Top 5: Cheap eats in Tel Aviv

Food enthusiasts at Taste TLV give their verdict on the best that the Tel Aviv dining scene has to offer.

Argentinian restaurant, Eat Meat, Tel Aviv (photo credit: Dylan Stein )
Argentinian restaurant, Eat Meat, Tel Aviv
(photo credit: Dylan Stein )
Dylan Stein is a restaurant review writer for TasteTLV. TasteTLV is the ultimate culinary guide for dining in Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv can be a pricey city, but hidden in the cracks of the city, is a vibrant scene of cheap eateries that reflect the diverse cultural and culinary landscape.  Here are my top five restaurants that will allow you to enjoy a delectable meal without spending more than NIS 35. In no particular order: Sabich Frishman, Erez, Abu Dahbi Hummus, Shmaya, and Eat Meat. The quality of these five places is reflected in the throngs of people that flock to each.
1. Sabich Frishman
Cuisine origin: Iraqi
When one thinks of fast food in Israel, falafel immediately comes to mind. The lesser-known sabich is a must-try, and many foodies will tell you that there is nothing better to sink your teeth into.  Sabich was introduced by Iraqi Jews, and was first seen in Israel in Ramat Gan in 1958. Rather than deep fried chickpeas, Frishman Sabich fills your pita with eggplant, egg, and potato. In addition to this are the familiar accompaniments of hummus, tehina, tomato, parsley, cucumber, purple cabbage and onion, which are all loaded on generously.
The mango based spicy sauce called amba takes this dish to the next level. The combination of egg and hummus is a very interesting and creates a satisfying interplay of flavors that will leave your taste buds yearning for another bite.
Price point: This glorious pita will only set you back NIS 17.
Tip: Be sure to stock up at the salad bar with portions of pickled cabbage, peppers and carrots. It also should be noted that the sharp flavor of vinegar contrasts and enhances the flavors in the sabich.
Bottom Line: You are going to be full for the rest of the day.
Address: 42 Frishman
Hours: Sun-Thurs 10 a.m. till midnight, Fri 10 a.m. till 4 p.m., one hour after Shabbat goes out
Not kosher, vegetarian 
2. Erez
Cuisine origin: Yemenite
When one walks into the Yemenite Quarter in Tel Aviv it feels as if they have been transported to a simpler time. Busy traffic, flashing signs and bustling crowds all vanish and a sense of inner peace sets in. There are numerous eateries in the Yemenite Quarter, but in my opinion the best is Erez.
Behind an unassuming exterior one will find delectable Yemenite cuisine presented against the backdrop of red brick walls and distinctive artwork. All meals include a delicious eggplant and garlic dip, halbe, and unlimited pita. One time at Erez and I assure you that you will be going back for more.
Price Point: The best choice is the lunch special, which includes two skewers  (spring chicken, kebab, liver, heart of chicken or red meat), and three side dishes (hummus, tehina, chips, white beans, green beans, rice or Israeli salad) for NIS 33.  My personal favorite kebab was the spring chicken, a flavor explosion of tender chicken in my mouth.
Bottom line: Life is good in the Yemenite quarter.
Address: 24 Nahliel Street, The Yemen Quarter
Hours: Sun-Thurs 9 a.m. till 7 p.m., Friday 9 a.m. till one hours before Shabbat enters
 (03) 510-2555
3. Abu Dahbi Hummus

Cuisine origin: Galilee
People defend their favorite hummus restaurant in Tel Aviv in a similar manner to how one would defend their favorite sports team. There are many hummus places in Tel Aviv, each with their own merits. In my opinion, the best spot is Abu Dahbi, which serves up a Galilee-style hummus as well as Meshawsha (tangy hummus) and Hummus-Ful (hummus with brown beans). You can get sides of salad, chips, and one-shekel falafel balls. 
What puts Abu Dahbi a head above the competition is the atmosphere. Abu Dahbi is characterized by a Rastafari vibe, with reggae music constantly playing in the background and a green, red and yellow color scheme. Everyone on the crowded patio is in a state of “lounge”, as they linger after their meal sipping on complementary coffee. Abu Dahbi is an oasis of hummus and music in the middle of a hectic city. If you find your life is moving at too fast a pace and you need a break, you can come here to chill.
Price point: The entire meal will cost around NIS 25.
Tip: Best time to go is on Fridays - you will have to wait for a table but it is well worth it: Free shots of Arak and free refills of hummus.
Bottom Line:  Chill out man and eat some more hummus.

Address: King George 81    
Hours: Sun- Thurs 10 a.m. till 8 p.m., Fri 10 a.m. till 4 p.m.               
(03) 525-9090
Not kosher, vegetarian
4. Shmaya

Cuisine Origin: Jewish
Located in Florentin, the lunchtime crowds are always visible at Shmaya.  As you enter, your nostrils will be greeted with a tantalizing aroma and your eyes will perceive a large open stove top covered in a wide variety of scrumptious looking dishes.  Warm yellow walls embrace the patron and create a feeling of lightheartedness. The menu stays roughly the same.
Every day there is a variation of chicken, fish or beef dishes, served on a bed of veggies and rice. The owners of this restaurant hail from a family of nine children and all the recipes were passed down from their mother. Shmaya encapsulates the connection between Judaism and food. The vibe gives one the sense they are getting a dose of Israeli family love.

Price Point: You can choose either plate for NIS 28 and get one meat choice, or NIS 38 for two meat choices, which is a huge amount of food, so only order if you’re ravenous.  Both include a starter of hummus and pita. The last time I ate at Shmaya, the most popular dish was slow roasted chicken with dates and anise. This was a mouth-watering combination.

Bottom Line: “EAT! You’re skin and bones,” said in a Jewish grandmother voice.

Address: 2 Vital
(03) 682-9217
Open till food runs out; closed Friday night and Saturday
5. Eat Meat

Cuisine Origin: Argentine
Looking in the tiny space that is Eat Meat, you will see crowded faux wood counters, delicious smelling, succulent looking entrecote on the grill, and some very good-looking sandwiches being made assembly-line style. The sandwiches are made on round ciabatta buns heated to a crispy golden brown. 
First, mayo, Dijon mustard and chimichurri sauce are applied. Next, grilled meat, grilled onions, lettuce and tomato are piled on. There is an option to add an egg for an extra five shekels, which I highly recommend. The end result is one mean sandwich that will leave you with a full belly and a smile on your face.

Price Point: The sandwiches will set you back a mere NIS 31.
Tip: Sit at the bar to watch a constant stream of sandwich creation. 
Bottom Line:  More meat, less problems.
Address: 68 King George
Hours: Sun-Thurs 10 a.m. till 10 p.m., Fri 10 a.m. till 4 p.m. 
Not kosher
Dylan studied Political Science at Queens University in Kingston Ontario.  It is near impossible to find a food he does not like, and he has embarked on culinary adventures on six continents.