Philadelphia, PA: This year, Philly
Probably we couldn't get you to go to Israel for the food. But how about Philly?
Zahav, which opened in 2008, serves contemporary Israeli dishes, alongside those from its regional neighbors. Whether it's a sweltering in July or snowing in January, what comes out of the kitchen is Middle Eastern soul food.
Start your meal with Laffa bread, pita baked in a taboon, and a choice of hummus. If you've gotten used to supermarket hummus, you're in for a shock at how delicious hummus can be. The eight small salads that make up the salatim are served in a small oval dishes suspended on a rack. You'll only get a few bites from each, though the variety of ingredients and spicing make the whole more satisfying than the sum of its parts.
How you build the rest of your meal—mezze, meat, and fish—can go any number of ways without going wrong. Your choices include halumi cheese, house-smoked sable, lamb, branzino and much else. Zahav has a wide-ranging wine list, including a strong showing of boutique Israeli wines, as well as ten or so interesting cocktails.
The restaurant is stylish, service is warm, and the views out the large windows give the impression that you're on a leafy college campus. True, it doesn't look like Jerusalem, but its tastes are unquestionably transporting.