I thought my cousin was joking when he invited us to dinner at a white-tablecloth Chinese restaurant adjacent to a gas station near Rishon LeZion about 10 years ago. But the place was for real and the fare was surprisingly good.
As I soon learned, the filling-station restaurant is a familiar phenomenon in Israel. Along with chain eateries such as Aroma and Burger Ranch, you’ll also find quirky independent diners and fancy cuisine mere footsteps from the petrol pumps. The ambience may not seem promising from the outside, but inside it’s a different story, and you can’t beat the location for convenience.
Here are 10 examples to whet your appetite. If you’ve dined at other Israeli gas-station restaurants, tell us about them in the comments section.
1. Elvis American Diner, Neve Ilan (02) 534-1275
This kitschy eatery, long known as the Elvis Inn, is next to the gas station at the Neve Ilan exit outside Abu Ghosh west of Jerusalem. It’s easy to find thanks to the 16-foot statue of Elvis visible from the highway.
Open seven days a week, the 1950s-style diner serves American standards like burgers and fries as well as Israeli standards such as hummus. Elvis collector Uri Yoeli established it in the mid-1970s to house his mountain of memorabilia and photos. Over the years, the Elvis Inn has been visited by celebs including Michael Jackson, Sylvester Stallone, Joe Cocker and Sting.
2. Agenda Café Bar and Sushi, Caesarea (0)4-626-2092
Hey, just because it’s situated beside a filling station doesn’t mean the food at Agenda is lowbrow. In fact, this kosher sushi bar at the Caesarea interchange is known for its fine Japanese cuisine. But if sushi, sashimi or nigari aren’t your cup of tea, opt for the restaurant’s Italian menu instead.
3. HaBokrim (The Cowboys) Steakhouse, Haifa (0)4-850-1111
Founded in 1996 by Hana and Yossi Tochner after a trip to Arizona, HaBokrim is a culinary spot designed to evoke the feel of the 19th century American Gold Rush. Located at the gas station opposite the Haifa mall and Convention Center, HaBokrim was called “best gas station restaurant ever” by one TripAdvisor reviewer.
4. Ahavat Hayam (Love of the Sea) Restaurant, Jerusalem (0)2-623-6767
Despite its unlikely location – above a gas station in a landlocked city – this fancy fish restaurant opposite Sacher Park has earned a reputation since 1999 for its presentation of fresh kosher Israeli seafood accompanied by warm breads and a vast array of table salads. Tropical fish swim around in aquariums encased in the floor and walls.
5. Muza Restaurant and Sports Bar, Arad (0)8-997-5555
Located at the gas station along Route 31 on the way to the Dead Sea and Eilat, Muza offers pizza, pasta, salads, sandwiches, grilled meats and Asian fare, as well as beer on tap. The décor is strictly sports pub, as the walls and ceiling are festooned with the banners of soccer clubs from all over the world. Naturally, soccer matches are screened live at Muza, and the place is also a venue for live shows by some of Israel’s top musicians.
6. The Original Pancake House, Herzliya (0)9-9514215
Craving flapjacks with a dizzying choice of toppings and sides? Head to the gas station at the HaSira Interchange just south of Herzliya, any hour of the day or night. The Original Pancake House is something of an Israeli icon. It was founded in Beit Yannai in 1965 and relocated to the Herzliya junction in 2003.
7. Katzeh Hanachal (River’s Edge), Nof Ginosar (0)4-671-7776
Katzeh Hanachal has been operating next to the gas station at the entrance to Kibbutz Ginosar for the past 14 years, offering a fusion of Galilean dishes and Arab-Lebanese cuisine in addition to barbecue and seafood.
8. Nimer Restaurant, Golani Junction (0)4-677-9377
Located a bit south of Mitzpeh Netofa at the junction’s Paz gas station, this eatery is well known for its grilled meats and abundant Middle Eastern salads.
9. Café Buono, Kadima-Tzoran (0)9-891-9490
You may be parked at an Israeli gas station on Route 4 in central Israel, but if you enter Café Buono you will enjoy a taste of Italy – especially the premium imported Italian coffee as well as salads, pizzas, pastas, meat and fish. The large eatery has a terrace for outdoor dining.
10. Niro Cucina Italiana, Ma’ayan Baruch Junction, Kiryat Shemona 1-700-555-103
This strictly kosher family-owned restaurant at the gas station on Route 99 in the Upper Galilee is a favorite among Israel’s growing vegetarian and vegan crowd. Along with gourmet pizzas made with a range of cheeses such as halloumi, blue and Sainte Maure – and a truly Israeli Pizza Shakshuka — Niro also offers vegan, whole-wheat and gluten-free varieties as well as pastas, salads and desserts to stay or go.