What all these restaurants have in common are fresh produce, and ingredients like labneh, za'atar, tahini. In many cases, they’re also garnering critical acclaim and prestige, where their falafel-focused predecessors were relegated to late-night fare. At an Israeli restaurant today, regardless of price point or location, you’d expect to find dips and purées, breads as vehicles for those aforementioned dips and purées, abundant eggplant, and well-grilled meat -- if they’re serving it.
Because meat often isn’t at the forefront at these new restaurants. Across the board, menu items are colorful and healthy. “Israeli food is vegetable friendly,” says Jessica Koslow, whose forthcoming Los Angeles restaurant, Tel, will have Jewish-California influences. “With the vibrant varieties of produce that finds life year round on the West Coast, I can see why it is taking off in LA.” Along those lines, Israeli menus easily accommodate dietary restrictions: there’s something for everything because there’s frankly so much to choose from.
At many of these restaurants, the plates are to share. Do we love Israeli food because it’s kind of like tapas? When Florence Fabricant highlighted tapas in The New York Times in 1997, she wrote, “Not so long ago, only a few places in Manhattan served tapas, traditional little plates of white bean salad or perhaps grilled chorizo. Now, more than a dozen restaurants have tapas on the menu, and at many, there's no telling what will be on those little plates.” Or perhaps it's because Israeli food naturally fits into the sweeping dining trend of bucking the three-course meal?
While impossible to pinpoint one particular reason why Israeli food is taking off, but it doesn’t hurt that it’s pretty to look at. Search for the hashtag #IsraeliFood on Instagram, you’ll see a vast array of food items: the long-O of a Jerusalem bagel geo-tagged to Oak Park, Illinois. Hummus and a salad at a restaurant called Chiche in Paris. A falafel burger in New Orleans. Pitas filled with things in London. A chef named Israel who lives in Israel and tagged some Chinese sheng jian bao he made with #IsraeliFood. Roasted cauliflower scattered with pomegranate seeds and tahini in Toronto. A search for “Israeli food” on Google Trends shows that the interest is on the rise and especially concentrated in California, New York, Florida, and New Jersey (compare that to the search term “Middle Eastern,” which is more widely used).