Tel Aviv is rather a small and compact city, especially when compared to other world greats, but even in such a small city there are distinct neighbourhoods. One of the ones I like to visit for an occasional evening drink is Florentin. This up and coming area (as it has been for the past 20 years!) is filled with young Israeli’s and has a 1990’s NY East Village vibe (minus the crime).
Florentin is situated in southern Tel Aviv on the border with Jaffa and is considered one of the poorer parts of the city. As a result real estate has been taken over by young Israeli’s and up and coming artists with the area also housing several fashion warehouses and galleries. Florentin has many bars and small restaurants which are full almost every night of the week. The majority of the bars and restaurant can be found on Vital Street but the area is also dotted with other isolated and interesting venues.
I like going there when I need a break from the more in your face and expensive central Tel Aviv vibe as the atmosphere, in Florentin is more relaxed and less pretentious. I guess partly as many places are run by the yet uncorrupted and happy young. Beverages also tend to be less expensive and there is no pressure to give up your seat, while conversations can easily be struck up with the bar person or neighbour. The area boasts several nightclubs should the urge to dance until the early hours follow on from your eating and drinking session.
The area also hosts well known street parties during New Year, Purim and Independence Day when young people from all over the centre congregate to celebrate. I usually avoid these events as they are far overcrowded and a very young group.
It is probably a good thing that Florentin is a night-time hangout as parts of it are run-down waiting to be the next overhauled, up and coming bit. I always like the term ‘up and coming’ a real estate ruse for a downbeat area – Florentin fits the bill perfectly with some, if albeit slow growth. Luckily the young have adopted the area though a disgruntled diner would never live there as when would you be able to sleep? Certainly not at night but then again if I was student or in my 20’s I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else!
Mexican food has yet to make a statement in Israel with very few restaurants offering the delicacies of this large North/Central American country. In some ways I find this odd as there is a large Jewish community in Mexico and the food is generously spiced which is tolerated and loved in Israel.
Fortunately here is a nice option if you are in the area and feel like a light bite. The tequila bar/restaurant is very small with only a few tables and space on the bar. It is decorated in a Mexican style theme, including a picture of Frida Kahlo and boasts having the largest selection of Tequila in Tel Aviv. Being small the cramped conditions can sometimes be a little challenging – the crowd is mostly in their twenties.
In addition to tequila, cocktails and beer, this place also serves Mexican style food. I personally get a little confused between Mexican, Tex-Mex and South Western cuisine when it comes to a menu with enchiladas, Tacos etc as I suspect these are not all purely Mexican. But over the years these have become the staple dishes on many a Mexican style restaurant menu.
At Mezcal these dishes also appear as well as Nachos and even dishes with Mole which is a complex sauce that includes chocolate as one of the main ingredients.
The few times I have eaten there have always been after several drinks and as such I add a warning note to my thoughts on the place as seen through tequila goggles.
I generally turn up with a small group and order several plates of enchiladas, nachos and chicken with mole but recently they have had to go vedgie for a time due to some rule or other. Which is a shame as the beef and chicken dishes added depth to the flavour profiles (update – meat is back on the menu!).
All the dishes are good, not amazing, we are not talking Rick Bayless but neither should it be for a tequila bar in an up and coming Tel Aviv neighbourhood. Most of the dishes come in fours so perfect for sharing and most are wrap style so can be picked up and eaten. Putting on my critical disgruntled hat on I would say some misses included the Mole as it is too sweet and chocolaty and lighter in colour than I have had in Mexico. Also one of the dishes came out piping hot and damp as if it may have been microwaved (Note: I don’t even know if they have a microwave just a personal un-expert observation).
Luckily, bar the two examples prior, most of the food which usually combines rice, beans, avocado, cheese and meat is very agreeable to my palate. Add to that the very friendly and enthusiastic staff and you get a place that is worth hanging out in and thankfully Mexican which as mentioned before is not common in Israel.
Another plus is the prices of the food which is very reasonable around the 30/40nis range but cocktail prices are high (for the area) with their signature margarita costing 45nis (though with good flavour).
A few words on the tequila - The selection is large and we had the pleasure of drinking one which was aged in a whisky barrel. The colour of the liquid takes on a caramel or tinge of brown. The taste is surprisingly smooth and far less harsh then comparable liquors – a very pleasant surprise (for a non-liquor drinker).
3.5 stars out of 5
The Disgruntled Diner