The L.A. Culinary Scene Is Having A Major Israeli Moment
If you're up on your food trends around town, you've no doubt noticed that Israeli food (and Middle Eastern flavors, more generally) are having something of a moment in Los Angeles and around the country. This is not to say that Israeli restaurants haven't existed in Los Angeles for decades already (in 2014, it was estimated that some 120,000 Israelis live in Los Angeles—the second-largest concentration anywhere outside of the mother country), and a drive down Ventura Boulevard through Encino and Tarzana will lead you to such classic mom-and-pops as Itzik Hagadol Grill, Aroma Bakery Cafe, and Hummus Bar & Grill. But a new wave of Israeli restaurants (ones that garner national attention and acclaim) are cropping up.This "Israeli moment" seems to have started globally with the release of Israeli-born, London-based chef Yotam Ottolenghi's cookbook Ottolenghi in 2008. The enormous success of the cookbook has spawned three additional ones in the years since, and Ottolenghi's fresh take on Israeli foods and flavors whet the global appetite. The same year Ottolenghi was released, chef Michael Solomonov opened up an Israeli restaurant named Zahav in Philadelphia. Zahav's clout rose slowly at first, but reached a fever pitch in 2015.
2015 seemed to be a turning point in the Israeli food trend here in L.A., too. It was around that year that shakshuka (the Israeli breakfast classic) seemed to be on every brunch menu across L.A. (something I chronicled for Eater LA at the time). And that same year, Madcapra, the falafel stall by Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson, opened at Grand Central Market in downtown L.A.
But since the beginning of this year, Israeli cuisine and Middle Eastern flavors seem to have taken over the city's culinary scene. In January, Kramer and Hymanson opened Kismet in Los Feliz. The California-Israeli restaurant launched the pair into the national foodie elite (including a spot on Food & Wine's Best New Chefs of 2017 list), and announced the arrival of high-brow Israeli fare to the L.A. crowd. Since then, Botanica (which is not technically billed as Israeli fare, but definitely Israeli influenced) and Mh Zh have opened in Silver Lake,The Exchange has opened downtown, Bestia's Ori Menashe is working on his new Israeli restaurant in the Arts District, and Publiqué is set to open this summer in Santa Monica. Look deeper and you'll see za'atar (a Middle Eastern spice blend composed primarily of sumac) on menus across the city, along with dishes like malabi (a Middle Eastern custard dessert), lamb, and cucumber salad.
But, why Israeli food? Why now? Our best guess is that Middle Eastern cuisine fit the bill for a larger shift in food trends: vegetable-centric, health-conscious cuisine. However, what Ottolenghi did was reframe Israeli food—a cuisine that had been previously viewed as "ethnic food"—as something more mainstream. What's more, for chefs in Los Angeles, the local produce and climate of Southern California (and the philosophy of California cuisine more broadly) line-up nearly perfectly with the produce, climate, and tastes of Israel. We should also note that Palestinian, Lebanese, and even Turkish food uses essentially the same ingredients and flavor combinations as most Israeli cuisine.
“When I drive to Santa Barbara, it’s northern Israel,” Elad Zvi, who partnered with Alex Chang to open downtown's The Exchange, told Food & Wine. “When I drive to the desert, it’s totally, like, ‘Fuck, I feel like I’m in Israel.’”
Chang, himself an L.A. native of Chinese-Mexican heritage, described his realization that Israeli and Middle Eastern foods could be reinterpreted through other cultures.
“People have a strong conception that Israeli food is za’atar and yogurt and olive oil and this and that. My biggest take-away from Israeli food was more the style of it," Chang began. "The preserved lemons seem like it’s so Middle Eastern. But once you add other stuff to it, you can make red yuzu koshō and green yuzu koshō. A lot of the base is really the same.”
If you're looking to taste the new wave of Israeli/Israeli-influenced spots around town, take a look at the following:
Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson have created the case for why Israeli food found its home in Los Angeles. See our full write-up on the restaurant here.
Kismet is located at 4648 Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. (323) 409-0404
Emily Fiffer and Heather Sperling have melded Israeli and California cuisines with dishes that highlight L.A.'s local produce. See our full write-up on the restaurant here.
Botanica is located at 1620 Silver Lake Boulevard in Los Angeles. (323) 522-6106)
Conor Shemtov has distilled his Israeli heritage into bold flavors that are distinctly his voice. See our full write-up on the restaurant here.
Mh Zh is located at 3536 Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. (323) 636-7598
Scott Zwiezen of Elf Cafe has been honing his take on Israeli and Middle Eastern flavors in at this Atwater Village storefront since 2015.
Dune is located at 3143 Glendale Boulevard in Los Angeles. (323) 486-7073
Los Angeles-born Alex Chang reinterprets the tastes of Tel Aviv at this all-day downtown spot.
The Exchange is located at The Freehand Hotel at 416 West 8th Street in Los Angeles. (213) 612-0021
Matt Carpenter opened Momed in Beverly Hills in 2010, and has been serving up solid Levant fare ever since.
Momed is located at 233 South Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills. (310) 270-4444
There is also a Momed it Atwater Village at 3245 Casitas Avenue. (323) 522-3488
Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson brought elevated falafel and Israeli flavors to Grand Central Market in 2015 and began quickly made their names known.
Madcapra is located at Grand Central Market at 317 South Broadway in Los Angeles. (213) 357-2412