We’re still eating falafel!
Sometimes, anyway–and still not the best in the general Southern California area, which we’ll address in a bit. (We still have plans! Angels-Rangers & Anaheim falafel on July 30, who’s in? And Glendale and Hollywood are still in our sights!)
Yesterday we ate at two new falafel places, both all the way out in San Bernardino County. The first was unexpected: we decided to visit Haven City Market in Rancho Cucamonga for the first time. This market is like many markets that have been popping up across the region in the last ten-plus years: a dedicated physical space that has a ton of food and drink vendors, all gathered together. It’s like a mall food court without the mall. Haven is the largest we’ve seen, with something like twenty places gathered together under one roof. Totally packed and … somehow depressing. At many places, the cashiers/cooks stood waiting idly at the counter, watching expectantly, hopefully, just waiting to spring into action. A little too much of an AWP bookfair vibe. We didn’t plan on eating, just taking in the sights, but then we spotted Baba K. We stepped forward. The cashier watched us, eyes widening. Could he help us? Maybe? Please. Sure. We ordered, believe it or not, falafel.
- Texture: 3/5: the shape was the standard domed puck … fairly crunchy, but the the flesh within was too wet, so these were more mushy than anything. Also: a bit too oily. Not bad, though.
- Spice: 2/5: these had a flavor we couldn’t quite put our fingers on, something unfamiliar, fairly subtle, and intriguing in a way that we generally don’t want to be intrigued when eating food. Also: very, very salty.
- Herbaceousness: 2/5: Nice bits of parsley mixed in, but, again, the flavor itself wasn’t particularly strong. Again: we have a plan to fix this on our own.
- Value: 3/5: basically a dollar per a leaning large size falafel. Totally fine. Wouldn’t eat again.
Then we went to our main stop of the day:
King Falafel is a very highly Yelp-rated restaurant that unironically serves food from Jerusalem and Baghdad. The menu in the restaurant (we went to the Upland location) was standard wraps, plates, sides, and also the delicious Middle Eastern pizza-like flatbreads called manaqeesh, piled with zaatar and/or cheese and or various other toppings. They also have various specials not on the menu–lamb shanks stewed in beans, for example–that looked pretty amazing. Not being particularly hungry, we ordered a beef shawerma (their recommendation) … and a side of falafel. Weird. The shawerma was very good: the wrapping was an excellent lavash, and the ingredients (hummus, tahini, veg, the beef) all came together very freshly: it tasted like food.
(Falafel sort of doesn’t taste like food, we’re realizing. It’s more MRE-style: dried beans rehydrated and ground up with spices, then fried or baked? Meh. Does this not seem like our favorite food adventure? Not sure why you think so.)
Happily, the falafel at King Falafel was good–in our upper tier to this point, along with Saca’s, Cafe X20, certainly Ammotoli, and Father Nature Lavash Bistro:
- Texture: 3.5/5: a little large, but their exterior was fantastic. They were fried so well that every bite had not just a crunch but a thin ongoing crunch, as the crust kept pleasantly shattering during the full chew. The shape was a little more organic, probably hand-shaped, which we enjoyed–the less industrial-seeming the better. These were a little on the oily side, and the interior was still on the mushy side, but the exterior was excellent.
- Spice: 3.5/5: very good, nicely balanced.
- Herbaceousness: 3.5/5: a very clear addition of dill–our first dill falafel of the summer (not counting Trader Joe’s). Intriguing.
- Value: 4/5: A dollar per, which seems to the standard low-end for falafel, so a good deal. If we were watching a baseball game or movie and someone put a basket of these in front of us to munch on, we would not be unhappy.
Last Wednesday, in a place called Culver, Oregon, Vieve was at a board retreat for FOBA (Focus on Book Arts). One of her board-member peers made falafel as a part of dinner one night, from a pre-mix … and these were very good (the baba ghanoush, not pictured, was especially amazing):
- Texture: 3/5: excellent size! Organically shaped! Fried at an estimated temperature of something like 350 degrees! (I’m wondering if hotter / shorter would give falafel that thin shattering exterior. Will report in a few weeks.)
- Spice: 3/5: very good, nicely balanced spice (which is what recommends a good dry mix: they should have excellent spices, as this one did). Maybe a touch salty, though–also to be expected with a dry mix.
- Herbaceousness: na: it’s a dry mix. 🙂
- Value: 10/5: when someone at your board retreat makes you falafel, it’s as good a value as you can get!
Okay, onto our second to last: sometime the blurry week of July 4th, we got takeout from Argo, our most local (walking distance in downtown La Verne) Mediterranean place. Argo has a great chicken kabob that we sort of unhappily suspect is ordered frozen/pre-spiced … but we’ll try not to dwell on such things. Their falafel was something we’d gotten years ago but it’d been awhile, and of course the timing was right. Since their side of falafel is advertised as “4 pieces for $9.99,” making it the most expensive falafel we’ve ever seen, we went ahead and ordered a falafel wrap for about the same price.
Okay: imagine a hockey puck. Now imagine another hockey puck placed atop the first hockey puck. Now imagine another half-hockey puck placed on the first two. Since a hockey puck is one inch tall by three inches in diameter, now you’ve got 2 inches tall by three inches in diameter. And that, everyone, is the size of a falafel at Argo–double the size of the next largest falafel we’ve had all summer.
This is madness.
- Texture: 1/5: have we mentioned the size? (The texture within was fairly loose, somewhat mushy … actually not that bad. But. So. Big.)
- Spice: 3.5/5: actually … these tasted pretty good … for the first bite. By the thirtieth they were a little tiresome, though.
- Herbaceousness: 2/5: not bad / see above.
- Value: ???
Which leads us to July 2. Our plan that day was to go to Glendale and get falafel from 2-3 of supposedly the best places in the region (hello, Dune) … but instead we ate these instead:
(We weren’t alone, and we had leftovers, to be clear.) Very quickly: Side Pie, up in Altadena, near Bulgarini’s and the Bunny Museum, is esteemed as one of the better pizza places in the country–as is U-Street, a pizza offshoot of Union, a great pasta place in downtown Pasadena. Our thoughts: Side Pie is fine. U-Street is amazing.
Another thought: Pizza > falafel. In fact, quite a few things are > than falafel. Like: tacosburritostortasquesadillas. Like galbisoondububibimbap. Like shawermakebabgyromanaqeesh. Like sushisashimidashiramentempurakatsu. Like banhmibrokenricesummerolls. Like radkhanapadkeemeowgreencurryyellowcurryredcurry. Like maybe even chicken sandwiches? Probably not hamburgers … but maybe? Maybe even hamburgers.
But we’re sticking with falafel, just as falafel is sticking with us. We’ve had good falafel, we’ve had bad falafel. But we haven’t had the best, not yet, at least we hope we haven’t, and we’re going to keep trying. Stay tuned.