There are some restaurants where you make a reservation and don’t give it a second thought until you get a reminder notification. There are other spots, though, where you start fantasizing and dreaming about your upcoming meal, similar to the way you start thinking about your wedding after watching Love Actually, as soon as you secure a table there. Zahav is very much the latter.
The Old City spot has been around since 2008, which shows by the dining room that kind of looks like a Cheesecake Factory. But there’s something uniquely impressive about a place that opened the same year Katy Perry released her first single, and still makes some of the best food in the city.
photo credit: Max Grudzinski
At $72 per person, the rotating tasting menu always starts with trays of fluffy laffa bread, six vegetable salads like beets and charred eggplants (that are usually pickled), and creamy hummus. Each starting item is good enough that you could just pause the rest of the evening and make a meal of everything on the tray. But we suggest not stopping the procession of fried carrots topped with a pomegranate glaze, haloumi wrapped in crispy coconut strands, and grilled radishes coated with earthy chermoula. The only other place in the city you’ll find this type of food executed this well is at Zahav’s sister restaurants. And even so, our meals here have consistently been better than the ones we've had at Laser Wolf, Dizengoff, and Abe Fisher.
You should expect small portions, but there are enough courses for two people to head home with a few leftover bags. And like a kid walking around Sam’s Club when they have free samples, you’ll want to try everything. We just suggest you save room for the well-executed mains like a tender lamb shoulder dripping with a pomegranate glaze that’s sitting on a bed of chickpeas or a spicy cauliflower pepper stew. Plus, they have a wine pairing for $45 that ties it all together. After hearing the staff talk about each bottle, you'll be so informed about wines from the Middle East that you’ll sound like a taped museum tour guide when you start rambling to your friends about Lebanese vineyards.
photo credit: Max Grudzinski
Like their Israeli grill counterpart in Kensington, Laser Wolf, you have to treat reservations at Zahav like Adele tickets and snap them up the minute something becomes available. But once you do, you'll have all the makings for an amazing date night or a weeknight dinner where you should take a few friends that you don’t mind sharing with.
So yes, Zahav is worth all of the daydreams you’ll have before you arrive. Sure, you could try and walk in an hour before they open, or try to swing by later in the night to catch an open bar seat, but that would just take all the fun out of the waiting game.
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This opening act of six vegetable salads could be the headliner of the whole meal, especially since it comes with thick rounds of laffa bread. From smoky and charred spinach to handfuls of pickled beans, this appetizer will probably make you revert back to a childilke state where you want to touch and put everything you see in your mouth.
Zahav easily makes the best hummus in the city. It’s completely silky and velvety smooth, and it's also something that you’ll want to hoard for yourself when your friends head to the bathroom or get distracted by the next glass of Israeli wine.
Most of us love a good long rod of cheese, which is why it was always the most sought-after option when we traded snacks in the third grade. This halloumi is perfectly light and crunchy (thanks to the outer layer of cooked coconut), a little sweet with the orange and pistachio sauce, and comes warm.
This is one of those appetizer-sized dishes that you’ll want more of. Coated with a cashew tehina sauce that’s subtly minty and has bits of green garlic, every crevice of the meat is tender and juicy. Since it only comes with about six cubes of meat, you can eat this and still have enough space for the mains after running through bowls of hummus and plates of appetizers.
Pomegranate Lamb Shoulder
If there wasn’t a huge slab of meat in the center of the plate, we still think the mix of chickpeas, mint, and pomegranate glaze would be good enough to eat as a sweet vegetable dish. The chunk of fall-off-the-bone meat is just a huge bonus. If this isn’t on the menu when you go there, we’re truly sorry.
Carrot Kalamansi Sorbet
This cold sorbet is both sweet and tangy with a hint of lime. Served with white slithers of lemony snow, it’s the perfect light dessert to end a big meal.