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There are some restaurants that defy description, consistently produce remarkable moments, and deliver delicious dining experiences that you treasure forever. Michael Solomonov’s signature restaurant Zahav achieves the most rarified of dining experiences and nearly any restaurant review would fail to do it justice. And yet, we’ll try.
Opened in 2008, this is the premier Israeli restaurant in Philadelphia. Zahav chef Michael Solomonov and his business partner Steve Cook have grown their CookNSolo restaurant group into a powerhouse in the city and creating such memorable institutions as Federal Donuts, Abe Fisher, Goldie, Dizengoff, K’Far, and Laser Wolf. But Zahav is where it all started.
What’s Israeli cuisine? In a part of the world with an ancient culinary tradition, there’s lots of sharing and borrowing and adapting from neighbors. Basically, you’re looking at the food of the Levant (Middle Eastern): kababs, hummus, and lots of za’atar spice.
Whether you heard about Zahav from a friend, saw it on Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover or an episode of Phil Rosenthal’s Somebody Feed Phil, you know EXACTLY where you first heard about Zahav. And it sticks with you. Did we mention that the James Beard Foundation has recognized Zahav as the Best Restaurant in America (2019) and Solomonov as Best Outstanding Chef (2017)?
We’ve dined at Zahav several times, celebrating a 40th birthday, an anniversary, and even a new job. We’ve also gone on a Wednesday…just because. This can absolutely be a special occasion or a romantic restaurant. But what’s surprising is that CookNSolo keeps the prices affordable so that you can visit anytime.
So if you delicious food, try to get a reservation and enjoy one of Philly’s best restaurants.
Over the years, Zahav’s menu has consistently evolved. They have offered an elaborate tasting menu that has been a ‘best of’ their favorite dishes. They’ve also offered a build-your-own menu with a selection of la carte options.
Currently, Zahav offers two tasting menus. The Tayim menu is focused around the salatim dishes and four mezze options. Diners then progress to three entrees that are paired with rice pilaf and a dessert. This is a great option for people looking to sample a lot different foods.
The second tasting menu is the Mesibah. You get the seven salatim dishes, but a more limited selection of mezze mid-course options. For the entrée, you can have a vegetarian option, OR, you can an indulge in their signature Pomegranate Lamb Shoulder – the dish that put Zahav on the culinary map, brought home the James Beard awards, and is one of the most iconic dishes in the city.
No, you can’t add the lamb shoulder to the Tayim or order it a la carte no matter how much you try (trust us, we tried). Sadly, they don’t offer a menu that has both the lamb shoulder AND the option of all their small dishes. It’s a tough call. But no matter what you choose, it’s all delicious.
And the salatim and mezze dishes are some of the most incredible things you’ll ever eat. Salatim means salad in Hebrew, but these are just 7 small dishes, each focused on a single vegetable and served with the wood oven baked laffah bread. For the salatim vegetables, you’ll enjoy smoky eggplant/baba ganoush, fiery roasted carrots with spicy harissa, spicy fennel bulbs, tangy cabbage, delicious beets, and their signature ultra-buttery hummus. The vegetables change with the season.
The mezze (small plates) dishes include a kampachi crudo with turmeric, charred broccoli with smoked whitefish (which sounds weird and is oddly addictive), sweet potatoes with labneh, and the always popular phyllo-wrapped haloumi.
For entrees, have we said the lamb shoulder is good? It’s literally a life-changing entrée.
No matter which tasting menu you select, you will leave happy and full…and with lots of leftovers.
One of the things we’ve enjoyed about Zahav over the years is how the menu has subtly evolved. The vegetables are always seasonal. The cooking preparations for the proteins also change slightly over time.
Just steps from the cobblestone Dock Street in the historic core of the city, Zahav immediately transports you nearly 6,000 miles away into the heart of the Levant. The main dining room has sandstone walls and fabric draping above the kitchen, reminiscent of the souks and bazaars of the Middle East. In a corner, a massive photo of a bazaar towers above patrons.
The staff is knowledgeable and friendly – greeting you like an old friend, or maybe a new one. They are quick with recommendations and enjoy teaching you about the food.
In 2023, they opened a 56-seat patio that is held only for walk-in patrons. The patio is tucked into the back of the building adjacent to a local food market/bodega. Originally a pandemic pivot, the outdoor space is now prized real estate for patrons.
There are also several side rooms or private rooms that are much less atmospheric than the main space.
Despite the exclusivity of the restaurant, prices are kept surprisingly reasonable. The two tasting menus are priced at $75 and $85 per person.
There is an optional wine pairing of $45 per person. Individual cocktails are $14-16 and beers $7-12.
Note that there is a 20% service charge that covers all hourly workers at the restaurant.
Getting reservations at Zahav restaurant have been described as absolutely impossible, although we’ve had luck getting spots several times. Reservations are released 8 weeks in advance at 11:00 am ET via the Resy app.
Reservations are only available Tuesday-Saturday. The first seating of the night is 5:00pm and the last seating is 9:30pm. Early and late reservations are easier to come by.
If you cancel less than 24 hours before the reservation, there is a $25 per person cancellation fee.
No reservations are necessary for the 11 bar seats held for walk-ins or the patio seats.
Zahav is located at 237 St James Place in the Old City section of Philadelphia. Street parking is possible, but the selection is limited. Look for spots along Front Street. The nearest parking garage is the Autopark at Olde City (125 S 2nd St).
Being in the heart of Old City, the restaurant is well served by public transportation. The bus #42 passes immediately in front along Dock Street. Bus #57 is one block away at 3rd and Walnut, while Bus #12 is one block away at Dock Street and Front Street. The 2nd Street subway stop on the Market-Frankford Line is 2 blocks away.
Visit the Zahav website for more information.