UPDATE (23/12/2012): I wrote this a couple years ago, and my stats have proven it has been quite a popular and useful post. Please note, I believe the “Little Prince” has closed. Shame. It was quite a Tel Aviv staple. A few other cafes I want to throw out there to make a more relevant list: Etnachta (Dizengoff just south of Arlozorov) – basic menu, very friendly staff leave you alone for hours, lots of electric plugs if you know where to look, good atmosphere. Campanello (corner of Ben Yehuda and Nordau) is relatively a new place, and I hope it stays around – authentic Italian deli, incredible meat sandwiches, fresh and affordable pizzas, a cafe environment – again lots of electric outlets, good internet, friendly staff, and the food is far above average. Finally Maker’s (Ben Yehuda 202) seems more like Tel Aviv’s best casual take out sandwich place at first glace, but at second glace, they have more electric outlets than any other cafe I’ve seen. I’ve gone there for years for their incredible hot roast beef and goose subs with poached egg, and though I’d seen people working on laptops, I didn’t working there myself it until recently. It seemed too casual (most of the seating is outside, but the enclosed glass structure around the sidewalk heats it adequately enough). I now think I can recommend it, and highly. Did I mention it’s also open 24/7 except Fridays?
I’m at a favorite café right now, and I’ll be attempting productivity…right after my grilled cheese with tomato and cafe Americano with warm milk on the side appear. The cafe lifestyle in Tel Aviv, and Israel in general, makes my existence more than tolerable. It’s a real comfort. At times a joy. I’ve written some incredible articles, short stories, blog entries, and plowed through tons of work for clients on a binge when having procrastinated to the point of insanity. I alternate between long macchiatos (incredible how you can drag out a long drink as opposed to a short), Americanos (best value for money), and occasional lattes (strong) made with soy milk (decadent and healthy).
As opposed to the US (and its prolific slew of Starbucks), internet is always free. I thought it would be so stateside, but it’s not always so. I’m out to lunch on the Starbucks phenomenon. Their presence has been my savior many, many a time, but it’s awfully awkward to have to buy that gift card, use it, register it, and get a month of “free internet.” I think there’s also a 2-hour time limit. The busy blandness of SB is also uninspiring to the point of nausea, and don’t get me started on the prices and selection.
Without further ado, here are the Tel Aviv Cafés I work in and find to be at once affordable, inspiring, and possessing an understanding wait staff:
Segafredo, corner of Frishman and Dizengoff. This is a bare-bones epitome of a cafe. Their coffee is great, and in the true Italian tradition, they offer a nice selection of delicious yet simple sandwiches. There is no “cooked” food. The decor is almost nonexistent. But the prices are lower than any other cafe I’ve encountered, mainly (I think) because of the lack of showy side salads and lunch specials. Here, you order a sandwich, you get a sandwich, along with a small bowl of olives. The take-away prices are cheaper yet. The inside has a giant wall-length booth with electric outlets between almost every table. When I discovered this cafe, it wasn’t for work that I chose it as a regular spot. Right after I made aliyah, I found it pleasant to people-watch (it may very well be one of the best intersections in town) and write frilly letters and postcards to family and friends. A bit later, I found it was within walking distance of my first therapist and right across the street of a Steimatsky bookstore. The fact that they serve the closest thing to real American pies in Israel, and that these huge individual circles of either berry, cherry, apple, and caramel, on top of a layer of creamy white chocolate cost a whopping 19 shekels ($5), blew my mind. When chocolate cake, tiramisu and tart tatin run between 33-40 shekels ($9-12) everywhere in town, and you can only get a lousy slice of dry carrot cake for 19 shekels anywhere else, there was no competition. I would enjoy a leisurely walk after therapy, mulling the ideas, then stop at a bookstore and browse and/or buy, then head to Segafredo for a cherry pie and a creamy coffee which I slowly consumed while I read for an hour or two. The waitresses are sweet, and they leave you alone. It’s a prime spot for business meetings and independent workers by day, a neighborhood joint on weekends, and a pre- and post- theater must-stop for the Beit-Lessin Theater across the street. All I can say is go. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Give it a try.
DIZI, Kikar Dizengoff across from the cinema and Kabbala Center. This is cafe is the height of cool. A cafe & laundromat (it works, believe me), in a prime, sunny location. It’s vegetarian (with fish), relatively reasonably priced, colorful, young, with the BEST MUSIC (I listened to Dylan, Dire Straights, Petty, and the Beatles all day yesterday), and the most comfortable sofa I have ever had the pleasure on which to rest my derriere. The food is creative and satisfying across the board. Affordable and yummy things to order: the crunchy toasted croissant grilled cheese with spicy salsa on the side (I ask them to put the salsa inside the croissant before they toast it) for 19 shekels; the egg salad sandwich, a very nicely made lunch, served with tomato and pickle on a toasted sesame kaiser roll with a lovely side salad, all for 29 shekels; and finally, a personal favorite – the garden sandwich – the vegan’s delight – roasted pepper and eggplant, shredded carrot and radish and cucumber, shmeared with avocado – heaven – healthy – and you really feel that energy while you eat it, also served with a side salad, all for 32 shekels. With a 9 shekel Americano, plentiful outlets, and a smiling tattooed staff ignoring you for hours on end, I feel like I’m hanging out as I work. It’s where I finished my novel, so DIZI is quite dear to my heart.
- The Little Prince, Simta Plonit off of King George near Gan Meir. A rustic used bookstore-cafe the likes of which you’d expect to see on a college campus. It’s in a classically old building, with wood floors, flea market furniture, very quiet, and outlet-plentiful. Your fellow customers are more likely to be learned, cultured types as opposed to businessmen or social-networking mavens or visiting American students. My recommendations: “The Princely Breakfast” is the most bang for your buck at 35-ish shekels – two eggs any way, a loaf of fresh bread, a side salad, and a selection of spreads and dips (tehini, jam, cream cheese, tuna salad), and coffee or juice; the “wrap combo” – a half-order of one of their wraps (one of the only places in town I’ve seen them – I get the Iraqi one with eggplant and tehini), a side salad, and a beverage, all for 20+ ish shekels. They really leave you alone here, and I’ve gotten so much work done. Be careful not to confuse the Little Prince cafe for their other branch around the corner on King George; it’s the same bookstore/company, but the other place is only a bookstore, carrying the majority of their titles, while the cafe has a more limited selection. In the summer they have really fun outdoor seating in their back garden.
Loveat (several locations – Dizengoff & Jabotinsy; Nahalat Binyamin just south of Allenby; and Barzilai 1 across from Yehuda HaLevi in the Gan HaChashmal area). Organic coffee, clean & modern design. Some locations are more apt for work, but they are all really fun. The food is not cheap, but it’s all really really amazing for cafe fare.
The best place to work is the Nahalat Binyamin branch, mainly because they have a large variety of seating areas, one of which – a loft gallery with velvety booths and outlets – is perfect to hide away. This branch also has a back garden, a side garden, and lots of seating out front, a very perfect spot to see and be seen on market days. The Jabotinsky branch is the smallest, but they do a great job with makeshift seating on the sidewalk with a glass box placed over it during winter months. I worked at Barzilai once and found it tolerable. What to order: to keep the cost down, it’s best to go not too hungry. That said, their baked goods are wonderful. Get the bran muffin. As far as sandwiches, ordering off the menu is expensive. They have a number of pre-packaged (yet very fresh) sandwiches much like a remember in Ireland and England – egg salad, tuna, mozarella & basil, roasted veg, etc. They look small and flat, but they’re cheaper and quite good and filling. The sides. I have made a meal out of the sides. You can get a small soup (fresh every day, the size of which seems like the serving I’d give myself at home) for pennies (under 20 shekels), and you can order a side of bread and butter (a whole mini baguette) for 8 shekels. A fun thing to have is their flavored lemonades – fresh and homemade, they come in glass jars and are naturally flavored with things like a whole cinnamon stick inside. Be sure to take one of the cards where they give you a stamp for every coffee – it takes a long while, but when you complete 3 cards (30 coffees) they give you a free bag of fresh organic coffee to take home, along with the three free coffees you’ll have had at the end of each 10 cups purchased, of course.
Tazza D’Oro, Ahad Ha’am 6 at the northern edge of Neve Tzedek. I LOVE this place. It’s so charming. You feel like you’re in Europe. I’ve only worked here once, but I know it’s possible. I simply had to mention it because it’s just the perfect date location, the perfect Friday afternoon with friends, the perfect late-night dessert, and yet also a wonderful early-morning breakfast spot. Fridays there is live jazz in the afternoon in their big outdoor garden (even in winter, it’s almost entirely under a awning and umbrellas, and there are heat lamps everywhere). The coffee is simply the best. The menu isn’t cheap, and they stopped serving beer in tap, but there are ways to get around this. There is one affordable salad, and the breakfasts are worth the cost (but not served all day). That said, if you’re there anytime later, the only real choice for me is the egg sandwich. It’s the cheapest thing on the menu (perhaps 29 shekels), and it doesn’t come with anything else. That said, it’s the best egg sandwich I’ve had in Israel. The bread is hugely thick cut, and it’s a kind of doughy challah or brioche, plentiful yet fresh mayonnaise, the egg is a kind of omelet, tomato slices. It’s just good.It makes me happy to eat that. You know that at this kind of place, they really put effort into their food. Even the simplest thing on the menu. Get a coffee, too. It would be a sin not to. It is after all one of the few places you can get this real Italian roast. It’s home is a few meters from the Pantheon in Rome, one of my favorite places in the world, so I satisfy a little nostalgic nagging when I go. So – mornings for work; Friday afternoons for jazz and beer and wine; every evening for a good date; and all the time – excellent coffee.