Fine dining in Mahaneh Yehuda

Renovated and reopened under old-new management, Yehudit feels like home again.

The Yehudit Authentic Jerusalem Restaurant in the heart of the capital’s famous Mahaneh Yehuda shuk has recently reopened after a face-lift – and the dining is now better than ever.
Run by Yehudit Yehezkel and her son, Mor, it offers a range of delectable dishes, especially for meat-eaters. But other delights are also available, including fish, and fresh salads in small dishes that are included in the price of the main course. Mostly, as Yehudit herself points out, “It’s comfortable here, and our customers feel at home.”
Yehudit hired a top designer to renovate the restaurant, which now has a modern interior with wooden panels, blue tiles and a new grill, although the old photographs of Jerusalem and the legendary clay taboon oven still draw your attention as you walk in.
Located opposite the legendary Rahmo restaurant, Yehudit has become exceptionally popular among both long-time clientele and newcomers since it reopened a few months ago, so it’s recommended that you get there early for lunch or dinner. (The restaurant can seat about 45 people in a comfortable, cozy space between its new open grill and the taboon, said to be the first built in Jerusalem.)
Yehudit sits with us as we sample some of her delicacies, and tells us the story of the restaurant named after her. “It’s really a long family story,” she says. “It opened as a family business in 1986 by my late husband and his two brothers, and the wives would help out whenever we could. It became a really popular place to eat for both locals and tourists, especially because of the special bread we made in the taboon, the fresh salads and the excellent grilled meats.”
After a few years, though, the brothers decided they had had enough, and sold the restaurant in 1995. But Yehudit noticed that the new owner was struggling to maintain the restaurant’s regular clients and began losing business.
“After about a year I said to my husband, ‘I want the restaurant back, and this time, I’m taking over.’ He agreed, and so we started it all over again.”
Yehudit renamed the restaurant after herself, called all her old clients and invited them to return, and introduced all kinds of culinary innovations to the menu.
“I love working here, experimenting and learning to make new things,” she says. “I’m here all day, every day, cooking and supervising the staff, and I really need to taste everything myself.”
The latest addition to her staff is her son, Mor, who is an accomplished chef himself, having previously run the famous Yemenite eatery Marvad Haksamim. Her daughter also works as a waitress, although she is about to begin her studies.
“Our secret is that we buy the best kosher meat fresh from a local butcher and cook it to perfection,” says Mor. “And of course, the fact that my mom and I are here to supervise makes both our staff and our customers happy.”
We started with one of Yehudit’s own creations, a Kurdish-style kade meat pastry (NIS 36), which was absolutely scrumptious. We also sampled the fried cauliflower florets (NIS 34), stuffed vine leaves (NIS 28) and three types of hummus (with meat and mushrooms, chickpeas and pine nuts) as starters. The hummus (NIS 19-34) is some of the best in Jerusalem.
Yehudit also offers a range of small-dish salads, tehina and laffa bread, all of which were delicious and not too filling. We decided to skip the soup – they have vegetable, bean and lentil (NIS 22) – although their soups are among the most popular items on the menu.
We decided, however, that we really had to leave space for the main course if we wanted to get the most out of this meat restaurant. At the recommendation of our waitress, Noy, we ordered three of their specialties – goose-breast and beef skewers (NIS 98 and NIS 115 respectively) and premium entrecote steak (NIS 155). All were incredible – especially the succulent steak. For fellow meat-lovers, they also make lamb shishlik (NIS 115) and lamb chops (NIS 155), sweetbreads (NIS 98) and the traditional Jerusalem mixed grill (NIS 82), which the people at the next table were eating, and it looked and smelled really good.
They also have chicken steak and skewers, pargiyot, liver, schnitzel, kebab, merguez spicy sausages and fish of the day, which range in price depending on the type of fish. There is also a special kids’ menu that features schnitzel nuggets, kebab, pargiyot or chicken breast with chips or rice and a soft drink (NIS 49).
We decided not to sample from their fine wine and beer menu, and even sacrificed the Turkish coffee and mint tea to finish the meal in favor of their two tempting desserts: malabi and crème brûlée, both of which were fantastic!
The food and service were superb. You simply cannot escape the love that Yehudit and Mor feel for their restaurant, customers and staff. They really do make you feel at home, like family.
As one tourist wrote on the restaurant’s website recently, “Excellent service, delicious food, really caring and giving from the heart. Highly recommended. Next time we will return!”
The writers were guests of the restaurant.
Yehudit Authentic Jerusalem Restaurant
5 HaArmonim St, Mahaneh Yehuda, Jerusalem
Tel: 02-625 4036
Kashrut: Rabbanut Yerushalayim
Sunday-Thursday: Noon-10 p.m.