It's hard work, but someone had to do it: hunt down the best falafel sandwich in New York.
We're sure you have your own favorite falafel joints. And yet, as with a bagel or a chocolate chip cookie, there's an enormous difference between a falafel sandwich that's satisfying—crispy falafel balls, soft pita, enough hummus or tahini—and a falafel sandwich that's the best in New York.
Having a solid and reliable $3 sandwich nearby might be more than enough for you. And that's just fine. But for a falafel to crack the Top 7, it's got to be truly memorable.
What that means? Falafel with crispy shells and tender interiors, not too dry, with a good internal balance of chickpea, parsley, and spice; pita that's fresh-tasting, delicious, and, at the very least, not a detriment to the sandwich; sauces and toppings that add to the total package.
So, bring on the flamethrowing in the comments: some of New York's most highly touted falafel sandwiches were eliminated in preliminary rounds.
What got the axe, our top 7, and the best falafel in New York, after the jump.
Mamoun's? Great value, and tastier than we thought it'd be, but brought down by wan veggies, flat-tasting pita, and falafel that's enjoyable but unmemorable. Alfanoose in the Financial District we had high hopes for, but the falafel we tried were as dry as a bone. Jerusalem Restaurant was a few notches better, but its falafel didn't exhibit the character we'd want in an award-winning sandwich; ditto Soom Soom, whose add-it-yourself salad bar was more impressive than the final falafel sandwich you get, and Oasis in Williamsburg and Yatagan in the Village (our favorite of the cheaper options), whose falafel are nicely crisp but hard to get worked up about.
Murray's on 1st and 16th had excellent pita but downright inedible falafel; Cafe Rakka had adorable doughnut-shaped falafel but dry pita and somewhat sloppy sandwich construction. Alan's cart in the Financial District tasted enough like dried cumin to overwhelm every other flavor, and Bedouin Tent, in Brooklyn, also had an aggressive spice going on; Rainbow Falafel had a beautiful crisp but a somewhat dry interior; Moshe's, and Pita Joe also left our tasters' mouths dry. Crisp had no crisp (and way too much breadiness); Meze Grill fell apart almost instantly, and the falafel itself had a strange faux-meat flavor that most of us found unpleasant. And before you ask, we also tried Chickpea, Sam's, Tahini, Hoomoos Asli, Naomi's, Wafa's, Jerusalem Pita House, and more.
Before we start, a few guidelines: this roundup hit only the takeaway places, where you can get falafel in a pita, to go. (We love the falafel at Hummus Place and Tanoreen, but neither quite fit the criteria.) While falafel is far and away the most important component of a great falafel sandwich, other factors (pita, sauces, toppings) matter too. And while value may matter in our day-to-day purchasing decisions, when you're really searching out the best falafel sandwich, price is no object. (Especially because none of these lunches cracked $7.)
- Falafel: 20 points. Is it crispy, rather than greasy or dull? A good shell and a tender, moist enough interior? Is there a good balance of chickpea, parsley, acid, salt, and spice?
- Pita: 10 points. Is it fresh? Does it hold together well? Tasty?
- Sauces, Toppings, Etc.: 10 points. Is what's in there tasty? Is there enough happening in the sandwich? Good balance of falafel with hummus, or tahini, or pickles, or anything else?
- Overall impression: 10 points. Does the sandwich come together as a whole? How happy are you with the experience? Do you remember it hours later? Would you recommend it to a friend?
- Total: 50 points.
7. University Pita 6. Olympic Pita 5. Pick A Pita 4. Maoz 3. King of Falafel and Shawarma 2. Azuri Cafe
And the Winner... Taïm
Falafel: 19 points. The green falafel, fresh from the fryer, is improbably light on the inside, with a beautiful brown, crispy shell. (Taïm also has red falafel, with red pepper, and yellow, with spicy harissa.) Parsley, mint, and cilantro add a bright freshness, but herbs aren't all you taste; the nuttiness of the chickpeas still comes through, too. Delicious. We could do with the tiniest bit more crunch, but we're truly into nit-picking territory, here.
Pita: 9 points. Fluffy and fresh, both white and wheat. We'd eat this pita on its own any day.
Toppings and Sauces: 8 points. Impossibly creamy hummus; white cabbage; fresh Israeli salad with lemon and mint—it's all you need. Nothing as novel as Azuri or as palate-whopping as the King of Falafel, but with falafel this good, you don't want it shouted down.
Overall Satisfaction: 9 points. It's not perfectly constructed—the falafel has a tendency to ride on top, giving you falafel-less mouthfuls at the end—but that's nothing a fork-push down couldn't fix. Bite for bite, we're happier eating Taïm's falafel than any other out there.
Total: 45/50 points.
Taïm: 222 Waverly Place, New York NY 10014 (map); 212-691-1287
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