Craving some tofu or a nice mouthwatering piece of lettuce? You’re not alone. In fact, there are now so many vegan restaurants in Israel — and mostly in Tel Aviv, of course, that mecca of anything food related — that we can offer a top five list of our favorites.
It should be said that there are plenty of vegetarian and vegan-friendly options as well, but we were looking for places where vegans could walk in and order anything on the menu, without fear of eggs, dairy or honey in the dishes, and without having to scan the menu for that little round, green symbol often used to mark vegan options.
What has also changed, besides the number of vegan eateries, is the tone of these places. It’s not just mushroom burgers anymore (although there is a good bit of that), but a more upscale look at what constitutes a menu made up of mostly grains and vegetables.
Have a look, and, hopefully, a taste.
1) The first place to test your vegan taste buds should be Zakaim, a chef-style vegan bistro just off of Allenby Street in Tel Aviv, the creation of the three Zakaim siblings, Harel, Hany and Hila. Harel is the chef, Hany is the vegan and Hila loves anything vintage and secondhand (they renovated the entire place, furnishing it with only secondhand items — there’s also a rack of vintage clothing in the backyard).
The menu is Israeli in style and set according to the seasonal produce, but there are certain items that are always worth ordering, like the hand-torn potato fries, charmingly served in a brown paper bag; the Persian iced tea; fresh fruit drinks mixed with Arak; and the spinach burger served on a bed of spicy, homemade tomato chutney. Cashew-based “cheese” is sprinkled in a number of dishes, including the Greek salad and “Philadelphia cheese”-and-fresh-vegetable sandwich (it’s light and creamy and surprisingly cheesy tasting). 20 Simtat Beit Hashoeva, Tel Aviv.
2) We’ll also put in a good word for Meshek Barzilay, an organic-only vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurant in Neve Zedek, where the emphasis is on wonderful preparations of produce, courtesy of the owner’s farming history and love of seasonal cooking. 6 Ahad Ha’am, Neve Zedek, Tel Aviv.
3) For fast-food vegan, there’s always Buddha Burgers, with two branches in Tel Aviv, one in Haifa and another in Eilat. The draw here is the burger, a combination of beans, grains and greens, served on a bun with a selection of sauces. There are also burritos, different Buddha vegetable-and-grain bowls, quiches and lasagna and salads. Buddha Burgers is great for a quick lunch or take-out dinner, with easy self-service and a worthwhile catering option if you’re looking for something slightly different for a small event. In Tel Aviv, 21 Yehuda Halevi; in Haifa, 6 Derech Hayam; in Eilat, Hamelicha Street.
And for vegan Indian food, look no further than Dosa Bar, a friendly little place on Ben Yehuda Street where the menu is Indian street food and the dosas, those spongy pancakes made from fermented rice and lentils, are filled with spicy (or not) vegetable mixtures and served with a creamy beet spread. 188 Ben Yehuda, just off Jabotinsky, Tel Aviv.
4) Looking for a vegan bar? It exists, and it’s in Haifa. Doobie’s Place has vegan burgers and seitan shwarma, vegetable chips, hummus and malabi made with soy rather than milk. The food isn’t gourmet, but it’s easy to eat and perfect with a beer, while watching one of the bar’s regularly scheduled live performances. It doesn’t hurt that Doobie’s is well situated on Masada Street, one of the port city’s best streets for people watching and hanging out. Doobie’s Place, 16 Masada Street, Haifa.
5) Jerusalem has lots of vegan-friendly options, but not as many strictly vegan restaurants. Still, there are a few good options for a quick meal or a calmer, sit-down experience. Vegetarian Shwarma (Hashwarma Hativ’onit, in Hebrew) offers a menu similar to Buddha Burger, with vegan kebabs, burgers, shwarma and schnitzel, wrapped in a tortilla or stuffed in a baguette or pita. Salads are available too, but your best bet is to try the shwarma, made of seitan and served spicy or grilled, and offering a very decent alternative to the real thing. Vegetarian Shwarma, 23 Hillel Street, Jerusalem.
The slightly finer dining option is Nagila, a vegetarian and vegan cafe just off Agrippas Street near the Mahane Yehuda market. Owner Channa Fouldes, who runs the place with her longtime vegetarian mother, offers the usual selection of pastas, sandwiches and, yes, veggie burgers with great sweet potato fries in her vegan-friendly restaurant. For a good alternative to fries, order the veggie burger served on a bed of perfectly cooked whole wheat couscous. 5 Mashiah Barukhof Street, just off Agrippas Street, Jerusalem.