Built on Mount Carmel overlooking the Mediterranean coastline is northern Israel’s capital city and culinary hot spot, Haifa. Unlike Jerusalem where there are distinct Jewish, Arab and Christian quarters, the members of the five religions of Haifa (including two sects of Islam) for the most part peacefully coexist and often intermingle. The diverse population is seen in the city’s art and music scenes and most deliciously in its food.
In downtown Haifa, Arab hummus shops are housed in old Ottoman buildings with small barrel-vaulted ceilings and Arab artwork decorates the walls. These family restaurants are welcoming, featuring signature Arab hospitality. Most offer generous portions of salads like steamed cauliflower covered in fresh tehina, cabbage, beet and carrot salads. Try both warm and cold hummus platters and pitas fresh from the oven. A typical post-hummus delight is the strong coffee spiced with cardamom. When you finish, stroll down the streets and sample various styles of baklava and other sweets in bakeries that bring the neighborhoods together and stop in the outdoor markets, or shuks. Here you’ll find the freshest produce, multiple varieties of olives, fresh fish and cheeses that arrive daily.
The city is also host to several chefs who are reinvigorating local ingredients with modern twists at upscale restaurants.
About 20 miles away and easily accessible by train or car is Akko, a small mixed city that was the capital of the Crusaders. Wind through the small alleyways of the ancient city to find some of the best foods in the area and a lively market.
Because Haifa and Akko are mixed cities, kosher cuisine is not as easy to find as other parts of Israel. The following restaurants are noted which are kosher.
Best Market and Hummus Spot: Hummus Said
Located in the Old City Market, Hummus Said serves up some of the best hummus in Akko — and perhaps in the entire country — to a long line of devotees from opening at 5:30am until closing at 2:30pm. The two room casual restaurant sits opposite a spice store and coffee shop in the Old Market. Everything at Said is made fresh: “everyday all day,” that goes for the creamy and nutty hummus and fresh pitas. Try the hummus plate topped with chickpeas or fava beans and the warm chickpeas tossed with tahini, lemon and garlic. Each order comes with a plate of olives, tomato and pickles turning a snack into a meal.
Old City Market, Akko.
Best Seafood: Uri Buri Fish Restaurant
Israelis and tourists alike flock to this fresh fish spot to try chef and owner Uri Yirmias’s freshest catch of the day. Sitting opposite the Mediterranean in a 400-year-old Turkish building in Akko, this small airy restaurant is well worth the trip. The menu changes depending on what is fresh and available locally. Tell your server any dietary restrictions and leave the rest up to the cook. Many of the dishes are served tapas style, perfect for sharing. On a recent visit, the special was cod with sage and lemon accompanied by cauliflower puree and crème brulee for dessert, paired with Israeli wines. After dinner, walk a half block down the street for Yirmia’s newest delight — an ice cream shop that features home-made ice cream with flavors like rose, date, cinnamon and cardamom. Enjoy the cold treat opposite the shop, overlooking the ocean.
Light House Place, Akko. 04-9552212. Reservations recommended.
Best Salad Bar: Green Salad
Located close to the port, Green Salad serves up generous portions of their namesake. Open for breakfast and lunch, choose from a large selection of fresh vegetables to accompany a big bowl of greens, or add fresh schnitzel to a salad. If you are not looking for salad, they cook up daily soups and sandwiches. For breakfast you’ll find Mediterranean breakfast fare — choose from yogurt and muesli, eggs, cheese, olives and juice.
Haatzmaut Street, Haifa. 04-8664411. Kosher.
Best Bakery/Breakfast: Gal’s Bakery
Known by some as “Paris in Haifa,” Gal’s Bakery located at the top of Mount Carmel sells French-inspired and Israeli treats. The bakery has a laid-back atmosphere and decent service. They offer delicious breakfast pastries and treats suitable for any time of day. Try a croissant and coffee or homemade granola for breakfast and flakey bourekas and fresh-baked cookies for a midday snack. With great outdoor seating, take a break from sightseeing, relax and people watch over a good cup of coffee.
131 Hannasi St. 04-83829228. Kosher.
Best Kosher Chinese: Chinese Restaurant
Located in the Nof Hotel, Chinese Restaurant has an unassuming exterior and is one of only a few kosher Chinese options in the Haifa area. But packed with customers, the food speaks for itself. Try their corn soup and egg rolls for an appetizer; eggplant and garlic with steamed rice or beef schezwan for a main course. For dessert try the fried bananas with maple syrup or fresh lychee.
101 Hanassi Ave., Haifa. Reservations Recommended 04/835-4311. Kosher.
Best Fine Dining: Hanamal 24.
In the up-and-coming port area, located downtown, Hanamal 24 is a quiet break from honking horns and busy sidewalks and is the perfect spot for a leisurely date meal. On the second floor, the restaurant offers impeccable service, an excellent Israeli wine selections (start with the Prosecco) and a menu and atmosphere that carries you to France and Italy. With a French-trained chef, Hanamal 24 is packed on most nights during the week and the restaurant stays open as long as customers are dining. You can choose from a prix fixe or regular menu.
For an appetizer, try the terrine of labane (goat sour cheese) and roasted veggies with lemon and vanilla. For the main course, try the fillet of European sea bass or ravioli with mascarpone and dried tomatoes. All of the dishes are served with freshly made bread and dipping sauces. For dessert try the Italian lemon meringue pie with sorbet.
24 Hanamal Street. 05-79442262. Reservations recommended.
Best Shakshuka/Fast Food Lunch: Chili Bar
A combination of Israeli specialties and chicken wings, show up on the menu at this fast food-style restaurant opposite the downtown area. Their shakshuka, an Israeli staple of slowly cooked tomatoes, spices with fried eggs and served with bread, is excellent for a quick meal. If you have a craving for chicken wings, try the sweet chili or Mexican sauce with jalapenos. With generous-sized portions, you will not leave hungry.
27 Haatzmaut Street, Haifa. Kosher.
Best kosher falafel: At David’s Falafel
Located in the busy Merkaz HaCarmel at the top of the mountain, At David’s is a small shop with minimal seating. They serve up simple but fresh falafel with choices of Israeli salads like cucumber and tomato, cabbage and fresh tahina and hummus. Try adding the chips (freshly fried fries) to your falafel sandwich. Enjoy your sandwich while people watching in the outdoor seating area.
1 Hayam Street, Haifa. Kosher.