Stepping into Gueta on Shderot Yerushalayim in Jaffa is like walking into a different world. It is a place where old-world courtliness and manners prevail and it is easy to imagine what life might have been like in faraway Libya once upon a time. For Gueta is a Libyan restaurant, specializing in Tripoli food, and special it is, indeed. The restaurant is owned and operated by the Gueta family and it is clear that mother Leah Gueta has brought with her many wonderful culinary secrets from her native country.
Jaffa bustles at night and Gueta is located directly across from the Noga theater, so that the pre-show crowd tends to all but fill this modestly sized restaurant. The décor is homey and simple but clean and inviting. The service is impeccable and quick and the food is delicious and very reasonably priced.
If one if not familiar with traditional Libyan food, one has to be open to a new experience, new names, tastes, and textures. The headline is “Incredibly Flavorful and Tasty”; the subtext is spicy but not overly so. To open, you can order an array of salads (6 NIS per person), which includes cabbage salad, pickled lemons and the most wonderful puree of pumpkin and potato. I couldn't get enough of the latter (the little plate was refilled a number of times), and it was particularly delicious on the super-fresh bread that accompanied the salads.
For appetizer, along with the salads, we tried the “charaime,” a big portion of Nile Perch, perched in a sea of spicy tomato sauce. The fish was tender and not too bony and the sauce was, again, great with the bread. Other openers include soups (15 NIS), couscous, and “mafrum” (10 NIS). Stay tuned for more about the mafrum.
There are a number of main-dish options, including shnitzel and chicken in tomato sauce, but I would recommend, without hesitation, going straight for the “Complete Couscous” (42 NIS). This all-in-one meal, includes the lightest couscous you'll ever eat anywhere, “tbicha” (a spinach, pumpkin - or cumin-based meat-and-bean concoction, not unlike chulent), and the aforementioned “mafrum,” which is, more or less, sliced potatoes stuffed with a savory meat-and-vegetable filling – outstanding! Other stuffed vegetables are offered, as well, including “yabrak” – stuffed cabbage Tripoli style.
There is pretty much only one dessert – “safra,” a semolina cake with a yummy date filling. But even if you skip dessert, don't overlook the tea, which is sweetened with caramelized sugar, spiced with cloves, and sprinkled with peanuts – a not-to-be-missed treat. CThere are many reasons you may find yourself in Jaffa – the theater, the flea market, the atmosphere – but you don't have to have an excuse to go to Gueta. This special restaurant is worth a trip in and of itself. Prepare to be charmed and enchanted – you won't be disappointed.