The little town of Bethlehem is best known as being the birthplace of Jesus, but the city’s recent rise as a foodie hot spot is unsurprising given its Arabic name means “house of meat.”
Alcohol is widely available, boosted by the nearby Cremisan Cellars, where monks continue Italian wine-making traditions, as well as newer vineyards and classic Taybeh beer.
The latest hip venues in this West Bank city, 10 kilometers south of Jerusalem, share center stage with the street food, where kebabs and Levantine meze still hold their own.
Here are 11 of the best spots to chow down and drink up when you travel here:
Fawda Café & Restaurant Hosh Al-Syrian
Exquisitely presented, fresh, creative cuisine and impeccable service are key at this gastronomic secret tucked down a side alley of the old town, just minutes from the boisterous farmers’ market.
Owner-chef Fadi Kattan worked in Paris and London before returning to convert this rambling Ottoman building of terraces and patios into a boutique guesthouse and restaurant.
The four-course set menu changes daily and is accompanied by top Palestinian-made wines; bookings must be made 24 hours ahead.
Fawda Cafe & Restaurant, Star Street, Bethlehem; +970 2 274 7529
The Walled Off Hotel
Behind theatrical red curtains lurks a plush, colonial-style piano bar with uninterrupted views of the concrete separation wall across the street.
A socio-political project by British street artist Banksy, The Walled Off hit headlines when the hotel opened earlier this year, right along the eight-meter-high wall which cuts into the West Bank.
After visiting the hard-hitting museum, you can recover with a mocktail, wine, beer, pizza, meze platter or generous “Walled Off” salad.
Alternatively, you can ape British Mandate style by ordering a genteel pot of tea and warm scones.
The Walled Off Hotel, 182 Caritas Street, Bethlehem; +970 2 277 1322
Al Karmeh Restaurant
Crowning the new (2016) Bethlehem Museum, this elaborately decorated restaurant whisks you away from the bustling, traffic-choked streets to a colorful, airy setting where open terraces overlook the city.
Unusual Palestinian food prepared by French-trained chef Rami Hosh sides with international fusion dishes, and you can sip wine or refreshing limon bi nana – slushy fresh lemonade with mint.
A bonus is that lunch or dinner gives you free entrance to the small ethnographic museum downstairs and, with luck, you’ll have a waiter as a guide.
Al Karmeh Restaurant, Bethlehem Museum, Hebron Street, Bethlehem; +970 2 275 1408
Rewined is the hot late-night venue for cool locals and expats who flock to drink cocktails, local wines or draft beers while nibbling bar snacks like nachos and platters of cheese and prosciutto.
Low couches and lighting, shisha-pipes and music add to the allure.
Open Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights only.
Rewined M&D, 209 Manger Street, Bethleham; +972 59 858 3017
Sprawling over a hillside above the Shepherds’ Fields (where, according to the Bible, angels announced the birth of Jesus) this huge restaurant is a bit of a tour-group fixture and worn at the edges after 18 years.
Yet the tent-style canopy, low tables and striped rugs successfully conjure up Bedouin style while bougainvillea-shrouded terraces add extra appeal.
An enticing menu includes hot and cold meze, tabbouleh and fattoush salads, makdous (baby eggplants pickled with walnuts, garlic and spice), spicy sausages, grills, chicken liver with pomegranate molasses – plus wine, beer and gurgling nargileh pipes.
Tent Restaurant, Shepherds’ Fields Street, Beit Sahour, Bethlehem; + 972 2 277 3875.
Inside this stone-walled basement hung with vintage utensils you’ll find arguably the best falafel and hummus in town as well as fatteh, a soupy hummus thickened with pita bread strips and sprinkled with almonds, and foul – a dense, garlicky fava bean soup laced with unctuous olive oil.
Fresh salads and homemade pickles clean up the palate. Keen prices and cheerful service magnetize streams of locals and foreigners, some simply devouring takeaways on the steps outside.
Afteem Restaurant, Manger Square, Bethlehem; +970 2 274 7949
Ever since two extravagantly moustachioed brothers, Sameer and Jamal Kara’a, opened this restaurant down on the ring road by the university, their succulent grilled kebabs, lamb chops, chicken and sheep’s testicles have seduced diehard carnivores from near and far.
Typical appetizers, salads and knafeh (an addictively sweet white cheese pastry), whisky, arak, Palestinian wine and beer help lure evening diners, despite the graying of those celebrated mustaches and the 1970s time-capsule setting.
Abu Shanab, Main Street, Bethlehem; +972 2 274 2985
The Singer Café
This child-friendly hipster hangout owned by a Palestinian-Dutch couple is a quirky ode to Singer sewing machines and healthy eating.
Young Palestinians and NGO staffers devour breakfast shakshuka (eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce) or tuck into lunchtime salads, pasta, sandwiches, pancakes and cakes washed down with fresh juices, beer, wine and great coffee.
Laptops are de rigueur.
The Singer Cafe, Old City Street, Beit Sahour, Bethlehem; +972 59 992 9989.
Round the corner from the Singer Café is an even more hip venue, this time aimed at nighthawks, and opened last year by the same owners, Tariq and Kristel.
The industrial chic bar (whose name means “the bridge”) pulls in a young, cosmopolitan crowd for lively chat, freshly baked pizza, a vast range of alcoholic drinks, weekly live music and shisha pipes long into the night. Indoor and outdoor seating go with the seasons.
Al-Jisser, Al-Madares Street, Beit Sahour, Bethlehem; +970 597 492 175
Abu Issa street kitchen
Falafel fatigue setting in? Wallet getting thin?
The answer could be an eight-shekel Palestinian pizza, manakeesh, with a choice of cheese and egg, za’atar or ground meat assembled then rapidly baked before you in a rudimentary street oven.
It hits the spot for a snack on the run or eaten at one of their rusty tables.
Abu Issa street kitchen, Manger Street near junction with Star Street, Bethlehem
Ibdaa Cultural Center café
On the southern outskirts of town, a 15-minute taxi-ride from the city center, lies the Dheisheh Refugee Camp in the West Bank.
Fronting the main road, their cultural center offers visitors dormitory accommodation as well as a top floor café for simple food, non-alcoholic drinks and nargileh.
You can expect a warm welcome and insight into how this 69-year-old Palestinian refugee camp has mushroomed vertically on a footprint designed for 3,000 inhabitants, now home to around 15,000.
Ibdaa Cultural Center café, Dheisheh Refugee Camp, Hebron Road. + 972 2 277 6444
Fiona Dunlop is a London-based food and travel writer who has contributed extensively to newspapers (FT, Guardian, Independent, Telegraph) and international magazines. Her new cookbook, “Andaluz,” will be published in 2018.