For those saying, “What? Falafel? Are those the little meatball things?,” its time to be enlightened. Falafel is a deep fried, delicious ball of ground chickpeas (sometimes including fava beans), and spices, with a myriad of variations, but that is “falafel” at its most basic. And unless other items are added, it is completely vegan. In Israel it is served in pita and the “pocket” is stuffed not just with the balls of falafel, but with many other delectable items and is considered the “national dish” of Israel. The best of street food!
Birthright (noun) –
“Basically birthright” falafel in New York? Israeli falafel, of course. Pillowy, soft, mouth watering interior with a crunchy exterior, stuffed into pita bread along with techina, hummus, hot sauce (harif, or some say harissa, possibly schug – very spicy, usually green topping of Yemenite origin, possibly harif and schug), Israeli salad (chopped tomato, cucumber, green pepper), pickles, cabbage, assorted vegetables, even fries. Ta’im! (Delicious.)
Or, depending upon the situation or personal preference, a falafel plate with pita on the side. But real, hardcore falafel, is warm, crunchy, spicy, hot, delicious, and if you’re not careful, the techina soaks through the pita and runs down your arm. Israeli street food at its best!
Unlike falafel from other parts of the Middle East, where the falafel balls are rolled in pita bread or other type of bread (which is definitely not “birthright,” unless you come from one of those countries), top of the list in New York for “birthright” falafel is Ta’im Falafel owned by Chef Einat Admony and her husband Stefan Nafziger. Yearning for the delicious falafel of Israel while living in New York, they opened their first Ta’im Falafel and Smoothies shop, and the rest is history. You’ll often see Chef Einat pop up on Food Network and Twitter.
The freshness, quality, creativity and pure deliciousness of their falafel and other creations has made Ta’im Falafel and Smoothies “top of the list” for years on end. They began with their two locations in Manhattan on Waverly Place and Spring Street and with the population clamoring for more, they then opened Ta’im Mobile Falafel and Smoothie Truck. Balaboosta Restaurant on Mulberry Street, and Bar Bolonat on Hudson Street were not far behind, serving more upscale delights.
Always on the “Best Falafel” list, after the many Ta’im Falafel locations, is Nish Nush on Reade Street, serving Israeli style falafel and pita in addition to falafel platters, with great babaganoush (eggplant salad), Moroccan carrots and other delicacies.
Another at the top of the list is Ma’oz Vegetarian on 8th Avenue, serving falafel Israeli style, with toppings galore, including all of the usual plus favorites such as pickled baby eggplant and sweet potato fries.
Mamoun’s is another always on the top of the list with locations not only in NYC, McDougal Street, and St. Mark’s Place, but also in CT and NJ. They serve an assortment of stuffed pitas and platters and they’re so good!! “Kissinger could take a lesson in diplomacy here – he’s got Arabs and Jews eating at the same table…” (The Village Voice, 1976.)
Azuri Cafe on 51st Street may not be considered strictly “birthright” by those who long for the “I had falafel on my trip to Israel,” experience, because they’re unique. They infuse their cuisine with fruits, grains, and spices that are not necessarily Middle Eastern. Ezra provides a foodie experience that is kosher, and not to be missed.
The Hummus & Pita Company at 585 Avenue of the Americas is billed as being like Chipotle but for Middle Eastern food. Many choices, and generous portions, but know what you want before its your turn to order or you interrupt the flow!
Crisp, on W. 40th Street, expands their horizons to include not just “typical” falafel but Moroccan, Mexican, Athenian, Europa, and Africa styles. They serve their remarkable fare with pita or flatbread and their menus extend to salads, burgers, fried chicken, and other proteins.
Hoomoos Asli on Kenmare Street is “one to watch.” Not always on the lists, but a gem downtown. Kosher with an assortment of foods including unusual offerings such as malawach (Yemenite fried bread)!
Bustan, at 487 Amsterdam Avenue, is another one to watch. Located on the Upper West Side, they are more a Middle Eastern restaurant than a falafel place, but their menu includes what might be called Middle Eastern “fusion” dishes such as a charred-octopus appetizer mixed with white-bean puree and green harissa, Moroccan cigars, vegetable terracotta, and more.
Two small, but incredibly popular options are Sam’s Falafel Cart, on Cedar Street in the Financial District, and Adel’s Halal Cart (halal is similar to kosher, but in Muslim law), at Maiden Lane and Front Street near the Seaport. They may be small, but they’re fast, delicious, economical, and customers always come back for more.
“Birthright” can be determined by the land or culture of your birth, or just the fact of your birth. But to truly enjoy falafel and all of it accouterments and the wide range of foods that fall under the falafel, hummus, techina, pita, Middle Eastern foods umbrella, open your arms and your tastebuds to more than just one kind of “birthright.”
Birthright is what you make it! B’tayavon! (Bon appetit!)