The Best Falafel in Queens, Part 2
I couldn't stop the search at just five places for one of my favorite foods in my favorite borough. This second round-up began the minute that you, Serious Eaters, started commenting on the first post on the best falafel in Queens. How could I not go to Grill Point, you said; how could I ignore Turkish, and what about Steinway Street? Well, you were all right. These next sandwiches should not be missed. And this trip around Queens for falafel was even more fun than the first.
Grill Point. I really don't know how I bypassed it the first time around. It's everything I've been looking for in Israeli-style falafel. Most places here just don't do the add-your-own salads like they do in Israel, specifically in Tel Aviv, where I honed my falafel eating skills during many visits as a child. But Grill Point does, and they do it so well.
They start with an extra thick and fluffy pita, slather it with hummus, add the falafel, some tahini, a great, chunky, spicy hot sauce, and then French fries in or on the side. The rest is up to you. There is a vast salad bar to choose from, with all kinds of pickled vegetables, cabbage salads, cauliflower, Moroccan carrots with preserved lemon, it is quite the spread. The falafel were good, too. Large, with a thin, crisp outer layer, but mostly soft, and a traditional falafel flavor.
Falafel Sandwich: $5.40
Highlights: Authentic Israeli-style, lots of fresh, great salads; fries.
69-54 Main Street, Kew Gardens Hills (map)
Mangal Kabob & Pizza Restaurant
Mangal is a Turkish grill and restaurant that makes its own bread; an airy and chewy flat loaf topped with sesame seeds, baked fresh throughout the day. They make their falafel sandwiches either on regular store-bought pita, or on their home bread, as they call it. It is worth the $1.50 difference to get the home bread sandwich. It's a huge sandwich, and it's very good.
The soft bread is sliced in half, still warm, and stuffed with their falafel, very thinly sliced onions, chopped lettuce and tomato, their tangy yogurt sauce, and a spicy, red, ground chili sauce. The falafel here is quite different from the other, Middle Eastern varieties, in that it is paler in color, and full of chopped carrots and fresh herbs. The texture is softer and chewier, fresh tasting and light. A great sandwich.
Falafel Sandwich: $6.00
Highlights: Freshly baked bread, veggie-filled falafel
46-20 Queens Blvd, Sunnyside (map)
Little Morocco is home of the best merguez sandwich, they announce on their menu—but it's also home to a great falafel. Here, they wrap warm, grilled flatbread tightly around their falafel, so when biting through the crisp, then soft bread, you are rewarded with a burst of flavor.
The bright green falafel are heavily spiced, the perfect blend of traditional falafel seasonings like cumin, ground coriander, and other spices. The three large falafel balls immediately soaked up all of the tahini in the sandwich, as well as the hot sauce, which either was not very hot, or there just wasn't enough of it. Chopped lettuce, tomatoes and sliced green olives finished off this nicely textured sandwich.
Falafel Sandwich: $4.50
Highlights: Grilled flatbread, sliced olives
24-39 Steinway Street, Astoria Queens (map)
Ali, chef and owner of Kabab Café, a tiny Egyptian place on Steinway Street, is in a class of his own, and if you've never let him prepare a meal for you, you should—it's as simple as that. His falafel is as unique as his brightly decorated dining room.
This sandwich is a flavor explosion. It's a messy thing of beauty and I am willing to bet that he never makes it the same way twice. (And I'd like to make that bet, just to be proven wrong, and eat more). The falafel were tiny and misshapen, and filled with spice. Whole coriander seeds burst with floral flavor in each bite. A smooth, creamy hummus smeared onto the whole wheat pita bread made the sandwich nearly fall apart, but I didn't stop eating. Homemade hot sauce, spicy red and green, adorned the top, and I kept discovering new treats in the pita pockets. Some onions, some lettuce, some tomatoes and then something sweet.
A few chunks of pear. Yes, pear. Why not? Maybe they were lying around, maybe he always puts them in. All I know us that I appreciated the addition. A sprinkling of sumac, ground cumin, and zaatar on the pita added another flavor dimension to the already spiced sandwich. It was unique. It was different. It was delicious.
Falafel Sandwich: $5.00
Highlights: Layers of spice and flavor, unique preparation
25-12 Steinway Street, Astoria Queens (map)
Each of these sandwiches come from different regions of the world, by way of Queens; as a result it's nearly impossible to compare them to each other. They were each great in different ways, and I strongly urge you falafel lovers to try them all.
Clearly, there's no shortage of great falafel in Queens. Are there any more places that I might have missed?