When you’re eating out in Israel—or anywhere else in the world—the best way to avoid nasty tourist traps is to look for real street food, the kind the locals eat. Israel is heaven for street food—and not just hummus or falafel. Anywhere you go in the country, the streets are lined with countless cheap eateries of all kinds. But how can a visitor know which ones are worthwhile? Long lines and packed tables are a good sign, but those aren’t always reliable indicators: Some offer bites of culinary perfection, but others are popular but otherwise unremarkable places serving merely as a quick fix for busy shoppers, commuters, or workers on their lunch break. Want to know which is which? Here’s a list of the best places to grab street food in Israel right now.

Hummus at Abu Hassan in Jaffa. (Photo: Lior Bakalu via Flickr)

Abu Hasan (a.k.a. Ali Karavan)
1 Dolphin St. (on the hill), Jaffa

The only thing that polarizes Israeli public opinion more than politics is hummus. Specifically, the question of which hummus place is the best in the country. There are many different genres of hummus, differing in their geographical origin and preparation. Most Israelis are partial to a specific style and have their all-time favorite hummus place—which they are usually very emotional about, shunning all others.

I’m a devoted fan of Abu Hasan in Jaffa, and I like the original branch on the hill on Dolphin St. (There are two more branches nearby, and recently the first branch outside of Jaffa opened in the Sarona open-air commercial center in Tel Aviv.) Always come early (when the day’s hummus is gone, there is no more) and go for the meshulash (triangle), a combo consisting of one-third hummus, one-third msabbaha, and one third ful (Egyptian broad beans). The service is quick and aggressive; you might sit next to strangers and you’ll be done eating very quickly, with the next customer always breathing down your neck. Abu Hasan works like a moving assembly line, but the taste is pure heaven.

Fricassee Zehava
26 Yerushalayim St., Tzfat

For nearly 30 years, Zehava Lagziel has been serving the perfect Tunisian sandwich in her hole-in-the-wall. Fricassee is a traditional kind of deep-fried bread from Tunisia, and the sandwich itself consists of a flavorful combination of tuna, harissa—Tunisian hot chili pepper paste—a hard-boiled egg, and pickled lemon. Aside from Tunisian sandwiches, she also makes couscous, shakshouka, and sweet sfenj. Apparently even Madonna ate there—in disguise—when visiting the northern holy city of Sfat.

Sabich Tchernichovsky
2 Tchernichovsky Street, Tel Aviv
Sabich Frischman
42 Frischman Street, Tel Aviv

Sabich is a pita stuffed with fried eggplant, hard-boiled eggs (traditionally haminados, which are the brown eggs from Sephardi-style cholent), hummus, tahini, and vegetable salad. Pickles, chopped parsley, and onions seasoned with purple sumac are usually added, as well as skhug (Yemenite hot sauce) and amba—a thick yellow sauce containing pickled mangoes, fenugreek, and turmeric. Tel Aviv has quite a few good sabich stands, but the battle over which one is the best goes on: Is it the one on Tchernichovsky Street, or maybe the one on Frischman? Frankly, it’s hard to say. Effi—known as the city’s top sabich maker—originally worked at Sabich Frischman. Later on he left to open his own stand on Tchernichovsky Street, but he has since left that place, too. Nowadays both places are Effi-less, but both retain his original style of sabich-making and loyal customers who swear no other place comes close to their favorite.

Falafel Orion
14 Herzliya St., Haifa

The northern port city of Haifa, which is built on a mountain, has many great falafel joints, like Falafel Ha-Zkenim or Falafel George. I particularly like Falafel Orion, located in the Hadar HaCarmel area, between the upper and lower city. Orion isn’t for everyone, and it always polarizes opinions: Some people like their falafel green and well-seasoned, while Orion’s Falafel is yellow, with no herbs added to the mix. Although some might regard the flavor as bland, true falafel connoisseurs know that Orion’s falafel is in fact light, airy, and pure. The sides Orion offers are also fresh and simple: fresh cabbage salad, sauerkraut, sliced tomatoes, pickles, and of course tahini, hot sauce, and garlic sauce—no fancy salads, no hummus.

Shawarma Emil
33 Allenby St., Lower city, Haifa

Haifa is known as Israel’s shawarma capital, and Shawarma Emil at the bottom of the Arab neighborhood Wadi Nisnas is the best you can get. Most shawarma places in the country use turkey meat, while Emil’s shawarma (like other shawarma stands in Haifa) is made out of veal meat and lamb fat. Emil, which has operated since the 1960s, is all about the meat; they won’t waste your precious pita-space with french fries or salads. The only sides you get are tomatoes and onions, and of course tahini—a minimalistic combo intended purely to enhance the flavor of the meat.

Uri’s Baguette
86 HeChalutz St., Beersheba

Israeli-style baguettes. (Photo: Marcus Frieze via Flickr)

A baguette-sandwich is a staple of the Israeli soldier’s lunch, but it’s a far cry from what you would find in a French boulangerie. First of all, the Israeli baguette is shorter than the French original and its texture resembles a roll or a bun rather than the crunchy French version. The variety of things Israelis eat inside their baguettes may also be surprising. A classic Israeli baguette-sandwich will include anything from schnitzel or an omlette to shakshouka, meatballs, or an Asian stir-fry. Indeed, the Israeli baguette-sandwich is the larger version of the pita-sandwich, and thus perfect for military-size appetites.

Of course not only soldiers eat baguette-sandwiches for lunch. Any hungry individual might do so, and the best place to get them is located in the Negev, at Uri’s Baguette, Beersheba’s prime sandwich stand. The thing to get at Uri’s is a Tunisian sandwich, served either in a baguette or in a fricassee, or a Popeye omelet (you guessed it, it’s a spinach omelet), served in a baguette or a pita.

Azura
4 Ha-Eshkol Street, Machane Yehuda Market, Jerusalem

In 1952 Ezra Shrefler, who made aliyah from Turkey, opened a small food joint in Machane Yehuda market. Since then Azura has changed locations a few times, and in the early 1980s it returned to Machane Yehuda—the soul of Jerusalem’s food scene—and became a fixture in the Iraqi market. As the popularity of Machane Yehuda’s food scene grew, so did Azura, which originally occupied one storefront and has grown to the next one as well. Nowadays Ezra’s children, and especially Eliran, have taken over. Of course, they serve hummus, but that’s not what you really come to Azura for. You come for homemade dishes influenced by Turkish, Kurdish, and Iraqi cuisine, like kubbeh soup, mujaddara, the Sephardi Jewish version of sofrito, oxtail stew, and stuffed vegetables.

Vitrina Sausage Grill
54 Ibn Gvirol St., Tel Aviv

A Vitrina hotdog. (Photo: Daniel Alexander)

Contrary to what some might think, Israeli street food isn’t just about authenticity and ethnic food. In fact, Tel Aviv’s Vitrina is one of the best gourmet-sausage and hamburger joints you can find, anywhere in the world. This well-designed bar offers many different kinds of homemade gourmet sausages and awesome french fries, made out of potatoes and sweet potatoes and sprinkled with special seasoning and grated lemon peel. But the thing to order at Vitrina is undoubtedly the cheeseburger—made with Emmental and Roquefort cheese and served with arugula, onion jam, and relish. Obviously this option is more expensive than grabbing a falafel, and it’s off the list of options for anyone keeping kosher, but there is absolutely no wonder the place is always packed, with a long line of drooling customers waiting outside.

“Vitrina is not only the best street food stand in Tel Aviv, but probably in all of Israel,” said Eran Laor, street-food critic for Haaretz. “It is the perfect example of the development of Israeli street food from simple falafel joints to diner-style street food that is hard to find even abroad.”

Hummus Said
The marketplace, Old Akko

When visiting the beautiful and historical harbor city of Akko, one must eat at Hummus Said—considered by many the best hummus place in Israel (as we mentioned earlier, there are a few contenders for the crown, and Said is definitely one of them). The flavor of Said’s hummus is of the delicate kind (as opposed to the aggressive kind), almost drowning in delicious olive oil that’s made in Said’s own olive press. They also serve variations on the hummus theme, such as mashawshe (the Galilee version of msabbaha) and mahluta (a dish based on ful), and if you’re still hungry in the end, you can get a refill. Note that even though Hummus Said is quite big, long lines can form during rush hour; the place opens at 6:00 a.m., and the earlier you get there, the better the chance you won’t have to wait.

—Dana Kessler

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