Visitors often overlook a city’s suburbs – a practice that is both unjust to the urban periphery and a lost opportunity for the traveler. Amsterdam’s diverse outlying boroughs and Washington D.C.’s endless sprawl reveal more of the local culture than their downtown cores ever will. And, besides, for the hungry visitor the suburbs frequently hold the promise of inexpensive, delicious dining.
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Tel Aviv’s suburbs are nearly as dense, perhaps even denser, than the heart of the city. Despite the many acclaimed chefs working in the Big Orange, the ‘burbs have establishments that rival those of the urban hub. These suburbs and outlying areas owe some of their culinary diversity to ethnic discrimination. When waves of Jewish immigrants began arriving from Middle Eastern countries in the 1950s onward, most were directed to the peripheral parts since the core of the city was already settled by Ashkenazi Jews. Today you can taste the consequences of this in the wide range of spectacular eateries just outside Tel Aviv.
Although metropolitan Tel Aviv lacks a metro system, these suburbs and neighboring municipalities are easily reachable by bus or "sherut" (a shared taxi) from anywhere in town. They also offer fantastic art museums (as in Bat Yam and Ramat Gan), beautiful parks and an opportunity for an urban stroll that reveals the country’s true heartbeat.
Here then is a list of favorite haunts just beyond Tel Aviv.
64 Ben-Gurion St. (promenade), Bat Yam
This bar on the Bat Yam promenade is so many notches above other establishments in the area, its existence seems nearly miraculous. The fantastic, beautifully served seafood starters would have been this bar's claim to fame, if it wasn't for the beer. No other place in the entire country pours such artful pints.
72 Sokolov St. Ramat Hasharon
The bored teenagers of Tel Aviv's affluent northern suburbs have little to do in the evenings other than hang out in pizza parlors. Fortunately for them "Slice" pizzeria, in the very center of Ramat Hasharon, is one of the best in the Middle East. Each thin-baked, delicious slice is served with a particularly tasty garlicky tomato sauce.
43 Hamakabim St. Bnei Brak
The neglected working-class neighborhood of Pardes Katz, a non-Haredi enclave in the largely ultra-Orthodox town of Bnei Brak, is home to a surprising strip of fantastic Libyan-Jewish restaurants. Atzmon is my favorite of the lot, being run by its namesake, who also cooks all the food. This is the place for fantastic couscous, as well as a number of less familiar North-African treats.
7 SyrkinSt. Givatayim
The best known of all establishments mentioned here offers a single dish: sabich. This Iraqi-style delight, consisting of pita bread stuffed with fried eggplant, boiled egg, potato and condiments, is good to begin with, but Oved serves it with truly unusual flare, in a Hebrew slang that he has invented. He'll turn the Hebrew word for eggplant ("hatzil") into a verb, asking customers if they'd like their portion "eggplanted." Then he's got a whole other code, based on soccer team colors. You want amber sauce? You have to ask for Macabbi, the Tel Aviv team that wears yellow. Ordering at Oved's is participating in the best show in town, and the food is excellent too.
Jem's Beer Factory
15 Hamagshimim St. Petah Tikva
An excellent brewpub in the unlikely location of the outskirts of Petah Tikva's traditional industrial zone. Besides producing fantastic beers (try their amber ale) Jem's has become a beloved venue for music of all kinds, with big stars taking the stage. Near the entrance, a basketball hoop is fixed to the wall, allowing the clientele to enjoy pre-drink dunks, or post-drink misses.
1 Hashuk St. Or Yehuda
Or Yehuda has nothing particularly attractive about it, yet people flock to this working class town just for its food. The place is packed with excellent, inexpensive eateries, many featuring food inspired by the residents' Iraqi, Algerian and other Middle Eastern roots.
The best-known establishment in town is this excellent grilled-meat emporium that combines the Palestinian and Mizrahi [Middle Eastern Jewish] traditions favored throughout the country. The place is named for the famed operation in which Israeli commandos rescued the hostages of a hijacked plane in the Ugandan airport in 1976.
Cafes, falafel and shawarma
You may have noticed a few staples of Israeli culinary life are missing from this smorgasbord. One is the typical Israeli café. While Tel Aviv's café culture does seem to end at its municipal boundaries, two exceptions stand out: Givatayim's cozy Café Viola, and Ramat Hasharon's fabled bistro Reviva VeSilya, which is located in the heart of an entirely residential neighborhood.
Other absentees are falafel and shawarma stands. Here I must recommend my personal favorite: delicious, herb-rich Falafel Hatzomet, located near Ramat Gan's Diamond Exchange district.
Ramat Gan is also home to metropolitan Tel Aviv's best known shawarma stand: Shemesh, located on its major Jabotinsky thoroughfare. But on this matter, opinions differ broadly. It would not be fair to feature only Shemesh here, while so many, yours truly included, swear by Shawarma Jamil, in downtown Herzliya. In short, shawarma, like hummus, is an emotional issue, in these parts. Our tip: Ask a passerby for the neighborhood's finest.