One of our first questions in starting FalafelQuest© this summer was: What makes good falafel? And: What makes bad falafel? And: how many questions can be a first question? Well, we have an answer to the second of those three first questions:
Zaky Mediterranean Grill, Tanya’s Lebanese Kabab, and Falafel Flame–they all make bad falafel!
Before getting into our ratings, a Falafel Factoid and a little institutional history and context: DID YOU KNOW THAT THE largest falafel weighs 223 lb 12.3 oz, and was achieved (birthed?) by Hilton Dead Sea Resort & Spa in the Dead Sea, Jordan, on 31 May 2019? Yummo!
Moving on. Zaky Mediterranean Grill is maybe a familiar name to you as it’s become a local Southern California chain. We were a little (non?)plussed by its numerous interior NT images of crosses and other crosses, and then, in reading about Zaky, we learned that in 2005 it was “first founded by a Christian based family in Rancho Cucamonga.” Which, wow, that sentence. Was it founded second by another family? What is Christian “based”? And: Rancho?! Since we’re on the topic, Zaky was actually the best of the three falafels we had on the first founded/based day of June 2022 … which isn’t to say it was particularly good:
- Texture: 3/5: these were VERY SMALL falafels, just about the size of three-dimensional quarters, and while they were well-fried, the smallness made them far too crunchy (and too oily, too), which robbed them of that nice soft falafel interior.
- Spice: 3.5/5: fairly well-spiced, nicely balanced, nothing overly pronounced…which means they were a little bland.
- Herbaceousness: 3.5/5: fairly green tasting, fairly green colored.
- Value: 2/5: you can get a single falafel for a buck … but that’s weird, so your other options are to get a bowl or platter or sandwich; Zaky has an annoying Chipotle-styled menu, basically, and we opted for the bowl, which comes with a ‘base’ (starch–we went rice), a sauce (we went tzatziki, it was meh), and the falafel … for $12.49, which is just far too much for rice, soaked and ground chickpeas, and a dollop of cucumber-yogurt.
We were rooting hard for Tanya’s Lebanese Kabab, a tiny little shop that we think was being run entirely by Tanya herself and had a very homey feel: a child was somewhere near the main room, and there was evidence of TV watching and homework. Also in the same little Upland complex we found not only an Indo-Pak grocery story but this:
We asked MaybeTanya what else we should get beside falafel and she shrugged and said to get what we wanted. So we just got falafel. (Restauranteurs: have a recommendation, have a point of pride, right?) Unfortunately, Tanya’s falafel, while not suffering from the same fervent-factory-feel of Zaky, was disappointing:
- Texture: 2/5: these were very loose falafels, not fried enough to get that crunchy exterior, and they just ate a little mealy, as if the chickpeas were ground enough of maybe weren’t soaked enough (maybe no baking soda?).
- Spice: 2/5: bland city.
- Herbaceousness: 1/5: nada. These were a pale brown on the interior. Sad.
- Value: 5/5: the good (?) news is that Tanya’s is cheap af. We got the falafel platter–hummus, pita (lol store-bought pita that was still in the store bag), tahini, salad, and a couple pickled peppers, and this was $9.99. You can also get falafel (and various schawarmah) sandwiches for seven bucks. We probably won’t be back, but maybe Tanya’s has other good offerings. Let us know!
As the good book says, the last shall be first, and the first shall be last — and our first stop, Falafel Flame, was certainly the last. Let’s be quick with it:
- Texture: 1/5: burned, bitter, and oily. Yum!
- Spice: 2/5: CUMIN IS NOT THE ONLY SPICE YOU SHOULD BE USING.
- Herbaceousness: 3/5: these actually had a fair amount of herb-forward flavors … but burned falafel is something that can’t be overcome … just like
- Other: 0/5: Okay, look at that photo. Look at that sauce. Their “tahini” sauce is clearly whipped with some sort of oil, making it a firm and almost gelid, well, mayo-like gel sitting (unasked for, mind you) atop all the falafel. Just–no.
- Value: we’re not going to score value when the food is gross, but the falafel platter was six bucks, a reasonable-enough price (in terms of cost per falafel).
So, just two posts into our journey, a few takeaways:
- We’re not sure we really like falafel.
- We’re definitely done going to random falafel places in Upland.
- Why falafel places serve falafel on beds of shredded lettuce is mind-boggling. All the lettuce does is get steamed and wilty. Why do this?
- We’re starting to get a sense of some strong falafel aspects, such as size (mandarin orange seems good), fried-ness (don’t burn it!), and spice/herb (yes, and more). We just need to, well, find good falafel.
So we’re moving onward–if a bit more judgily and warily. More to come!