Casa Lavi: Hippie, healthy vegetarian food, great coffee in Jerusalem - review

It’s not completely vegan since they do use eggs in the desserts but there is no white flour or cane sugar and the kitchen is parve. The dishes can also be made gluten-free.

 Casa Lavi (photo credit: Daniel Berger)
Casa Lavi
(photo credit: Daniel Berger)

When I walked into Casa Lavi on Derech Beit Lehem, I felt like I had time-traveled from Jerusalem to Boulder, Colorado, 10 years ago. The calm design with lots of blond wood and natural colors, the customers pecking on their laptops at a communal table while sipping handcrafted coffees from ceramic cups and the super-fancy coffee machine, all left me feeling far away from Jerusalem’s chaos.

But this is Baka, not Boulder and Casa Lavi is a new coffee shop owned by a Mexican-olim married couple, Alphonso and Meital Helfon, that opened about two months ago. Alphonse is incredibly earnest and passionate about healthy food, craft coffee and living in Jerusalem. The menu here is small, with just three dishes right now, although Alphonso says it will expand. It’s not completely vegan since they do use eggs in the desserts but there is no white flour or cane sugar and the kitchen is parve. The dishes can also be made gluten-free.

Since my carnivorous kids are not big fans of vegan food, my husband finally got to come to a review with me! We tried all three dishes on offer and all three are very good.

The three delicious items on the menu

The first dish is a portobello mushroom toast (NIS 45) on whole spelt sourdough bread with almond cheese, cucumber and sprouts. It was not a huge portion but it was delicious.

Next was mollettes (NIS 45), a Mexican dish of beans and cashew cheese on a spelt roll, which came with homemade pico de gallo, a tomato and onion dip. This was four pieces and can easily make a meal.

 Street sign for Derech Beit Lehem, Baka, Jerusalem (Illustrative). (credit: Wikimedia Commons) Street sign for Derech Beit Lehem, Baka, Jerusalem (Illustrative). (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The last dish, and the one my husband and I enjoyed the most, was a veggie tofu wrap (NIS 40) with organic tofu and fresh vegetables, served with a pesto and tahini sauce. It’s one of those meals that you feel yourself getting healthier as you eat it.

Alphonso lights up as he talks about feeding people.

“We want to give people good, healthy food,” he says. “We know that some ingredients like white flour and white sugar are just bad for us so why would he want to eat them?”

“We want to give people good, healthy food. We know that some ingredients like white flour and white sugar are just bad for us so why would he want to eat them?”

Alphonso Helfon

He has spent time living and working on a farm and is always looking for the best ingredients. As far as he knows, he says, Casa Lavi is the only coffee shop in Israel that serves only organic milk, which is double the price of regular milk. This is, after all, a coffee shop and the coffee is imported from a roastery in Barcelona. The cups are handmade, and each coffee is made with a double shot of espresso.

Prices are a little higher for the coffee drinks than in other coffee shops on the Derech Beit Lehem strip, but the coffee is excellent. When I visited, there were quite a few students busily typing on laptops, sipping coffee. Casa Lavi is the kind of place where you can feel comfortable sitting and working.

There are several desserts on offer including a Snickers Bar, which my husband and I shared. In the spirit of the place, I even let him have the last bite.

The next day, I came back for a coffee cupping workshop, something I’d been wanting to do for a while. We each received a cupping spoon which we were to dip into the various blends on offer looking for notes of fruit and spices. We were then to rinse our spoons in a cup of boiling water before moving on to the next cup.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m an insufferable wine snob (actually I’m an aspiring wine geek) and much of the language used here is similar to that of wine. There were some delicious coffees from several different roasteries and a nice crowd of English speakers including a hassid. Alphonso says he hopes to have more events in the future.

Casa LaviDerech Beit Lehem 41Hours: Sunday-Thursday 7:45 p.m.-6 p.m.Friday 7:45 p.m.-2 p.m.Kashrut: Mehadrin

The writer was a guest of the restaurant.