A Journey Into the Israeli Arab Culinary World:
When you come on a tour to Israel, we recommend you taste some authentic Arab food, an important element in Israeli cuisine. We have made hummus a national dish, and we’ve learned to grind and mash the grains pretty well, but we’ve still got a lot to learn about all kinds of culinary items, like stuffed sheep’s neck and salads based on wild chicory, oxalis, arugula and mallow leaves. The herbs are gathered from the hills near the restaurant, and they are generally served as an hors d’oeuvre salad. Their freshness and variety have become a benchmark for a really good Arabic restaurant.
Irrespective of politics and wars, good food is always a window for coexistence and bringing people together. So, since there's no time like the present, we have garnered the five best Arabic restaurants in Israel.
Azeba – Kfar Rama
Azeba, in Rama, is actually one of the lesser known Arab restaurants in the north of the country. If this is your preferred cuisine you can’t miss paying this place a visit. Habib and Minerva Daoud own the restaurant and Habib is the head chef who also doubles as a genial and retiring host and waiter who charms all his clients. The ambiance is homey, as if you’ve been invited to dinner in Habibs’ own dining room. The place is modestly attired and far from being polished. Carpets and rugs hang from the walls, and the windowsill is ornamented with an assortment of objects, like an oil lamp and old tools.
Naturally, the food is the centerpiece and, here, everything is top quality. The local kubeh is served in the shape of a round cake sliced into triangles, the meat mix is superb and there’s no shortage of pine nuts. And the burgul and lentils majadara, served with yoghurt, is a smash hit. The eggplant is another dish you won’t want to miss, framed with tehina and roasted at 200 degrees. Those with a strong constitution are invited to try Habib’s kubeh naya creation – rare beef with burgul.
As this is a small, homey enterprise, the menu only serves as a guide and, if you fancy something else based on the raw materials in the kitchen, Habib will very likely accommodate your wishes as long as you don’t rush him and you don’t expect serving turnaround times you get at restaurants in the center of the country.
And more: Try the lemonade served with lemon peel, and also the special almond drink. If Habib has the time, you can chat with him and get a glimpse of the kitchen where the family spends its time. Outside the restaurant there is an impressive fig tree and in the summer you can ask to pick juicy fruit from it.
Azeba – left at the first fork in the west side of Rama.
Diana HaHadasha, Nazareth
Duhul Safadi, the man with the kebabs and the baby face, has long been popular with the Israeli public. Israelis have fallen in love with the Diana restaurant in Nazareth, and at its previous location they often lined up outside, waiting to taste the celebrated salads and kebab.
The food is mixed and seasoned in front of the diners and is some of the best around, with the perfect combination of fat, flavor and spices. There are also ribs and skewers and, at the new premises, pastries from the taboun oven, stuffed vegetables and kubeh naya have been added to the menu. Until recently, the restaurant in Azeba was almost the only one that offered kubeh naya.
The local salads here are among the best served by any Arab restaurants. They will always contain herbs unfamiliar to diners from the center of the country, and everything is green, fresh, sharp and well seasoned – a drop of olive oil, a bit of fried onion and always served as a generous helping which could provide vegetarians with an entire meal.
And more: The new premises are larger and better appointed, and this offers advantages as well as disadvantages. In the last two years there has been talk of opening a Diana Bar at the Port of Caesarea. This will probably take quite a while, but Duhul Safadi, the man with the kebabs and the baby face, has long been popular with the Israeli public. Israelis have fallen in love with the Diana restaurant in Nazareth, and at its previous location they often lined up outside, waiting to taste the celebrated salads and kebab.
Diana HaHadasha, Grand New Hotel, Al-Muttran, Nazareth
Al Babour, Umm El-Fahem
The reputation of the Al Babour restaurant in Umm El-Fahem has spread far and wide, and the place is crowded with Israelis on the weekend. They come from all over the country to eat mutton, kebab and salads. You have to book a table for Saturday - otherwise you’ll spend a long time standing in line, and the parking lot is not exactly a fun place.
The restaurant has simple tables, arranged in rows, and the many waiters there are always busy, bringing another pitcher of lemonade, hot pita bread, kebab on a pita with roasted tomatoes and - the piece de resistance - stuffed sheep’s neck. This is, without doubt, the dish of Hussam Abas. The dish includes a mass of rice seasoned with pine nuts wrapped in browned, tender and delicate meat, and the combination is delicious. It is best to order several dishes to put in the center of the table and to share between everyone. The starter salads vary from day to day, according to what is picked in the area.
If you’re marking a special occasion, note that in the last year Al Babour has started providing catering services for events with dishes tailored to the customer’s order. The catering services are overseen by Nashahat Abas, Hussam’s brother who sparked the venture.
And more: The tart lebana is a delicacy, as is the fateir stuffed with goat cheese and wild spinach. And don’t forget to wrap things up with sweet knafeh. You can pass on the sickly sweet pomegranate juice, and it’s best to go there mid-week.
Al Babour, Umm El-Fahem, Ein Ibrahim Junction
The kebab at the Al-Tanour restaurant is a serious rival to Duhul Safadi’s renowned kebab, and devotees of Arab cuisine even claim that it outdoes it. It may not be a coincidence that the grill is worked by someone who learned the craft at Diana, and the owners are brothers of Nashahat and Hussam Abas from Al-Babour. With family connections like that there really is no need to be surprised by the great food.
The restaurant offers the best of Arabic cuisine, with a range of salads (including several versions of eggplant), and naturally fresh falafel balls which tingle in your mouth, wonderful vine leaves, cauliflower in tehina, etc. Everything is seasoned as one would expect from local cuisine, with rice with nuts and almonds and flavors it is hard to resist. The stuffed ribs are particularly enticing, served on a yoghurt dish. In a word, there are some who say this is one of the best restaurants in Israel.
And more: Don’t just stop by for hummus. The salads, hummus and eggplant are piled up on your table even before you realize what’s happening, and it’s worthwhile to hang around for the main dishes.
Al-Tanour, Reineh, at the gas station at the entrance
Missedet HaBayit, Ein Khod
The entire Abu Ali Hija family from the village of Ein Khod, near the Jewish community of Ein Hod, works in the restaurant. The women cook, the children wait on tables and the men are responsible for management, development and keeping things running smoothly. Unlike other restaurants where you pay for each portion of salad, at the Home there is a fixed price for a meal of soup, salads, stuffed dishes, main dishes and extras, as well as a generous amount of beverages. The variety is amazing, the quantities hard to grasp and the execution is highly successful. No diner can resist.
You start with lentil soup and small dishes of salads, including hummus, potato salad, tabula and eggplant, as well as a nut and ful spread. This is followed by stuffed dishes of peppers, cabbage and vine leaves and then the main dishes: the makluba – highly flavored chicken with rice, and the mansaff – mutton with golden rice. There are also sinaya and emlukhya, and lots more. As Saturdays are very busy, diners sip their coffee and tea, with baklawa, resting on cushions in the new hall.
And more: This month, after 61 years, roads were paved in the village. But the access road is still unpaved, and is narrow and winding. But you can take heart from the fact that the twists and turns along the way only heighten your appetite, and the view of the Carmel forests is beautiful.
Missedet HaBayit at Ein Khod, at the entrance to the village