Taste: Hava Falafel

Asian's not the only hot trend right now — Israeli food is suddenly all over town. Try these three new places, whether you’ve been bar mitzvahed or not.

Defining Israeli cuisine is almost impossible. Like American food, it’s the result of merging cultures—Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe have their warming stuffed cabbage and braised brisket, and Persian and Iberian Sephardics use herbs like saffron and cumin to flavor their matzo balls, couscous and poultry. Combine these flavors with pre-existing Arab and Christian cultures in Israel, add special kosher dietary rules, and a distinctive cuisine is born.
Now, Israeli food has appeared in Center City, from popular street foods like falafel sandwiches to more complicated dishes like jachnun. Some restaurants, such as Mama’s Vegetarian in Center City (18 South 20th Street; 215-751-0477), opened to fill a need for kosher dining options. Yis Tigay, owner of Shouk, sees the boom as a reflection of the close-knit Israeli population he’s seen emerge in Philly in recent years. Try these three new places, whether you’ve been bar mitzvahed or not.

Philly Falafel
1740 Sansom Street; 215-569-8999
The newest falafel spot to open offers more than the namesake fried balls of chickpea and parsley; there are also latkes and burekas, savory, flaky stuffed pastries served with eggs, tomato sauce and tahini.

622 South 6th Street; 215-627-3344
Home to both a hookah lounge and a Middle Eastern menu, Shouk emphasizes Israeli dishes such as kubbeh—carrot dumplings with cinnamon chicken—and ­labneh, a homemade, yogurt-based savory cheese with lemon undertones, served with olive oil and zaatar, an Israeli thyme-like spice.

La Va Café
2100 South Street; 215-545-1508
This Graduate Hospital coffee house serves Italian-ish paninis along with Israeli specialties like sweet rugelach, the crescent-shaped cookies filled with jam. On weekends only, there’s jachnun, bread that’s slowly baked overnight with whole eggs inside.