Where To Go When You Can’t Get Into Zahav
When you can’t get a reservation at Zahav, these 10 places are (almost) as good.
So you can’t get into Zahav. Whatever. No one really can (unless you book two months in advance, go at 4:45pm and try to snag a bar seat, or buy a server’s uniform on Amazon and sneak in the back). So instead go to these 10 places–they serve similar cuisine, have a tasting menu we can’t get enough of, or are part of the Michael Solomonov multiverse. Plus, with food just as good, you’ll almost forget about the constant reservation rejection when trying to get into the famed Israeli spot. Almost.
photo credit: GAB BONGHI
From the neon signage and colorful tablecloths to the trendy industrial space buzzing with top 40 music, Laser Wolf is like Zahav’s rebellious little sister. The casual Kensington Israeli grill is from the team behind Zahav, and is nearly as hard to get into as its more serious predecessor. You’ll start your dinner with a circular metal platter filled with ten rotating vegetable-based salatim like sweet carrots and beets, lemony gigante beans piyaz, and some fluffy pita and hummus. It’s big enough that you could make a meal out of these bites alone, but if you did, you’d miss out on the charred branzino packed with ginger and tomato or the smoky Bulgarian beef kebab that’s dripping in an Aleppo pepper sauce. Pretty much anything they put over the flame is fantastic. This is one of the best group spots in the city, and because of that salatim tray, it’s as good for vegetarians as it is for people who love meat.
Suraya is an all-day spot that’s good for pretty much any situation. Whether you want to grab coffee and delicate pastry on a Monday morning or you're looking for an Arabian-inspired garden to have a birthday dinner, this Lebanese spot in Fishtown is somewhere you should check out. Both their indoor dining space and patio area are filled with tables that can fit at least seven people, so it’s a great place to bring a group of friends to pass around mezze plates like baba ganoush, smoky eggplant, and puffy pita. Suraya also has one of the better brunches in the city, where you’ll smell flaky almond croissants being baked, see chai being poured at various tables, and watch servers bring out plates of omelets topped with feta.
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photo credit: RACHEL LERRO
Friday Saturday Sunday
You could fit four Friday Saturday Sundays into the Zahav space, even considering the fact that it’s two floors. Regardless, they have great food and it always feels like a special occasion when you’re here. The Rittenhouse spot has an atmosphere that’s somehow both relaxing and sophisticated–there’s a lively bar on the first floor and an intimate dining room upstairs. FriSatSun only serves a tasting menu, but you can expect seasonally-inspired dishes like ceviche, house-made pasta, and a perfectly seared New York strip and cinnamon-y yams. Every dish here is so perfectly executed that you’ll want to erase every other beef tartare and charred octopus you’ve ever eaten from your memory. Plus, when your meal is over, you can just head downstairs to the bar and keep the night going with some excellent cocktails.
Vernick Food & Drink
Vernick isn’t an Israeli restaurant, but they do serve some Middle Eastern dishes, like a lamb merguez that’s just as good as most things you’ll get at Zahav. Plus, on weekdays you can usually walk in and eat at the bar without a reservation. Even though it’s one of the first places to come to mind when you want an upscale night out, the setup is minimalist—think bare walls and a handful of wooden tables. Stop by after a day of shopping near Rittenhouse, or for your next date night for a meal of salads, pasta, crudo, and shareable mains, like the perfectly charred pork chop with a peppery romesco glaze and juicy strawberries.
Zahav’s tasting menu is one of the best in the city, but if you lost the little corner of paper you wrote “MAKE ZAHAV RESERVATIONS AT MIDNIGHT” on and now don’t have anywhere to take your dad for his birthday, Laurel is a good second option. It’s a bit more formal than Zahav (complete with wingback chairs and candlelight), but it has some of the most interesting food in the city–like a house-made kombucha shot with mustard seeds and caviar, and potato crisps topped with house-made ice cream. It’s a bit more expensive than Zahav, but it’s just as good for a special occasion or a particularly big date.
If you ask 100 random Philadelphians to pick their favorite special occasion spot, an overwhelming amount will say Fork. That’s because it’s a people-pleaser with a straightforward but consistently excellent American menu, and it’s a great place to go with a big group. The Old City restaurant, which is only a short walk from Zahav, has white tablecloths and definitely feels upscale, but you won’t feel like you’re at a stuffy steakhouse or, worse, The Union League. It also has a Sunday brunch with perfect maple french toast and an eggs benedict with salty bits of trout that will make you want to eat breakfast for every meal (if you don’t already).
If you’re really just looking for Zahav’s creamy, addictive hummus, head to Dizengoff, which is owned by the same people, and make it a take-out night instead. It’s definitely a different and much more casual vibe than you’ll get at Zahav (it’s carryout only), but let’s be honest–if you could eat Zahav hummus topped with chicken or smoky eggplant in front of your TV every night of the week, would you ever go out again?
Hummus, baba ganoush, fluffy pita–all the things you go to Zahav for can be found at this charming BYOB in Northern Liberties. Inside, there are a handful of long tables along with cozy two-seaters near the windows if you want to people-watch on a casual date. No matter where you sit, though, you’ll get a whiff of the fresh baked goods behind the counter—like the nutty baklava, oozing with honey, and sweet cheese kunefe. That might inspire you to skip straight to dessert, but stay the course with their spicy cold mezze eggplant dish, some of the crispiest calamari in town, and a citrusy whole dorado juicy enough to deserve its own banner in the rafters at the Wells Fargo Center.
photo credit: GAB BONGHI
Amada has a similar schtick to Zahav–small, shareable plates that are relatively inexpensive ($8-$16), but all really good. The intimate Spanish tapas bar also has larger dishes like beef short rib flatbread and lamb chops. It’s been around for a while, but is still one of the best places in Old City for a last-minute date or even just an after-work Happy Hour. There’s usually a wait if you walk in, especially on the weekend, but you won’t have a hard time finding a reservation.
Kanella Grill is a casual Greek BYOB in the Gayborhood, and is a solid weeknight alternative to Zahav. They serve their menu all day, so you can also grab the mezze platter and grilled halloumi for lunch. Bring a bottle of wine and a friend, sit outside at one of their sidewalk tables, and enjoy chicken shish or falafel while you remind yourself that Zahav will always be there.