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Coffee & People-Watching

Jerusalem’s cafe life is thriving. All over town, you’ll find happily caffeinated customers at bustling cafes, downing cup after cup, arguing, laughing, and living a life that’s downright Parisian. The draw ain’t just brewed beans: Customers at these places accompany their java with giant, eminently shareable salads as well as quiches, pasta dishes, soups, sandwiches, and rich desserts. Tip: If you just want coffee, make sure there are no minimum charges.

         Here’s where to go if you’d like to join the scene:

   *      A great cup of coffee, probably the best in town, can be found 2 blocks south of Ben-Yehuda Mall, at Aroma, on the corner of Hillel and Rabbi Akiva streets. It’s a busy counter with a few tables, but it’s a Jerusalem institution, serving inexpensive sandwiches as well and open 24/7. Other branches are at 34 Emek Refaim St. in the German Colony and on Jaffa Road.

   *      Cafe Rimmon, at the lower end of Ben-Yehuda Mall, is an ideal spot for watching Jerusalem life pass by. Here, gaping is more important than imbibing.

   *      Hillel Espresso Café offers an abundance of sidewalk and indoor tables and is known for its excellent salads, sandwiches, quiches, and desserts. It’s located in Jerusalem’s free Wi-Fi access zone, so tables tend to be dotted with laptops.

   *      Tmol Shilshom Bookstore Cafe islocated a block to the east, on the corner of Jaffa Road and Helene HaMalka Street, at 5 Yoel Salomon Mall. Tmol Shilshom is a most atmospheric retreat. Its walls are lined with books, and its patrons seem unusually scholarly as they sip coffee, write letters, and read.

   *      El Dorado (128 Saladin St.) is East Jerusalem’s trendiest coffee shop, owned by a family that has procured coffee for generations. People actually dress up to sip coffee here.

   *      Directly across the street from Damascus Gate is the upstairs section of a modern cafe called Seasons, which offers a panoramic view of the Old City along with java.

Street Meals

Want to grab a quick bite, on the run? Here are some suggestions:

Falafel-You can find this dish almost everywhere, but we’re partial to the Yemenite falafel counter on the corner of Agrippas Street and the wide, uncovered pedestrian street of the Machane Yehuda market (on your right as you walk up Agrippas St. from King George; it’s the first broad market street past the covered market area). It serves well-spiced falafel and all kinds of salads, pickled vegetables, sauces, and condiments. For a bit extra, you can ask for your falafel to be wrapped inside an enormous Iraqi pita instead of a regular pita, which makes for a very filling meal. Best of all, you can carry your sandwich across Agrippas Street and through one of the entrance portals to the old Nahalat neighborhood, where you’ll find a small playground with benches. There, under the scrutiny of the local cats, you can sit down and enjoy your meal (but bring your own napkins!). For added flavor, slice a few little plum or cherry tomatoes from the market into your sandwich.

         A second, and similarly nameless, choice sits on the corner of Agrippas and King George streets, where you’ll find a large and very busy falafel and shwarma place. Here you’ll have to eat standing on the sidewalk like a normal Israeli (hopefully you’ve acquired the local skill of not dripping sauce all over yourself or having your sandwich land in the gutter). The falafels are solid, and turnover is fast, which ensures freshness. It’s open until 10pm or later from Sunday to Thursday (until 2pm Fri).

Shwarma-Moshiko’s, at the lower end of the Ben-Yehuda Mall, makes Jerusalem’s finest shwarma sandwiches, hands down. The quality of the meat is tops. Portions, spicing, and accompanying salads are excellent. And if you can nail down one of Moshiko’s outdoor tables, you can people-watch while you nosh without running the risk of losing half your sandwich on the ground.

         Prefer a bit more heat in your meat? The Gate Cafe, just inside the Damascus Gate, on an upstairs covered terrace on the left, serves fabulous, extra-spicy hand-built shwarma, a kind of shwarma not made on a spit. It’s different, authentic, and quite memorable.

Bagels-You may be surprised to find that the doughy rounds we’re used to in the United States taste far more breadlike in Israel. But that doesn’t mean they’re not tasty, especially those at Bagel Corner, 41 Jaffa Rd. (tel. 02/624-4115; Sun–Thurs 24 hr., Fri until 2pm, Sat after Shabbat), right at Zion Square. It sells a wide variety of freshly made bagels, ranging from onion and garlic to whole-wheat and cheese, for approximately NIS 5 each. As in the U.S., they can be “super-sized” with the addition of various types of cream cheeses, lox, and other fillings. In the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, you can pick up your bagels at a similar shop, set right beside the Seven Arches, near the Burnt House Museum.

Burekas (phyllo-dough pastries)-The block of shops on Haneviim Street opposite Havatzelet Street includes a bakery with a sidewalk window counter where you can order flaky, fresh-from-the-oven, potato, spinach, or cheese burekas, as well as miniature cheese or fruit Danish-style pastries. You can find burekas throughout the city, but they’re always more of a treat when fresh.

         The Machane Yehuda market is another good place for freshly baked burekas, as is the English Bakery, on Jaffa Road opposite Zion Square.

Stuffed Breads-The Middle Eastern answer to pizza, these piping hot breads are stuffed with savory cheeses and herbed vegetables. Tops for this treat is Samboosak Bakery/Café, on Jaffa Road next to the Coffee Bean on the corner of Helene HaMalka Street.

Ice Cream & Frozen Yogurt-Ah, where should we start on this one? There are so many choices. You might try Dr. Lek, at the end of Yoel Salomon near Hillel Street. This local chain made its name by flavoring its ice creams with organic ingredients, such as dates, mangoes, and Bourbon vanilla pods from Madagascar. At the corner of Lunz and Ben-Yehuda streets, you'll find a popular place (no name, but you won’t be able to miss it) that offers a choice of 25 kinds of fruits, nuts, and chocolates that staff can whip into a fresh frozen yogurt for you on the spot. Finally, Aldo Ice Cream, 21 Ben-Yehuda St., 40 Jaffa Rd., and 46 Emek Refaim St., in the German Colony, uses ingredients prepped in Italy but made fresh daily (without preservatives) in Israel. It’s a chain, but a good one, with shops throughout Israel.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.