Hatzot: A venerable Mahaneh Yehuda institution - review

Hatzot is not the oldest restaurant in the vicinity of Jerusalem’s famed Mahaneh Yehuda market, but it comes close.

 Hatzot (photo credit: Hatzot)
Hatzot
(photo credit: Hatzot)

It’s called Hatzot, which means midnight in Hebrew, and because it’s a veteran restaurant that started operating in the years when few business establishments were open late at night, it may very well have chosen its name by virtue of the fact that it stayed open till beyond the witching hour to feed entertainers and other famous people, who didn’t live in Jerusalem, but worked till late at night and wanted something good to eat before they went home.

Hatzot is not the oldest restaurant in the vicinity of Jerusalem’s famed Mahaneh Yehuda market, but it comes close. It has been operating for more than 50 years, and at various times of the evening , especially on Thursdays, it’s impossible to find a vacant table.

Over the past five or six years, increasing numbers of eateries have popped up. Some had an instant and loyal clientele; other were nine days’ wonders, and disappeared before they had a chance to put down roots.

Hatzot, which is one of my favorite restaurants, stayed the course.

Mahane Yehuda Market (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)Mahane Yehuda Market (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

FRIENDS SONIA and Daniel Lew, who live in Kfar Saba, came to Jerusalem to celebrate their wedding anniversary. I wanted to take them to dinner, and asked whether they preferred dairy, fish or meat.

On their previous visit a couple of months back, we went to Fishenchips, which we thoroughly enjoyed, and found to be the closest to what we had experienced growing up in our native Melbourne. But the inner hustle and bustle of the market and the scramble to find a seat were not quite the way to celebrate a wedding anniversary.

Sonia and Daniel settled the matter by telling me to choose whichever restaurant I liked, and of course I went for Hatzot, where I had not been since before the start of the pandemic.

But before making a final decision, I checked its menu on the Internet to make sure that it still included by favorite dish – entrecote salad. It does, so I called for a reservation, only to be told that it doesn’t take telephone reservations anymore.

So I took a bus to Mahaneh Yehuda and walked the few meters from the bus stop on Agrippas Street to make an in-person reservation.

It was lunch time, but the restaurant was empty. My heart sank. Had it lost its touch during COVID? That couldn’t be, because in addition to the many tables inside, there were several tables lined up in the street against the exterior wall. It was obvious that some renovations had been done to the premises, in addition to which the restaurant had gone big-time into takeaway and delivery during COVID, and possibly many of its loyal clientele preferred to eat from its menu at home.

Even in person, I could not make a reservation. “Come back at about 7 and you’ll have a table,” the young woman in charge of placing guests told me.

So, promptly at 7 p.m., I was back, and there were only four diners present. I was given a table where Sonia and Daniel could see me when they came looking. The place gradually began to fill up by the time they arrived some 15 minutes later.

Following my lead, Sonia also ordered entrecote salad, and Daniel, who is very partial to mushrooms, ordered a mushroom salad, which came with a stir-fried base.

Sonia had expected a couple of slivers of meat on top of a mountain of lettuce, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that there was as much meat as if she had ordered an entrecote steak, plus there were lots of tasty vegetables in a piquant sauce. Happily, she was as enthusiastic about the entrecote salad as I am, but considering that there were lamb chops on the menu, and knowing how much I love lamb, she asked why I hadn’t ordered lamb.

There were two reasons. One was that I knew in advance that we would gorge ourselves on the salads and hot pitot that automatically come ahead of all main dishes; and the other was the difference in price. Lamb chops, though not the most expensive item on the menu, are nonetheless more than twice the price of the entrecote salad. The chops are NIS 185, and the hot entrecote salad NIS 82.

The number of salad dishes that instantly appear on the table even before one has a chance to peruse the menu depends on the number of people sitting at the table. The more people, the more salads, each of which is delicious. The variety is, for foodies, nothing less than a culinary treasure trove. We received 10 salads.

Patrons on a low budget order appetizers and no main course. The appetizers range in price from NIS 28 to NIS 48, with one notable expensive exception: a goose liver double skewer priced at NIS 90.

Main courses include beef, lamb, poultry and fish choices.

Hatzot also serves alcoholic beverages. Sonia and Daniel insisted on contributing a bottle of wine to make the meal more festive. Personally, I never order a bottle of wine, because it is usually three or four times as expensive as the same bottle in the supermarket or the wine shop. It may be due to my Australian background. In Australia, many restaurants advertise BYO – Bring your own – and people do.

While we were eating, the restaurant filled up to capacity, and some of the tables outside were also occupied.

Service was fast, efficient and polite. On one of the walls were photographs of people who had dined there over the years – entertainers and politicians, including Ariel Sharon, were among the recognizable faces.

The evening proved to be extremely satisfying except for one thing – the acoustics. The noise level from conversations at the various tables was so high that it was almost deafening.

The bill, including the wine, came to NIS 325. Sonia calculated that if we had made all that we consumed in our own kitchens, it would probably have cost us more.

When Daniel went to fetch the car, he noticed that not only Agrippas Street was chockablock with eateries, but also all the side streets. And they were all well patronized. He was amazed.

He and Sonia agreed that on future visits to Jerusalem, Hatzot would definitely be on their list of places to eat.

Hatzot121 Agrippas StreetJerusalemPhone: 073-758-4204KosherOpen Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. till last customer; Friday, till an hour before Shabbat. Saturday, from the end of Shabbat till the last customer.