You give them money, and they give you food, but Hila Dovrat-Bloch insists that Diyalna, a new restaurant with branches in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, is not a restaurant but a place to hang out and eat street food.
The décor is unique. A small storefront on Agrippas Street opposite the shuk opens up to a jewel box of a restaurant with a covered courtyard that makes you feel you’re in Morocco. It’s the kind of place you could hang out in for hours, and based on some videos that Hila showed me from the Tel Aviv branch, many do.
It’s a big change for chef Ronen Dovrat-Bloch, who ran RDB (his initials), one of Israel’s premier fine-dining restaurants, with a price tag to match. But Dovrat-Bloch’s partner, an oligarch from Russia, came into the partnership with debts, and since he wasn’t an Israeli citizen, Dovrat-Block signed for everything and ended up heavily in debt.
But that is all in the past. Now the Dovrat-Blochs are all about Moroccan street food served in frena bread.
“We’ve been thinking about doing a street food place for a long time,” said Hila during a recent early dinner. “There’s something magical about it.” The menu is limited, but every sandwich is excellent. An order is two sandwiches, which are not large but are stuffed with meat. Two sandwiches is plenty for a moderately hungry diner.
One caveat – be careful with the homemade matbuha (a pepper-based spread that usually is not very spicy). When I told Hila that I don’t like very spicy food, she said she would keep the matbuha on the side. When I took a bite of one of my husband’s sandwiches, after he had added a little matbuha, I felt like my mouth was on fire.
One of the bestsellers is the prosaically named “whole chicken” (NIS 52), which is marinated and roasted in the tabun oven for 24 hours. The marinade is a secret, but it has leeks, green garlic and spicy pepper, and the chicken melts in your mouth.
If you are pescatarian, there is the fish hareime with lots of cilantro and garlic.
I especially enjoyed the sweetbreads (NIS 75), which were slow-cooked and roasted. They were soft and salty, and I couldn’t get enough.
The one sandwich I couldn’t bring myself to try was the stuffed spleen (NIS 75), which was served with a lot of cilantro. I’ve tried spleen before, and it just doesn’t do it for me.
The sandwiches are served in a brown paper box alongside one of the best salads I’ve had in Israel. There was celery and fennel and other crunchy, yummy stuff from the nearby shuk in some kind of lemon dressing. It was an excellent accompaniment to the meat sandwiches.
I also had a shot of a homemade lemonade-arak concoction that I could see drinking frequently. There is a great outdoor space with couches and pillows, and even a swing that a two-year-old girl enjoyed while her father fed her bites of dinner. Overall, a fun place with a fun vibe.
THE SECOND place with a fun vibe is Twins, which has replaced Tommy on the walking path near the First Station in what used to be the station master’s house. It is owned by Guy Zmora, 25, who also ran Tommy’s, which was a franchise.
“We wanted to do something of our own,” he said.
Twins is also a step up from Tommy’s, which I thought was decent but nothing really special. Here each sandwich comes with its own sauce, and is served in frena bread. I chose the Perfect Twins Burger (NIS 69), which is asado on top of a burger with pickles, onions (which I chose to skip), grilled tomatoes and garlic aioli.
The meat is imported from Brazil, and both the burger and the asado were excellent. For a side dish I chose sweet potato fries, which were crunchy and not at all oily. My son tried the French burger (NIS 69), which was topped with a ragout of Shimeji mushrooms in truffle oil.
My abstemious husband went with the Shaked’s Prana (NIS 59) cauliflower, and fried eggplant with garlic confit and other yummy stuff. It can easily be made vegan by skipping the garlic aioli.
“These are serious onion rings,” he said of his side dish, which consisted of thick slices of onion battered and fried.
Unlike its previous incarnation as Tommy’s, where you ordered at the counter, Twins has waiter service. The restaurant seats 100. Sit outside, where you can watch the joggers and strollers on the Hamesila Park walking path, or sit inside or upstairs.
The burgers were absolutely delicious and, along with a cold beer, were a great way to spend a Saturday night. When we arrived at 9:30 pm, it was pretty empty, but by 10:30 p.m., when we left, a line had formed. Although Twins has been open only a month, news of its good burgers is spreading.
127 Agrippas, Jerusalem; or Hashomer 1, Tel Aviv
Hours: Sunday-Thursday, noon-midnight; Friday, noon until an hour before Shabbat
Kashrut: Jerusalem Rabbinate
First Station, Jerusalem
Sunday-Thursday, noon-midnight; Saturday, from one hour after Shabbat
Tel: (02) 993-0046
Kashrut: Rabbanut Mehadrin
The writer was a guest of the restaurants.