It used to be that if you craved Arab food in Israel you’d go to Nazareth. Today the place to be is two neighboring cities a bit to the north: Sakhnin and Arabeh. The main street connecting these two Galilee towns boasts culinary diversity ranging from traditional dishes to intriguing combinations of East and West.
In each of the five restaurants I visited – and others for that matter – you’ll enjoy top-notch hospitality and delicious food you can’t find elsewhere.
One day Mohammed Shaheen, a 27-year-old registered nurse, opted for a slower pace and opened a restaurant. With its murals (by the artist Mahmoud Khalil), three young waiters juggling orders of fresh tortillas, and fun atmosphere, Mexicano City radiates a joie de vivre.
Mohammed’s younger brother, also a registered nurse, asked if I wanted a regular, double or triple. Either way, the menu is getting an upgrade and will soon contain even more items and innovations.
For now the roster includes six dishes served in a tortilla: entrecôte, double entrecôte, chicken breast, schnitzel, kebab and double kebab. You can also order from a big selection of toppings such as crispy mashed potato balls, deep-fried “cigars” and schnitzel. I ordered the entrecôte, which was great, even if the avocado was left outside the tortilla for some reason.
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The restaurant is located on Arabeh’s main street; look for a side entrance off the main road. It’s open every day from 11:30 A.M. to midnight.
This Italian restaurant, which opened about seven years ago, is branching out. It now also has an ice cream parlor that doubles as a pasta bar. Soon special pizzas will be added to the menu; for now, Salima’s pasta dishes are rich and interesting at reasonable prices.
Salima is particularly known for its breakfasts, and it hired consultants who improved both the menu and the place’s look.
“Saleh Khalil from [the nearby town] Bi’ina is in charge of the design,” says Osama Ghanayim, Salima’s brother-in-law, an ice cream parlor chef and the restaurant’s manager.
Salima, on Arabeh’s main street, is open every day from 9:30 A.M. to 10 P.M.
Dunyazad is a place of pleasure and luxury, says the restaurant’s manager, Nahal Hassan. He points to the venue’s logo, which is carved on an ancient olive tree.
A grand piano welcomes visitors; many come for the value meals, or they’re families looking to enjoy lunch in a relaxed atmosphere. The peace is only broken when a table breaks out in a local version of “Happy Birthday.”
As soon as you sit down, an impressive selection of salads is served; when you dig deeper, interesting surprises turn up. The unique touch of chef and owner Mohammed Khayadara is evident in every dish. He provides his own interpretation in combining East and West and blending eclectic flavors.
The mashed potatoes, for example, arrive on a bed of tahini with pistachios and a Waldorf salad that gets a clever twist. The fellahin salad, as well as the vegetables on a bed of local labaneh cheese like in the old days, captures the heart.
You could say the starters are so good you can eschew the main dishes; it’s a good thing there are special combinations that cover several bases.
Notable among the place’s special dishes are the octopus and sirloin roulade; this combines goat cheese, sirloin and vegetables. I feared that the mix of goat cheese and sirloin would be too much, but the flavor proved me wrong.
Turkish and local dishes are offered for dessert, if you still have room. The restaurant also has a recreation room for families with small children, and another one right outside.
Dunyazad, on Arabeh’s main street, is open seven days a week from 12 noon to 11 P.M.
On its Facebook page, this venue claims to offer an atmosphere of Istanbul – which I had a hard time noticing at first. Then I saw the pillars all around and the feeling of a Turkish market began to seep in.
Like Dunyazad, Sazeli Market also specializes in Middle Eastern cuisine with a contemporary twist. A selection of somewhat standard salads was served right up front; the real treat was the sparkling blueberry drink heaving with fruit and provided as a counterpunch to the harsh summer heat.
As with many places, Sazeli Market has smokers and nonsmokers. Since most diners were smokers, I got a big section all to myself. The restaurant, owned by the brothers Wiam and Wissam Khalaila and managed by Abu Yara, is an interesting attempt to innovate the local culinary landscape.
Sazeli Market, on Sakhnin’s main street, is open seven days a week from 9 A.M. to 11 P.M.
Tulip, a Middle Eastern restaurant with beautiful wooden tables, is another place that offers a young vibe. Here I opted for a dessert and accepted the waiter’s recommendation: a Belgian waffle with Nutella. The smoothy alongside was refreshing as well. The restaurant is managed by Basem Ghanayem, and most of the employees are young.
Tulip is open seven days a week from 10 A.M. to 11 P.M.
These five venues are just a tiny sample of the restaurants, bakeries and cafes along Sakhnin and Arabeh’s main road; the culinary variety definitely justifies a visit. The food is great, the prices are very reasonable and the hospitality is stellar.
And remember that food is only one reason to come by. Sakhnin and Arabeh are bustling places during peak hours; the main road suffers huge traffic jams. Find parking wherever you can, set out on foot, head for the restaurants and taste as much as possible.