the six best vegan eateries.
Most promising: Alegria
It’s worth dining at Alegria because everything Motti Nagar prepares is unconventional: Smoked mini-burgers made from black lentils, burned eggplant, cranberries, chipotle and shiitake mushrooms. A layered pastry that includes seasonal vegetables, nuts, burned eggplant mixed with pesto and tahini. The Alegria Mixed Grill includes shiitake and button mushrooms, and tofu with fried onions and spices. Neptune Fingers are made of marinated tofu with a seaweed and Parmesan coating. Tandoori skewers are made of roasted tofu cubes in a fermented cashew and beetroot yogurt marinade. All the dishes are beautifully designed and photogenic.
Less: The location. It’s noisy on Ibn Gabirol near Nordau.
More: Vegan labane, smoked “cheese.” Take some home and enjoy. Slowly.
Address: 165 Ibn Gabirol Street. Tel: 03-613-6964
Best value for your money: Dosa Bar
These dosas – savory crispy crepes made from fermented rice and black moong lentils – are filled with steamed vegetables, Indian spices and other good things, with the pleasant and welcoming spirit of chef Chen Weinstein. There’s also idli (steamed pancakes) and uttapam (a pancake with the vegetables in the batter). The basic batter for all three is the same and it’s packed with total protein from the grain and lentils.
This is a perfect lunch meal and an excellent alternative to bread. It’s also a fine solution for those seeking to avoid or cut back on gluten. The dishes come with coconut chutney and sambar (lentil) soup. Totally vegan and healthful, without commercial spice mixes – and Weinstein makes everything herself.
In India, it’s customary to serve dosas with masala, potatoes and dips. Weinstein serves a tradition dosa with an orange vegetable filling or a Middle Eastern version with tahini and a vegan cacik. The southern Indian menu is much lighter, more refreshing and lemony than the typical heavy Indian cuisine more familiar in Israel.
Less: Again, the location. This area of Ben Yehuda Street is very noisy.
More: You can take home some dosa batter and prepare it as you choose. Or you can take some idli home and eat it with anything.
Address: 188 Ben Yehuda Street. Tel: 03-659-1961
The most fashionable: Urban Shaman
This relatively new place offers organic, cold-pressed juices, shakes enhanced with medicinal herbs, home deliveries, advice from a herbalist and a naturopath, personal diet plans, cleanses, etc. It also sells various versions of what it calls “juice fasts” – light and exhausting, ascetic and delightful, with a salad, soup and a sandwich or without them.
Everything in the restaurant, from the bottles through the plants to the interior design, is attractive. The atmosphere is fun, you learn a new language (can you guess, for example, what rawnola is?), the juices are refreshing, the herbs are green, the modesty is pleasant and the pleasantness is modest. It’s not easy to be charmingly unpretentious, and in this regard Urban Shaman is a role model.
Less: The juice fast, like many diet methods, is controversial. There are those who swear by it and those who oppose it, there are those who tried it and liked it and those who hated it.
And less: What’s scizandra? Cordyceps? Ashwagandha? Some explanations would be nice.
More: Coco Fix – a blue coconut drink. If it’s blue and healthful, what more could you ask for? And even better, there’s an additive called Extra Kick.
Address: 210 Dizengoff Street. Tel: 03-752-1102
The tastiest: Anastasia
Nine parts of charm were bestowed on Anastasia, from the design of the place to the plating of the dishes. The dishes are as tasty as they are beautiful.
Less: I tried but I couldn’t find anything to criticize. Everything, including the small details, is meticulous and welcoming.
More: Vegan risotto.
Address: 54 Frishman Street. Tel: 03-529-0095
The most attractive: Meshek Barzilay
A large compound of courtyards in Neveh Tzedek that includes a restaurant, delicatessen and café, all vegan and organic.
Less: Maybe it’s the size of the place, but the quality is uneven. One day you are sitting in a gourmet restaurant marveling at how great everything is; the next time, you are at the same table eating the same dish – but less so.
More: Tofu and seaweed “meatballs” in a spicy hummus and tomato sauce. Addictive.
Address: 6 Ahad Ha’am Street. Tel: 03-516-6329
The most raw: Neroli
Once it was a health food store with a wheatgrass squeezer. Then they started to sell juices and shakes, and gradually various kinds of foods. Suddenly there were tables and chairs, both inside and outside. No other raw food restaurants are as pretty and meticulous. For those who like raw food.
Less: Not everyone is thrilled by the staff’s tough DNA. I’ll go out on a limb and quote the management’s response: “Niceness is overrated. At Neroli we put integrity first.”
More: Limor Aloni’s hummus. Not raw, not at the bar, but in the store’s refrigerator. You can buy a pita, sit and enjoy. There are tastings on Friday mornings.
Address: 3 Lilienblum Street. Tel: 03-510-7869