For a relatively small city, Tel Aviv can sometimes feel like an overwhelming place, crowded with choices. The best way to get to know it is to focus on the small, independent places.
Here’s an insider’s guide to Israel’s second-largest metropolis:
> Where to Eat
The Levinsky neighborhood, in southern Tel Aviv, was home to one of the city’s first food markets in the 1920s and ’30s, before falling into a slump. Dedicated diners have returned in the past decade to shop the area’s specialty stores and nosh at its delis, cafés, and wine bars. Top picks:
HaHalutzim Shalosh, a bistro that backs onto a small garden where partners Naama Sternlicht and Eitan Vanunu grow their own chili peppers and herbs. Among the signature plates they call “postmodern Jewish cooking”: a distinctly nonkosher dish of challah bread heaped with pork and bacon.
Yom Tov Delicatessen is one crammed storefront. Third-generation own- ers Yomi and Eitan Levi shop the market to replicate the stuffed grape leaves recipe perfected in their grandparents’ original Istanbul deli.
Caffe Kaymak draws locals with its vegetarian menu, anise-flavored Arak cocktails, and live music on Saturday nights.
> Where to Sleep
While brand-name beachfront behemoths still rule the city’s hotel scene, a fresh crop of smaller and sometimes cheaper boutique properties offer an alternative. Among the best new beds (with breakfast):
> Where to Shop
Olia, which has two branches in Tel Aviv, made its name selling premium blends of extra-virgin olive oil from local farms.
> What to Read
Israel: A Traveler’s Literary Companion, edited by Michael Gluzman and Naomi Seidman. This anthology of 16 works (mostly fiction), gives an intimate view of life in contemporary Israel.
> Where to Take Photographs
Pull an all-nighter: Tel Aviv is legendary for its nightlife, and there are countless clubs, but if you’re hoping for serendipity, photographer Catherine Karnow recommends following your ears and popping into whatever bar calls out to you. “On the way back to my hotel about 3 a.m., I happened upon a no-name joint and ended up photographing two adorable 20-somethings dancing on the bar until dawn.”
This article, reported and compiled by Amy Alipio, Christine Bednarz, and Raphael Kadushin, appeared in the October 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.