I had the occasion to visit Tel Aviv, Israel recently for work. I was admittedly not looking forward to this trip, but I was pleasantly surprised how much I ended up liking Tel Aviv. The food scene is pretty great and the beach-oriented, laid-back lifestyle was nice to experience. The city definitely has a car problem, but it is trying to ameliorate that by installing light rail and new bike lanes.

Tel Aviv beach

Unfortunately, I came down with a case of food poisoning shortly after I arrived, and then my second weekend was filled with continuous rain (at times torrential; rain at all is pretty rare in Tel Aviv), both of which hindered my capacity for exploration.

North Abraxass kitchen

North Abraxass: If you are in Tel Aviv, you must go to this restaurant. While the plating concept is definitely gimmicky (most dishes are served on cardboard or in paper bags), the food is world-class delicious. Eating at the bar in front of the open kitchen is a requirement: it completely changes one’s experience as the restaurant suddenly becomes much more personal. Plus, you get to gawk at all of the other dishes that you didn’t order as they get paraded by and sometimes lit on fire. Reservations recommended, but then ask to sit at the bar. (I didn’t have a reservation and got lucky on a slow weekday).

claro;: Really nicely done food. This is a huge restaurant; it is best to sit at the counter next to the open kitchen. It is located in sort of an open air mall in rustic buildings with shops and other food vendors; I hear that the nearby Anita gelato shop is worth going to and the Whiskey Bar & Museum caught my eye.

Mashya: This was the closest best option to where I was staying during a rainy night. The food was executed extremely well and the plating was engaging. Service was terrible, but I’m pretty sure it was only because this one waiter was inattentive and, as a walk-in, I had the worst seat in the house at the end of the bar. Make reservations. Have dessert.

A delicious drink at Spicehaus

Spicehaus: If you are in Tel Aviv, you must come here. The cocktails were inspired and lively: I had intended to have one or two and then move on, but I ended up spending my evening here. I even got to demo an upcoming cocktail for the mixologist’s new place down the street. The sister/brother bartender/mixologist pair Ella and Rosco really took care of me. If you go, tell them Eric from Google in New York sent you. Having delicious cocktails while watching Tel Aviv go by through the open-air bar surrounded by fun and passionate people makes this my second favorite cocktail bar ever.

Yashka: Said to have the best shawarma in Tel Aviv. It is indeed really tasty; I recommend the mixed shawarma. Apparently you should ask for the curry mango sauce, but I didn’t know that at the time. Come here after visiting Spicehaus to detox.

Cafelix: This is a local roastery and chain of third-wave cafes with many locations throughout Tel Aviv. It is a reliable place to get good, cared-for espresso.

HaKosem: Said to have the best falafel in Tel Aviv. I made a special trip here on my last day on my way to work to try it. It was definitely delicious, but it’s not clear to me that it is significantly better than most falafel sandwiches I’ve ever had. It’s worth trying, though.

Masada: We came here just after we arrived as it was close by and still open. The service was friendly and the food was fine, though I may have gotten food poisoning here.

Old Man and the Sea: This place is pretty famous. The food was good (and overwhelming with choices: the table is served 20 dishes even before ordering anything), but the service was simultaneously inattentive, redundant, and hurried. I wouldn’t go back and I’d recommend trying another mediterranean-style restaurant.

La Mer: We dug our feet into the sand of Bograshov Beach and had a pleasant drink here on a night with good weather. Recommended for at least that activity.

Jerusalem Day Tour by Abraham Tours: We wanted to visit the historical sites in Jerusalem, which is only about an hour away by car. We had trouble discerning which of the many tour agencies offering a trip around Jerusalem from Tel Aviv were any good. We settled on Abraham Tours and were pleased: Our tour guide, Yariv, was friendly and motivated to ensure we got to see everything we could, despite the cold, driving rain. We hit all of the normal sights in the Old City, and then ended at the vivacious Mahane Yehuda Market. I’ve got to say that, even as an devout atheist, visiting Jerusalem was impressive: it has so much history and still feels like Jesus and Brian could be walking through the streets. Visiting really gave a better context for the history of the region.

A nice spot for a quick coffee

Vista: Serves up espresso and pastries with a gorgeous view of the sea and the city. This was a great mid-run break on my last morning in the city.

Yaffo Tel Aviv: We went here for a quick bite before going to the airport and after a late lunch. The food was delicious, the service was attentive, and decor was tasteful. I wish I had more time and a bigger appetite to properly give this restaurant its due.

Dan Hotel Tel Aviv: The hotel is has a reputation for being fancy and for hosting famous guests, but it seems like it really hit its peak around 5-10 years ago. It is in need of a face lift in places, but is a perfectly fine place to stay. The breakfast buffet is expansive, though with no variation. For the record, the closest place to get decent Israeli craft beer is at the nearby bodega, Tiv Ta’am in the City.

Getting around: We predominantly walked and used Gett to hail cabs, which was unreliable during times of peak demand. I would have liked to figure out the bike share system, but I was too lazy. Walking in the rain in Tel Aviv is not recommended: the streets quickly flood, resulting in tsunamis from passing cars, and sidewalk surfaces were obviously not chosen for traction.

There are so many gorgeous, stray cats in Tel Aviv and Israel!