About 20 years ago, we found ourselves enjoying the entire day on a quiet beach while vacationing in Rhodes. The sun beat down on us during the journey in the open jeep and continued to dance on the water for hours, burning the salty skin. In the early evening, well before sunset, the hunger of youth took over. We went into Lindos and entered the first tavern we encountered, on the roof of one of the homes. It was so hot that even the cats were rolling around in ice water.
The host sat us down at a long table next to the roof edge and lay before us pails of ice water, in which we dipped our feet. A moment later, the table was filled with small plates containing salad with small, hard zucchini, dill and yoghurt, grilled eggplant, fried halloumi cheese spread over burnt sage, calamari filled with feta and fresh sumac, small fish fried with hot green pepper, a huge fish on the grill, and whole shrimp burnt on coals with a fresh sauce of grilled tomatoes and garlic, and so on and so on.
A memorable feast, but you don’t have to go all the way to the Greek islands for great fish and meaty seafood. Outstanding ouzo can also be found in Israel.
Expensive or popular, authentic or modern, these are Tel Aviv’s top fish restaurants.
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One of the city’s most enjoyable restaurants has mostly been flying under the radar for some years – and that’s a real shame. At the entrance of Old Jaffa, on the side between the flea market and the sea, you will find Shabtai Hayafe, a Greek-inspired fish and seafood restaurant that you easily almost suspect of being a tourist trap. And that’d be too bad.
The wooden windows are painted blue, and blue-and-white checkered tablecloths are spread out on the tables. However, if you really want to feel like you’re in Greece you’re better focusing on the food. Among the wonderful appetizers are tzatziki, skordalia, a salad with white beans, onion and good Greek olives. There is also a beet dish, fresh vegetable salad, tahini, radish salad and many others.
There is an authentic Greek salad with feta and oregano, goat cheese with olive oil, but the highlight is, of course, the beauty of the fish. Look out for the spicy chraime shrimp and blue crab. And, if it’s available, don’t pass up on the chocolate mousse and pistachio parfait. About 130 shekels ($36) per person.
36 Hatsorfim Street, Jaffa. 03-6832250
One of the city’s best restaurants is full of atmosphere any time of the day. In the afternoon, it’s nice to enjoy a relatively relaxed business lunch alongside an amazing selection of wines. And in the evening, the lively bar is reminiscent of the streets of Madrid. Despite the joyous atmosphere, chef Sharon Cohen and his staff create meticulously prepared food, which is characterized by a refreshing, clean line, in which the raw materials are the center of the presentation.
Among the hits are soba salad; shrimp soaked in hot water with cilantro, grilled onion and rice sheets; crystal shrimp carpaccio; red tuna salad with suman noodles and seaweed; red tuna carpaccio with wasabi and a campari lemongrass sorbet, half-a-lobster with spaghettini in fish stock, lemongrass; and calamari; and gnocchi in white butter sauce with crab meat, scallops and crystal shrimp. It is expensive and worth every shekel. Starts at 250 shekels per person in the evening.
182 Ben Yehuda Street, Tel Aviv. 03-5221224
Although this belongs to that generation of restaurants that aren’t particularly new or old, Barbounia still feels as if it has been here forever. You get straightforward service as you enter, and your table will soon fill with little plates of salads, soft breads and a jug of soda water. The early stars include the grilled cauliflower, Waldorf salad, creamy potato salad, spicy carrot salad, eggplant salad in a particularly thick tahini, and a tomato salsa that’s rich in garlic. For the entrées, we love a serving of a mixed seafood, mixed small fish when available and meaty shrimp in butter and garlic. They are simple classics.
In the next-door dim and chilly bar, you can complement your drink – to the extent this is possible – with sashimi or carpaccio of fish, a serving of super crispy calamari heads and grouper head. For dessert, there is halva parfait and espresso parfait. About 150 shekels per diner.
163 Ben Yehuda Street, Tel Aviv. 03-5240961
Maybe the oldest of the city’s fish restaurants, it began in the 1960s as a spot for workers from the nearby wholesale fruit and vegetable market to grab a bite. Two years ago it relocated to its new home across the street and is now more trendy, colorful and a more pleasant place to hang out. Even though the reins are slowly being handed over to the third generation of the family, they still zealously preserve a few old iron-clad principles.
The first is for serving excellent salads, which stand out for their preference for the traditional Eastern European kitchen, and more than fair prices for the extensive wine list. Among the salads you won’t find elsewhere are small plates of chopped liver, egg salad, soused herring (matjes), dill pickles and a cooked beetroot salad. From the menu check out the fried sardines, soup with red fish balls, freekeh ceviche and a Caesar salad with shrimp – and no gourmet restaurant makes carpaccio from fresh fish like Haim at Hashaked. The price is about 150 shekels to 200 shekels per person.
99 Hahashmonaim Street, Tel Aviv. 03-5610546
Another Jaffa fish restaurant that flies under the radar but is always surprisingly good whenever you visit. The inside space is simple and, in truth, a bit drab, but the portions are generous, the prices still rather affordable and the service is first-rate. The appetizer salads that really stood out were the tomato salad, spicy green tahini, tomatoes in tahini and the matbukha. The main dishes will remind you of old-time fish places – and we mean that in a good way: Fried fish or on the grill, shellfish and other dishes you last saw in the 1980s, including shrimp in sesame and trout in cream with mushrooms.
69 Kedem Street, Jaffa. 03-6833339
A restaurant that has proven for over 20 years that you don’t need to cross the Yarkon River, into the city center, in order to eat good fish. The atmosphere is elegant, even if slightly old-fashioned, the restaurant is quiet and the service attentive. The menu tries to preserve a classic appearance, but it probably would not hurt to invest a bit more effort and try and get out of the rut. Appetizers include the salted root and granola salad, zucchini blossoms filled with shellfish, beet ravioli with scallops on the grill and crispy sage, alongside classics such as smoked trout salad, soused herring in oil and traditional smoked salmon. The elegant and overgenerous main courses are of the old and reliable style, including shellfish in crab sauce, blue crabs baked in the oven, clams marinière and spinach fettuccini with shrimp, clams and bottarga. An excellent place for work meetings and your grandparents’ anniversary.
54 Moshe Sneh Street, Tel Aviv. 03-6483030
Derby Fish Bar
Another restaurant that, despite its generic location, still manages to surprise. In a sleepy shopping center in Ramat Aviv, near a supermarket and bank, this fish restaurant lies hidden. People come here to work and not to waste time. You want a refined gourmet restaurant? Wrong address. You want to bring the whole family? Then this is definitely the place. The crowd is older and business-like, and the culinary narrative fits the bill. The choice of mezes is amazingly limited, but hits the spot with good fish roe, herring, labneh, matbukha, beets cooked in cumin, white cabbage salad, thick tahini and a fresh vegetable salad finely diced on the spot and filled with lemon, parsley and onion. Saltwater fish are served fried or grilled, while the shellfish includes scallops, clams, crabs and calamari, alongside rice and potatoes au gratin.
43 Brodetsky Street, Tel Aviv. 03-6410898
A real on-the-beach experience that has managed to preserve the passion, refresh the menu and tray of mezes – and hang onto its well-trained and experienced staff. An excellent location right on the beach on the border between Tel Aviv and Jaffa makes it our home for lazy breakfasts on weekends and for early, pre-sunset dinners in the summer. In winter, sitting inside reminds you of a shipwreck in the middle of the sea – and that has a kind of charm.
The tray of appetizers has such hits as mullet ceviche in sumac, a leafy green salad with baked salmon, grilled beets with fried goat’s cheese, tzatziki with eggplant fries, eggplant mousse with labneh and silan, spinach salad, bulgur, shrimp, mango and other options. The wine and cocktail menu pairs up quite nicely with the main dishes, such as chunks of fileted grouper on creamed purple sweet potatoes and slivers of shallot; a shellfish dish to be shared with sweet potatoes and pineapple on the grill with an Asian sauce; fried calamari with a Vietnamese cucumber salad; and a bowl of clams with small beets and grilled gruyere cheese. Not cheap, but you come here to be pampered and leave the rest of the world outside. About 200 shekels per person – and up.
703 Kaufmann Street (behind Charles Clore Park), Tel Aviv. 03-5174773
This restaurant has been around for a very long time and sits right on the waterline in Jaffa Port. It has an inside space, too, rather old-fashioned looking. But it’s worth sitting outside at sunset or opting for the business lunch, which is a great deal. For appetizers, we recommend the salmon carpaccio or the wonderful fresh anchovies, which they pickle here themselves alongside the thick, homemade taramasalata and fish soup. The menu is less predictable than other places and it’s worth checking out the shellfish pasta, a tray that includes a wealth of shellfish and small fish, as well as the crab in butter, garlic and wine. A great place to bring tourists or your provincial parents who want to experience that Jaffa vibe. Simple, authentic and very tasty, even though it’s not particularly polished or cheap. Prices begin at 150 shekels per person.
Jaffa Port. 073-7569540
Fortuna Del Mar
Here’s another place you may not have heard of – or, even worse, have forgotten about when you want to sit by the sea in a laid-back space. The restaurant is right near the sea, with a view looking out over the masts of the crowded Tel Aviv marina. It is also a very appropriate place to bring foreign guests. The menu has an abundance of seafood appetizers, including crab falafel, and refreshing salads. Among the main courses, try the pasta with shellfish, cuttlefish risotto, shrimp, clams and calamari heads and scallops in saffron and cream. The wine prices are fair, and it’s worth remembering that they serve a wonderful breakfast here, along with a generous business lunch, starting at 98 shekels.
14 Eliezer Peri Street, Tel Aviv Marina. 03-5236730
Chloélys did not die. It is still alive and kicking in its kosher form in the beachfront Hilton Hotel Tel Aviv. It may be in a low space and underground, without windows looking out to the sea, but it has an atmosphere packed with prestige. This kosher restaurant is almost sexy and can surprise even those who gluttonously eat everything. Among the appetizers are boquerones – fresh marinated anchovy fillets made here and served on a salad of bell peppers with beans, mustard oil and parsley; saltwater fish sashimi in a cold citrus and anise soup; and mullet kebabs on tabbouleh and cauliflower. The main courses include a wild fish fillet in a casserole with porcini foam and beets; biscaya sea bass with garlic, chili and dried mushrooms; and a sea bar for two with vegetable pesto. The desserts are wonderful, with the bitter chocolate fondant with Cointreau simply outstanding. Just bear in mind that this is currently one of Tel Aviv’s most expensive restaurants.
Hilton Hotel Tel Aviv, 205 Hayarkon Street, Tel Aviv. 03-5202127
This restaurant has been around for a long time and even though in recent years its menu has offered absolutely everything, its location near the sea, patio suspended over the waves, means its kitchen still offers extremely well-executed sea dishes. Appetizers include bouillabaisse; red tuna carpaccio; grouper kebab on yoghurt and bulgur; red tuna roll with cilantro, nuts and Thai sauce (and a large range of light variations on the theme).
The main courses feature baby grouper (fried or oven-baked); pan fish cutlets in a spicy Marrakesh chraime sauce; grouper shawarma with tahini and yoghurt; and grouper chunks in a spicy tomato stew. For the business lunch menu, it’s best to focus on the fish chraime and a wonderful dish of spicy black pasta with sea fish, roasted lamb pancetta with an abundance of cilantro. Breakfasts here are generous and decadent, and fish lovers will be happy to upgrade them with salmon gravlax or herring.
6 Herzl Rosenblum Street, Sea and Sun Complex, Tel Aviv. 03-6996306