So you can’t get into Zahav. Whatever. No one really can (unless you book two months in advance or go in at 4:45pm and try to snag a bar seat). Here’s where you should go instead. These places are on here for a reason - the number one being that they serve good food. The kind of food that may make you temporarily forget that you don’t have the foresight to get into a place that serves a hummus so good it visits you in your dreams sometimes.
For a long time, there were very few Middle Eastern places in the city fit for a special occasion. But then Suraya opened, and we suddenly no longer found ourselves sitting by our computer waiting for the next month of reservations to open at Zahav. All the plates are on the smaller side and are meant to be shared, so you should be trying as many things as possible, but the fatar meshwi and the fatteh (a hot mezze with eggplant, toasted pita, and tahini) should be on your table.
Zahav has a really great bar where you can sit and order the whole menu, and it’s just as great of an experience as sitting at a table. But if the bar is completely full and you want a similar situation, go to Spice Finch. The bar is the showpiece here and it gets pretty crowded most nights, but with at least 25 seats surrounding it on all sides, you can still usually find a spot. The crispy shabazi fries with spicy harissa aioli never disappoint, and the dry-rubbed chicken is our favorite thing to split - as long as you’re cool with trying to take apart a whole bird.
If you’re really just looking for Zahav’s creamy, addictive hummus, head to Dizengoff, which is owned by the same people, and make it a take-out night instead. It’s definitely a different and much more casual vibe than you’ll get at Zahav, but let’s be honest: If you could eat some Zahav hummus topped with chicken or smoky eggplant in front of your TV every night of the week, would you ever go out again?
Zahav’s tasting menu is one of the best in the city, but if you lost the little corner of paper you wrote “MAKE ZAHAV RESERVATIONS AT MIDNIGHT” on and now don’t have anywhere to take your dad for his birthday, Laurel is a good second option. You’re going to pay more, and it’s definitely a bit more formal than Zahav, but it’s got some of the most interesting food in the city - like a housemade kombucha shot with mustard seeds and a caviar and potato crisps dish that’s topped with ice cream and tastes like when you dip fries into a milkshake.
Zahav is in the random and vaguely unpopulated area between Old City and Society Hill, and if you decide to try to show up without a reservation for a bar seat and your wait time is approximately two hours, there aren’t many great places within walking distance that you can just pop into. Fortunately, there’s The Olde Bar. It’s almost directly across the street from Zahav and you can get some oysters and a pretty great burger without much of a wait. It’s not Zahav, but it’s a lot better than sitting on the curb and ordering $200 in scarves from Amazon while you watch the minutes tick by.
Before Zahav ever existed, we had this little Spanish tapas bar that worked for pretty much every special occasion. Then new places opened and people kind of forgot about Amada. It’s still as good as ever, though, and they have a similar schtick to Zahav - small plates that are relatively inexpensive, but all really good. Make sure to get the beef short rib flatbread and lamb chops.
Vernick isn’t an Israeli restaurant, but they do serve some Middle Eastern dishes, like a lamb merguez that’s just as good as most things you’ll get at Zahav. Plus, on weekdays you can likely walk in and eat at the bar without a reservation. It’s a bit more expensive than Zahav is, but it’s just as good for a special occasion or a particularly big date.
Hummus, baba ganoush, colorful vegetable salads - you go to Zahav for all of the things you can put on pita. Isot has all of those things too, in a little BYOB spot off South Street. They serve tons of small plates, as well as a bunch of kebabs and a four-person feast that will dull some of the sting of not being able to get into Zahav.
You could fit four Friday Saturday Sundays into the Zahav space, even considering the fact that it’s two floors. Regardless, they have great food and it always feels like a special occasion when you’re here. So if you were planning to spend your half birthday at Zahav until your internet went down and by the time you got off of the phone with Comcast all of the good reservations were gone, FriSatSun is a good backup plan. The food here ranges from a raw bar with a perfect arctic char crudo to a dry-aged duck for two that rivals the large format lamb at Zahav.
You were trying to impress the person you just started seeing by getting a reservation at Zahav, but then you realized that it would probably freak them out if you tried to make plans two-months in advance. Go to Barbuzzo instead. You can split a bottle of wine and some grilled octopus or their braised duck pappardelle. If all goes well, maybe you can breach the topic of planning a dinner at Zahav for your two-month anniversary.
You like Fork. Your boss likes Fork. Your neighbor that you’ve never spoken to, but always wave at when you see him outside walking his dog loves Fork. It’s a people pleaser and it’s where you should go when you’ve been trying to get a reservation for six people at Zahav for months and have finally come to the conclusion that they don’t exist. Fork has a diverse seasonal menu that ranges from a squash and apple soup to a $110 steak for two, and we like it as an upscale group dinner spot that you can actually get into.
Kanella Grill has a mezze platter that’s almost as good as Zahav’s salatim (their six daily vegetable salads). And as a plus, it’s cheaper. They also serve their menu all day, so you don’t have to wait until 5pm to race everyone to the bar. Bring a bottle of wine and a friend or two, sit outside at one of their sidewalk tables while you snack on grilled halloumi, and remind yourself that Zahav will always be there when you finally decide to stop snoozing the five reservation alarms you set.