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Fastened to an inner wall of Amir Kronberg’s tiny, jaunty new Tel Aviv restaurant Gadera 26 is a vintage black-and-white picture of a gentleman you might mistake for Rudolph Valentino as The Sheik – but it’s actually the enterprising Israeli chef’s Iraqi-Jewish grandfather. He’s as strappingly handsome as Kronberg, 33, who turns out savory market-fresh fare from a small open kitchen that has made it the pack leader of a new generation of restaurants in the city’s teeming Kerem HaTeimanim quarter. It’s a wisp of a neighborhood straddling the HaCarmel Market that was settled by Yemenite Jews over a century ago.
Levantine and labyrinthine, its tangle of sloping, flower-lined lanes is heavily trafficked by feral cats and dominated – if that’s the word – by multicolored two and three-story dwellings of Lilliputian proportion, many with gangly overhangs, and the occasional stray Bauhaus edifice. Derivative of Yemen’s Jewish ghettos of yore, maybe, but it really seems to channel the late Robert Altman’s surreal vision of Sweethaven in his film version of Popeye – only this ‘hood’s got better food.
Shoebox-sized hummus joints, most of which are excellent, abound but the unmistakable direction is toward increased creativity in kitchens here. Kronberg’s Israeli guacamole, for example, made with his cousin’s avocados from Herzliya, pops with pickled lemon. And the likes of Moroccan fish “meatballs,” and kubeh, an Iraqi bulgur wheat and meat dumpling stew with a hint of sweetness, make the ever-changing menu crackle. You can’t go wrong with Amir's Swedish meatballs, either (26 Gadera St.; 011-972-3-5100164; $8-$13).
A few lanes over is tiny Ke’arot, which is Hebrew for “bowl” and true to the name, everything here is served in a bright ceramic bowl made by a local artisan named Jorge (18 Malan St.; $13-$23). One exception is the excellent shakshuka – two fried eggs in a spicy tomato and onion stew, served in a frying pan. Just opposite the market, and relying on it for the freshest meat and produce, is Rambam 16, another newcomer (16 Rambam St.; 011-972-3-5100995; $14-$19 includes appetizer and entrée). Dessert might be a plate of freshly baked chocolate cookies. Settle into Coffee Lab (42 Rabbi Meir St.; 011-972-3-5104121), a mod Starbucks-defying gem chiseled into the edge of the clamorous marketplace, for respite from the gustatory parade all around.
WHAT'S THERE TO SEE NEARBY?
Tel Aviv’s biggest open-air market, also known as the Shuk Carmel, fairly groans with more fresh Israeli-grown fruits and vegetables, fish, meat and more than a truckload of the most capable chefs could handle. When you spot that perfect watermelon, grab it – but don’t be afraid to haggle. Then, wander about the adjacent narrow, flower-filled lanes of the Kerem HaTeimanim neighborhood. At Allenby and HaCarmel streets, from Sunday to Friday.
The Kerem is short walk from Jaffa, the oldest part of the Tel Aviv municipality and which traces its history back upwards of 7,500 years, and what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in history. Jonah and the whale...the cedars of Lebanon shipped here for the Second Temple in Jerusalem...the resurrection of Tabitha...these are just a few of Jaffa's cultural legacies.
Tayelet Beach promenade
The southern flank of the Kerem is only about a five-minute walk from Tel Aviv's famous seaside promenade.
WHERE TO STAY
There's something extremely appealing and relentlessly cheerful about this small, totally renovated and often overlooked hotel. Oversized fabric headboards with faintly erotic floral motifs rise above comfy beds and hardwood floors. Sliding glass doors open to small balconies with Careless Whisper-worthy sea views. This is a perfect example of a mid-sized non-chain hotel that offers uncomplicated contemporary comfort away from the urban fray and virtually across the street from the beach. Rooms from about $150