Food trucks are driving Israel’s latest restaurant trend

With burgers, taco bowls and artisanal pizzas, Israeli chefs and entrepreneurs are serving up dinner (and lunch) al fresco

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Waiting for dinner on a hot August night at Mashav Food Trucks, off Route 1 outside Jerusalem (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
Waiting for dinner on a hot August night at Mashav Food Trucks, off Route 1 outside Jerusalem (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Food trucks are finally serving fast food to Israeli diners, but don’t expect falafel or shawarma.

Instead, these customized trucks may serve spicy rib sandwiches or fiery taco bowls, artisanal white pizzas and Campari slushies, often from pastoral lots where these temporary eateries are parked permanently, or at least for an entire season.

“There’s nothing else quite like it,” said Nadav Elbaz, the chef and co-owner of Mashav Food Trucks just off Route 1, the main Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway. Mashav is an outdoor complex of food trucks across from the Shoresh exit. “I’ve been a chef for 25 years and it’s fun for me. It’s not like working in a closed kitchen with fluorescent lights.”

Mashav Food Trucks set up shop last summer, when many restaurants were still mostly closed due to the pandemic. Elbaz — along with his co-owners in a Jerusalem-area restaurant group that includes Asian eatery Naya in Beit Nekofa, garden cafe Derech HaGefen in Beit Zayit and Cafe Shalva — thought that open-air dining from food trucks was an idea whose time had come.

“It exploded,” said Elbaz. “It was so crowded last year. This year it’s full; last year, we were just overloaded. We’re also better planned this year.”

The pandemic pushed food trucks forward in Israel during the last few years as diners sought outdoor locations. At least half a dozen municipalities, including Haifa, Kfar Saba, Ra’anana, Jerusalem and Bat Yam recently published tenders for food truck operations.

Chef Nadav Elbaz, one of the owners of the Mashav Food Trucks complex outside Jerusalem (Courtesy Nadav Elbaz)

“There are some restaurants that want another branch, and others for whom this is their first food business, and they’ll drive around with it,” said Amos Hakimi, who started Masaeat with his father seven years ago, after being inspired by the 2014 food road trip movie, “Chef.”

The family company, based out of its home base in Kfar Uria in central Israel, builds, customizes and operates food trucks all over Israel, including some for gas station market Yellow, the Cafe Landwer chain and locations at Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo as well as their local complex in Kfar Uria.

“What’s great about it is that it’s real estate on the move,” said Hakimi.

They can also be parked, and that seems to appeal to some of the newer food trucks on the scene.

Mashav has several food trucks on its hilltop premises, with a long wooden bar with seating overlooking the Jerusalem hills and dozens of small and large picnic tables for diners, as well as a dedicated host each evening who helps solve any ordering issues on the Mashav app.

Its plan is to stay in place through November and even December. It’ll be open for lunch as well during the holiday of Sukkot, when families take trips and go hiking and are often looking for an easy, relatively cheap meal on the road.

It’s relatively inexpensive for restaurateurs as well, said Hakimi, whose food trucks cost from NIS 120,000 (around $34,285) to NIS 200,000 ($57,142) for a custom-made one.

Cafe Muskat, opened in 2022 to augment home furnishings store Muskat in Netanya (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Some businesses look for a food truck to augment their offerings, like Netanya’s Cafe Muskat, a permanently parked vintage-styled food truck serving sandwiches and fresh juices, coffee and Buddha bowls outside Muskat, a home furnishings store that sits in a gas station complex near the city’s train station.

The auxiliary business takes advantage of extra space to add live music evenings, menu specials and a restaurant atmosphere.

“It offers a solution for someone who doesn’t want to create something permanent. It’s immediate,” said Hakimi.

Jerusalem’s Autochel — Hebrew for food truck — that opened during July and August in the spacious Hinnom Valley behind the Cinematheque theater, was one of the biggest food truck complexes.

Every week, several local restaurants would bring their menu for a three-day-period to one of the food trucks on hand.

A busy night at Jerusalem’s summertime Autochel food truck site in August 2022 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Diners had to download an app, choose what they wanted to eat or drink and then head to the appropriate truck upon receiving a text message that the food was ready.

It’s hard work, however, for temporary food truckers who are not accustomed to the tight quarters.

Some of the restaurants would get backed up, with lines of diners snaking around the truck waiting impatiently for their food.

“It’s really intense,” said the line cook at Tommy’s Burgers as he rushed to fill the dozens of orders for burger and fries one hot Tuesday night in August.

Cooking is easier at the Mashav Food Trucks because of a limited menu that’s repeated every day, said Elbaz.

“What’s good about it is the parameters,” said Masaeat’s Hakimi. “If your food is good and your location is good, and if you’re professional and can give good service, you’ve got a great alternative.”

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