There’s a good reason Ashdod fish restaurant Pescado keeps winning awards for being Israel’s best kosher restaurant. It just may be the best one out there.
Recently named Best Kosher Restaurant in the 2022 Israeli Kitchen awards and placed on the 2022 list of Middle East & North Africa’s 50 Best Restaurants, Pescado is located on a commercial strip opposite Ashdod’s beachfront.
It’s an unassuming spot but don’t be misled by the location.
This is the beach where chef Yehi Zino surfed throughout his youth, a place that he and his partner, Eran Jano, a third-generation fisherman, clearly think of as home.
Zino began working in local restaurants when he was 18 and likes to say he thought of himself more as a restaurateur than a chef. But while self-taught, Zino has clearly learned a lot about wild fish in his 13 years in the kitchen.
Walk past the groups of diners enjoying glasses of wine on the benches outside and enter the front dining room of Pescado, where the vibe is clean and contemporary. Ditto for the larger back room where there’s a mixture of round and square tables, and every table is full, even on a sunny Wednesday afternoon in January.
This isn’t what my mother would have called a tablecloth restaurant: it’s more casual than that, but the napkins are cloth and the wineglasses are based on whether diners are drinking reds or whites from the extensive Israeli wine list.
The menu itself is a pleasure to read, and of special note to English speakers, there is an equally clear menu in English, grammatically correct and without spelling errors.
It’s all about wild fish on this menu, with starters that focus on raw products from the sea, like the crunchy bite of yellowfin tuna scooped into a crisp lettuce leaf, creamy cubes of fish with tahini, onion, and hyssop, or the sardine ceviche, a mouth-wateringly crisp salad of fish, coriander, red pepper and onion that’s appealingly warm on the palate.
It’s also worth trying the yellowfin tuna in chili oil, with smooth roasted eggplant and peppers, flavorful and warm, slathered on a bed of toasted challah.
For diners less interested in raw fish, there are the more traditional Israeli salads, including a fish roe taramasalata, perfect for dipping the fresh focaccia, grilled mushrooms with pesto, and fried zucchini sticks that are slightly disappointing but offer a nice crunch from their crust of panko crumbs.
The main courses rely on what’s available from co-owner, fishmonger Jano. There’s always sea bream or branzino, also known as European bass, as well as salmon, and for non-fish eaters, there’s a 350-gram entrecote steak that looked mighty tasty when served to a nearby diner.
The young yet extremely knowledgeable wait staff helped choose the main dishes, suggesting the whole branzino, which was grilled and tender, and ditto for the grilled fish chunks served in an olive oil confit with fat slices of onion, fresh cherry tomatoes and green chilies.
Side dishes include rice or a campfire baked potato, split open and mashed to crispy perfection. And honestly, who needs more than that?
There was dessert too — scoops of creamy lemon sorbet that hit the right note alongside a double espresso: no cappuccinos here, as it’s a kosher restaurant where meat is served and so there will be no milk.
A simple salad appetizer runs about NIS 36 (around $10), while the fish appetizers are mostly in the NIS 60 (around $16) range. Many of the main courses are around NIS 125 ($33), although four diners will be more than satisfied with a generous selection of appetizers and two main dishes.
The meal feels fairly perfect, and there’s nothing quite as decadent as dining like this on a weekday afternoon, which, incidentally, is a far easier time to snag a last-minute reservation at Pescado.
Pescado, 1/12 Martin Buber Street, Ashdod