Jewish food used to mean schlepping to your grandmother's house in Queens for tasteless matzo ball soup and endless games of canasta. Or, if you were lucky, maybe a trip to Katz's for its world-famous pastrami that requires an extra dose of Lipitor and more than a few Tums. However, Jewish food has taken a turn for the chic and awesome—no Manischewitz required. Here are 14 updates and new takes on Jewish cuisine that will make you look beyond latkes.
The flavors of a Reuben were the inspiration for this recipe. First, roll out a standard crust, only made with rye flour and caraway seeds. Then, make a filling of sautéed pastrami (smoke your own!), potatoes, onions, and Brussels sprouts. Stir in some grainy mustard and pour it all into the crust. Sprinkle with Gruyère cheese, close up, and bake. Get our Pastrami and Cheese Pie recipe.
Toss crunched-up matzo pieces in a buttery maple syrup glaze spiced with cinnamon and ginger, and then bake with pistachios until crisp. Chewy dried apricots and golden raisins are mixed in at the end for texture and sweetness—a very unexpected take on granola to slurp with yogurt or milk, or to snack straight from the container. Get our Matzo Granola recipe.
3. Wise Sons Deli Matzo Ball Soup
“At Wise Sons, our Jewish deli in San Francisco,” write Leo Beckerman and Evan Bloom, “we’ve learned two crucial things about making matzo ball soup: Keep it as simple as possible, and put extra care into everything. We found that really roasting things and getting it all dark, stuff like leaving the onion skins on, was giving us better results than we could ever achieve with any of the complicated things we were trying.” Get Leo Beckerman and Evan Bloom’s Matzo Ball Soup recipe.
4. Artisanal Gefilte Fish
The Gefilteria is where it's AT. This Brooklyn-based company carefully makes artisanal gefilte fish with ingredients like mild white fish, spicy carrot horseradish, and sweet beet horseradish. Slice the loaves at home for something that will make the gefilte fish from the jar seem like McDonald's next to Wagyu beef.
Photo from The Gefilteria
5. Creative Street Food
Jews have long had a history of eating on the run (matzo, anyone?), and Old World Food Truck in San Francisco ups the ante with its high-end offerings. Opt for the Sloppy Jew sandwich with pulled brisket with golden raisins, Maldon celery salt, B&B pickle, and cabbage slaw all on an Acme bun. The Reuben Tacos are also a must-try for the ultimate fusion food.
Photo from King Jaffe Joffer
6. Bagel and Schmear 2.0
Black Seed Bagels is the biggest thing to hit bagels since cream cheese. Co-owned by one of the men behind Monreal-style smoked meat emporium Mile End, this artisanal, Montreal-style bagel shop specializes in Montreal/NY hybrid bagels that are a little sweet, a little chewy, and not too dense. Try one topped with beet-cured lox or tobiko caviar and homemade cream cheese.
Photo from Time Out
7. Shabbat Pop-Up
It's not your bubbe's kitchen table this time. This pop-up dinner, helmed by longtime Shabbos-addict Dayna Cheskis-Gold, happens every few months in Brooklyn and routinely sells out of the 40 available tickets. Expect family-style food with dishes like Persian vegetable herb fritters, roasted lamb shoulder with ramp salsa verde, and craft cocktails.
Photo from Hipster Jew
8. Sophisticated Takes on Israeli Ingredients
Buh-bye $2 greasy falafel, hello za'atar ravioli and artichokes with Sicilian pistachios and dukkah. Chef Einat Admony, of Taim and Balaboosta, brings traditional Israeli ingredients to unexpected heights and uses at Bar Bolonat—when's the last time you saw shrimp in Yemenite curry on an Israeli menu?
Photo from GQ
9. Decadent Matzo Balls
Top Chef winner Ilan Hall might be the descendant of a kosher butcher, but there's nothing kosher about these matzo balls wrapped in bacon and grilled until the bacon is crisp that he serves at his restaurant The Gorbals. Just so you don't hear your Great-Uncle Morty rolling over in his grave, follow it up with an order of duck confit latkes with applesauce and sour cream.
Photo from Bacon Today
10. Southern-Jewish Comfort Cuisine
Atlanta's The General Muir blends the best of Southern cuisine with old-fashioned Jewish favorites. Think grits alongside crispy pastrami and a side of baked salmon salad along with your pecan-crusted French toast. Schmaltz and Southern belles, together at last.
Photo from Creative Loafing Atlanta
11. The Old Standby Is New Again
Russ & Daughters Cafe is a soda shop–cum brunch restaurant–cum trendy eatery of the moment, located around the corner from its generations-old fish shop. The walk-ins-only spot specializes in house-smoked fish platters, sandwiches like the Super Heebster (with tobiko, horseradish cream cheese, and whitefish salad), and an impressive martini list.
Photo from GrubStreet
12. Cookbook Superstar
Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, is perhaps the runaway cookbook of the last five years. Its vibrant photography, poignant stories, and delicious recipes from a city that is loved by Jews, Arabs, and Christians alike is a testament to whatever we believe—we all need to eat. Lovers of pomegranate are especially in luck with this book.
Photo from Serious Eats
13. Hot Hipster Jewish Delis
Hipster meets old-fashioned Jewish delicatessen specialties at Peck's, an artisanal shop in Brooklyn. You may purchase cashew milk alongside your smoked whitefish salad, and the ricotta blintzes are scented with orange. Warning: After indulging in some of that coffee cake, those skinny jeans might not fit so well.
Photo from the New York Times
14. Kosher Sushi
Butterfish, cited as the first omakase kosher restaurant in NYC, focuses on high-end sushi that is entirely in accordance with kosher law. Expect lush salmon, fatty tuna, and most of your other favorites, with none of the pesky shellfish so often found in luxury sushi emporiums.
Photo from ButterfishNY; header image from Tasting Table
Sarah Spigelman Richter is a New York City–based writer, blogger, and social media manager. She has developed recipes for Tabasco, blogs about her favorite restaurants and recipes at Fritos and Foie Gras, and can be found, most Friday nights, watching "Arrested Development" reruns.