© David Kukin

The Vegan Capital of the World Isn’t Where You’d Expect

Call it the land of almond milk and date honey—Tel Aviv has more vegans per capita, and more gourmet vegan restaurants to try, than anywhere else in the world.

In the last few years, the international dining scene has seen a shift in the way Israeli cuisine has been marketed: restaurants that have previously called themselves Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, or oftentimes both, are now distinguishing themselves as distinctly Israeli, sometimes going as far as attributing a city. Tel Aviv in particular has seen a number of new exports, the most recent being Chef Eyal Shani, who opened a branch of Miznon in New York’s Chelsea Market this month after successful outposts in Paris, Vienna, and Melbourne, and Chef Meir Adoni (of Catit, Blue Sky, and Lumina fame), who just opened Nur in New York to instant acclaim (it’s currently one of the toughest tables in town). But just as the world is getting a more defined view of Israeli cuisine, the country’s dining capital is undergoing major shifts in taste (see our recent story about the country going Japanese).

Tel Aviv, the capital of the land of milk and honey, is experiencing one shift in particular: it’s now home to more vegans, per capita, than anywhere else in the world, and as a result, the highest number of gourmet vegan restaurants in the world. Today, the city’s emphasis on seasonal, plant-based fare that is packed with flavor and bursting with creativity is bringing even diehard carnivores to the table. Here’s a look at six of Tel Aviv’s most mouthwatering—and meatless—places to eat.

Courtesy Phi

Zakaim

With cozy shabby-chic decor, a bustling open kitchen, and a menu rich with Persian influences, Zakaim is the undisputed leader of the Tel Aviv vegan pack. The three Zakaim brothers grew up eating Iranian food cooked by their mother and grandmother, and those heady scent memories—cardamom and walnuts, burnt rice and tangy green herb stews—inform every dish on their menu. Standouts include the cauliflower Gondi, which is oven-roasted, doused with spicy arisa oil and grated lemon and served on a chickpea waffle, and the umami-packed barbecue mushrooms with chili and eggplant aioli. Simtat Beit HaSho'eva 20; 972-3/613-5060; zakaim.co.ik

Bana

This candy-pink bistro, where banana bunches and creeping ivy hang from the ceilings, was made to be Instagrammed. But this colorful bistro offers much more than a pretty face: it’s fully plant-based, and has a daily-changing menu that offers rich and hearty dishes including charcoal turmeric bread, purple sweet potato gnocchi, and acorn squash with black pepper and coconut cream. Nahmani St. 36; 972-3/699-1566.

Cafe Anastasia

Getting a table at this spacious, light-filled cafe from one of Israel’s most highly regarded vegan chefs will involve queuing up—no matter what time of day you visit. That’s because this eclectic bistro, with a menu packed with superfoods and raw options, has a cult following among both Tel Avivians and tourists who come for its huge selection of vegan cheeses. (This includes a spectacular pecan-based brie and a delightful tangy labane.) Each dish brings something new to the table—from presentation to an unexpected ingredient—like the sweet potato quiche with walnut cheese and Jerusalem artichokes with a tangy spelt crust. Then, there’s the delicious raw desserts that include Anastasia’s own “Kit Kat bar” of raw chocolate, dates, and amaranth crispies. Frishman St. 54; 972-3/529-0095.

Courtesy Anastasia

Nanuchka

In the early 2000s, there was no hotter late-night spot in Tel Aviv than Nanuchka. A Georgian-themed restaurant, more nights than not, revelers, fueled by meaty khinkali dumplings and potent chacha brandy, would close out the night by dancing atop the bar. So in 2014, when owner Nana Schreier joined the Tel Aviv masses and decided to go vegan, she felt that her hedonistic paradise would have to become meat-free, as well. Patrons were skeptical, to say the least. What is a Georgian restaurant without Georgian meat and cheese? But to the entire city’s surprise, Nanuchka—now featuring a fully vegan menu including truffled khinkali and khachipuri with spinach and soy-based cheese—is as indulgent and in demand as ever. Lilienblum St. 30; 972-3/516-2254; nanuchka.co.il.en.

Meshek Barzilay

Organic, vegetarian, and owned by a family of farmers, Meshek Barzilay is a quaint, elegant cafe in the heart of Neve Tzedek, one of Tel Aviv’s prettiest districts. Everything on the menu is farm-sourced, from the savory lasagna with cashew cheese, kale, and pine nut béchamel; to the pumpkin steak with root vegetable puree. The wide-ranging breakfast menu offers chickpea frittatas, whole-grain pancakes, and shredded tofu shakshuka. The lush backyard patio and friendly, easygoing service make this a lovely spot for any time of day. Ahad Ha'Am St. 6; 972-3/516-6329; meshekbarzilay.co.il

Ben Yuster

Phi

Call it the sustainable beer garden of the future: this restaurant-bar consists of a airy outdoor space and wood-clad, foliage-filled indoor courtyard serving light bites and vegan ice cream by day and creative cocktails by night. Both its cocktails and food are plant-based, totally vegan and hit all the right hipster notes. Come for the spicy Asian veggie bowls and antioxidant-packed cocktails, stay for the yard games, live music, and vintage fashion sales on the lawn. Ahad Ha'Am St. 54; 972-5/9379393.

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