One of Jerusalem's most colorful outdoor spaces is the Mahane Yehuda Market, or the Jerusalem shuk. A typical Mediterranean style outdoor market, the shuk is filled with the best selections of seasonal fruits and vegetables, fresh meats and cheeses, piping hot breads and pastries and a plethora of other delicious feasts for your palettes.
By far the busiest day of all is a Friday, and in particular, a Friday morning, where you can negotiate the already low prices down to what seems like pennies for quality food. Somewhere around 3:00 p.m., the bell will ring to signal Shabbat is about to begin and the shopkeepers will begin to close their stalls and pack up for the weekend.
You've got to be tough to approach the shuk on a Friday; be ready to elbow and push your way through the crowds. No matter which day of the week you head to the shuk, however, you can choose to dine at a number of well-known eateries throughout the market. I've done my best to try out a handful of these restaurants and I always seem to find my way back to the same restaurants despite their being dozens of places to sample out.
So, without further ado, here are my picks for a few of the Best Restaurants at the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem. In no particular order of course, because how can you organize culinary masterpieces?
Arguably the most talked about restaurant in all of Jerusalem (and definitely the most expensive one inside the shuk), here at Machaneyuda you can find a daily changing menu featuring eclectic and innovative cuisine inspired by the market. Even Martha Stewart made a special pit-stop here during her summer 2011 tour of Israel, about which she wrote in her public blog. Anytime a celeb makes a stop at a local restaurant, you can be sure it's somewhere to add to your list. It's at the top of mine! You will find killer food as well as entertainment to boot, with loud music and dancing waiters.
The first modern cafe to open in the market, Cafe Mizrachi features French pastries, light sandwiches and probably the best cafe au lait you’ll find in Jerusalem. Not only is Mizrachi a cozy cafe, it sells the various accouterments and toys every home baker needs, or at least wants. On the cafe side of things, the small tables are almost always full with Israelis engaged in intense discussion over coffee, and the menu offers plenty of the dairy salads, sandwiches, soups and baked goods one expects from an Israeli cafe. During the summers, Mizrachi hosts live music shows just outside the restaurant to liven up the area and mood.
At this splashy and funky-vibe restaurant, you won't find a single kubbeh or kabab on the menu, as are the options at the majority of the shuk restaurants. Instead, this Italian hole-in-the-wall offers you a selection of homemade pastas, pizzas and fish straight from the market. Standouts include figs baked in goat cheese, sardine bruschetta, chestnut gnocchi and margherita pizza with fresh salmon or sweet potato chunks.
Appropriately named, the Mahane Yehuda staple called Hatzot (which means midnight in Hebrew) serves up flavorful meat dishes all day and up until midnight on weekdays. If you find yourself walking down Agrippas Street alongside the shuk and are hit by the overpowering smell of fried onions, sizzling oil and spiced meat, you will have likely sniffed your way to Hatzot. Though a small scattering of tables can be found inside, the streetside grill is the truly the place-to-be when it comes to ordering from and eating at Hatzot. Order whatever it is your heart desires and watch with salivating eyes as it's grilled before you and stuffed into a piping hot pita.
Fresh, homemade pastas and sauces for the lowest prices in town. It's sort of a build-your-own-pasta place; select the noodle shape you want, then pick the sauce you desire, and then asked for the dish to be topped with savory extras i.e. cheeses, vegetables, sweet potato, salmon, spices, etc. Wait at your table as the chef whips up your masterpiece. Pasta Pasta is not only a great meeting point inside the shuk, but also, it's a great place for food on the go. They'll wrap your pasta up in a Chinese takeaway box, allowing you to dine on the go.
Ima Kuba Bar
Ima (pronounced "eemah"), many argue, is the best restaurant in all of the shuk. To dine at Ima (meaning "mother" in Hebrew) is a home-style dining experience unparalleled with anywhere else in the city. If you are looking for delicious, home-made Middle Eastern cuisine like your mother would make, this is the place for you to dine. Delicious selections include a variety of kubah soups (kubah is a meat filled dumping placed inside the soup) as well as piping hot meatballs served with rice and lentils.
Jerusalem is home to a great many family-owned working-class Middle Eastern meat restaurants, particularly in the area around the shuk, which is crammed with Iraqi/Kurdish culinary establishments. Some of these working-class Middle Eastern restaurants have achieved a near-legendary status in the Jerusalem dining scene. King of the Iraqi/Kurdish lunchtime joints is Mordoch, a family affair on the corner of Agrippas and H'armonim streets only a few short feet away from Machane Yehuda. Enter and you'll see rows of enormous pots, two or three deep, all filled with simmering Middle Eastern delicacies. Dining in gets you a tray of mezze, including various pickled vegetables and dips, and the menu includes a wide variety of salads, stuffed vegetables (the grape leaves are divine), Iraqi meat dishes, and what many consider to be the best kubeh (dumplings stuffed with spiced ground beef) in Jerusalem, which can be obtained fried or in several kinds of soup.
Very much in keeping with the proud Machane Yehuda gastronomic tradition is Hafinjan. A finjan is the small long-handle coffee pot that often accompanies a tray of traditional Middle Eastern coffee. And traditional is exactly what you will find here. The restaurant, famous for its hummus, techina, masbacha, fuul and other pita-ready classics, serves up a full rotating menu of Israeli soul food. You can also test out rice and bean dishes, meat stew, couscous and lubya, all made fresh daily and ladled from bubbling pots. It's a perfect place for the budget traveler: prices are low and portions are generous. Visit their website here.
A pre-state institution that sits just a few meters away from the hustle and bustle of the shuk, Rachmo sits as a long-standing staple of the area. Rachmo has been serving up Iraqi/Kurdish Jewish soul food since the 1930s. And although the restaurant is housed in a somewhat oddly-shaped corner building, with scuffed edges and without any prizes for its decor, it's the food that has been drawing people back here since the days of the British Mandate. Grab a tray and wait in the probably-lengthy line filled with sullen Israeli workingmen, get up to the kitchen window and make your choice from the standard selection of hummus, kubeh soup (and plenty of other soups), goulash, schnitzel, stuffed peppers and grape leaves, steak and anything else you would think to find on the menu of an Israeli restaurant of this type. Prices are low, making this an excellent stop for travelers on a budget.
Tucked away on a side street in the Mahane Yehuda Market is a unique Indian restaurant, one of the only places to grab some authentic Indian cuisine in the city. Tel Aviv is more popular when it comes to ethnic fare, including Chinese food, Thai food and Indian food. However, locals here in Jerusalem recommend sampling Ichikidana where you will find delicious vegetarian Indian cuisine for a low price. The menu offers a variety of rice and vegetarian dishes, always served with some sort of staple, mouth-watering Indian sauce. Have a pakora or samosa to start off your meal and be sure to check out the drink menu for a selection of various fruit-based drinks. View Ichikidana's website here.
Another savory stop full of ethnic flare in the Mahane Yehuda Market area is Sheger, an authentic Ethiopian restaurant recommended to be some of the best Ethiopian cuisine in town. It may surprise some of you that in Jerusalem, and within Israel in general, there exists quite a large Ethiopian population, as a result of the historic assisted immigration of thousands of Jewish Ethiopians from war-torn Ethiopia to present-day Israel. At Sheger, you will find the typical spreads which include spicy vegetables and meat dishes served on top of an injera or large piece of sourdough flatbread. Ethiopian cuisine should be eaten with your hands, so enjoy the experience. This place is at the top of my list, I have yet to try it, but it sure looks tasty.
Last but certainly not least is a must on your dessert menu. I've actually covered the deliciousness of the shuk's Marzipan Bakery previously in a post, see here, however, since I'm talking about places to eat at the shuk, I cannot not include this bakery on my list. Marzipan is not your traditional bakery; instead, here you will find trays upon trays of freshly baked Israeli goods which you bag yourself and bring up to the cashier for payment. It's a struggle sometimes to reach for a bag or make your way through the line since Marzipan is almost always overflowing with customers eager to pack up on their favorite rugelachs, burekas and pastries. The delicious smells emanating from the oven always forces you to take a few more items for the road than you had originally planned to purchase. Our personal favorites are the small, doughy round burekas with either a dough filling or cheese filling (for savory lovers) or the chocolate chip cheesecake pinwheels (for your sweet tooth).
And now we've only just scratched the surface! There are many more places I haven't yet tried and many I probably don't even know how to find. Simi, Sami, Azura, etc. There are just too many places to review in one little post. Please feel free to share your favorites if you are local, or even if you've been here and visited. P'tay Avon! That's "bon appetite" in Hebrew.