One reason for Machneyuda's popularity, a trio of star chefs of course being integral to the buzz, is the rigid allegiance to ingredients that are fresh from the city's famed Mahane Yehuda marketplace.
But that's where the inflexibility ends, giving way to Mediterranean-inflected flights of fancy that will make your tastebuds soar. Menu items can be deceptively simple: a scrumptious starter of hamshuka (a custom-made dish of hummus and ground meat) or teasingly complex (consider the Moshiko-style calamari with garlic and pomegranate concentrate).
Expect playfulness to trump accuracy at Machneyuda. The restaurant's "fun fun wooden plate" is listed under the "we love vegetarians" section of the menu, but there's meat on it as well. The "special meatballs the Brazilian way" are more competent than special, that overused word a fairer assessment of "the famous Ronen's Pasta 4 goals in 1 game."
Two dessert recommendations: "Apple Cake in a Tin Baking Dish" and "Jew-York Cheese Cake our Pastry Chef Hit It Spot On." And he did.
Not only the food, but the style of ordering is unconventional, with a different daily selection of dishes in four price categories ($6-$9, $9-$17, $17-$23 and $23-$29 and up), and that's featuring fish dishes, two meat dishes and a selection of vegetarian dishes in each category. The place is far from formal, sporting, on the ground floor, bar seating and a mix of dining areas clustered around the open kitchen. There are more tables on the second level.
Waitstaff as well as the chefs at Machneyuda have been known to spontaneously burst into song, and you might too if you're lucky enough to snag a reservation. Bear in mind that this is a restaurant that urbane Tel Avivans will drive to - and if head chef Assaf Granit happens to be in Tel Aviv, cameras tend to follow him.
What this means for the traveler is that the moment your Jerusalem plans are finalized, call the restaurant and do your Israeli best to get a reservation for what may well be the gastronomic highlight of your trip.
The restaurant, located at 10 Beit Yaakov Street, is open Sun.-Thurs. from noon to 4PM and for dinner from 6PM until the last customer, Fri. 11:30AM-3PM and Sat. from after sundown until the last customer leaves. tel. The telephone from the U.S. is 972-25333442 but call close to the restaurant's opening times if you want to make contact with an actual person (expect lengthy hold times).
And if you find yourself in Jerusalem without a reservation, you can try Yuda'le, which is Machneyuda's separate bar -- with a full bar menu -- right across the street.
Of course, there are other toothsome detours in this country's politically complicated capital. Less of the moment than Machneyuda but no less delicious is Chef Ezra Kedem's gourmet gateway called, appropriately enough, Arcadia, at 10 Agrippas Alley (972) 26249138. Another gourmet contender is Cavalier, 1 Ben Sira St., tel. (972) 26242945. Kosher pizza? Try any number of fresh toppings on for size at Dona Fresca, 1 Shlomtzyon HaMalka St.
Of course, in Jerusalem you're never very far from Biblical associations and unlike in most cities, here you can have those associations and sometimes feast on them too, particular if you're dining at Eucalyptus. Here, Chef Moshe Basson takes inspiration from herbs and plants that are mentioned in the Good Book (and I'm not talking about the Joy of Cooking!). He then forages for them daily in the Judean Hills just beyond the city and creates a menu based in part on what he finds.
Think za’atar (hyssop), Jerusalem sage, Lubia salad in citrus and above all, think delicious. 14 Hativat Yerushalaim St., tel. (972) 2624433.