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An impressive wave of vegetable-centric restaurants are taking Israel's biggest city by storm.
How did Israel’s trend-setting city become a herbivore smorgasbord? Start with the abundance of raw material, the gleaming pyramids of eggplants, peppers, and cabbage heaped like pinups at the city’s Carmel Market. Then add all the gastronomic influences—Russian, Polish, Arabic, Moroccan, Bulgarian, Iraqi—that can coax a world of flavors out of the most humble potato. Spending a week going meatless in Tel Aviv isn’t just easy; it lets you sample the city's best bites. As well, most of these no-meat, no-dairy restaurants are essentially kosher by default, appealing to the young, fresh-food-focused population of the coastal city. The following vegan and veg-friendly options (for those dining with dedicated carnivores), are among Tel Aviv's finest:
Café Anastasia: A popular spot framed by a sprawling outdoor terrace, Anastasia is always packed for breakfast. There are tofu crepes, macadamia or chickpea omelets, and veggie scrambles. The milk here is soy, rice, or almond, whipped up fresh in the kitchen, and that means you can indulge in a superbly creamy cocoa shake.
Caffe Kaymak: At first glance, this tiny spot—strung with fairy lights, next to a nut vendor in the middle of Tel Aviv’s Levinksy Market—may not seem promising, but it's a gem. The strictly vegan menu here is long, but a fundamental bean soup is a medley of nutty al dente beans sitting in a sweet tomato broth roused by black pepper, proof that the simplest dishes can pack the most complex flavors. Eat it at the counter open to the street, so you can watch locals pick through the piles of oranges and pomegranates stacked up at the fruit stand across the road.
Nanuchka: Any fear that a menu devoted to vegan Georgian food would be limited is put to rest at this downtown kitchen decorated with playful Russian tchotchkes. Nanuchka’s zucchini stuffed with bulgur and cranberry is amazing, but be sure to save room for the parade of hand-made dumplings: They include a pastry pocket stuffed with potato, paired with eggplant salsa, as well as a pirashki filled with seasonal mushrooms.
Tenat: Order the Injera plate at this Ethiopian vegan café and you get half the menu piled onto one big platter. The centerpiece is the spongy, crepe-like Injera bread, which you can wrap around the accompanying lentils, root vegetables, beetroot leaves, and potato salad. Wash it all down with some strong Ethiopian beer, like Tusker.
Bindella: Though Bindella is one posh Italian restaurant located in an upscale neighborhood of Bauhaus landmarks near central Rothschild Boulevard, it still bows to a veg-hungry local market. One page of the menu is devoted to vegan dishes, including an open ravioli piled with green-pea puree, mushrooms, and green-vegetable ragu. Pair it with the Sicilian cauliflower plate that tosses mint, arugula, hazelnuts, and finely chopped cauliflower into a bright, Italo-Israeli salad.
Chiripom: A recently opened spot, Chiripom focuses on the North African contribution to Israeli cuisine and is already famous for a dish that comes rolled up in a paper cone. Tip the party hat and out roll croquettes made of fried onion, parsley, and white potatoes. Once you crunch through the crisp golden batter, the little treats deliver a filling as creamy as potato mousse. They come served with tahini and diced eggplants, and taste best eaten out on the long al fresco terrace.
Dallal: This sprawling restaurant sitting next to the Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance and Theatre is a quiet refuge, complete with leafy inner courtyard. Some of the waitresses look to be culled from the Dellal dance troupe—that straight-backed posture is the giveaway—and they all are intimately familiar with the veg-centric menu at Dallal. A forest-mushroom-and-mascarpone tortellini with hazelnut and truffled goat cheese makes for a rich starter. But the standout is the signature Dallal ceviche—a composed mound of red peppers, beets, and eggplant, sitting in a pool of sheep's milk yogurt. The fitting final touch: a crown of cubed challah croutons.
The Herbert Samuel Restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton Herzliya: In a city where the salad is more likely to be a star entrée rather than a sidelined starter, the fourteen-ingredient tomato salad is, fittingly, Herbert Samuel’s signature dish. An ode to the tomato, the big bowl tosses in seven varieties of market-fresh tomatoes (cherry to tiger heritage), olives, radishes, onion, scallion, and basil leaves. “I go every morning to the market to see what’s freshest,” says chef Kobi Obayon, who works in a big open kitchen overlooking the Mediterranean coastline. It’s the restaurant’s kosher mantle, though, that helps elevate the salad here, as well as all of the veggie-centric cuisine in Tel Aviv. “When you learn to cook without butter or cream,” Obayon says, “you learn to work with the flavor of the raw vegetables themselves.”