We’re done! It’s true that we barely even started … but hey, that’s the joy of self-imposed seasonal tasks: you can un-self-impose them as easily as you bring them into being. (And it’s still legal, at least in most states.) Here’s a quick recap of all we’ve done, then our final excursion, and closing thoughts on FalafelQuest©, the quest to end all FalafelQuest©s.
- # of falafel places eaten at: 19
- # of falafel places eaten at to which we’d happily return: 6?
- # of falafel places eaten at to which we’d happily return and actually order the falafel: 3
So … maybe not the best quest, but a learning experience nonetheless. For our final two stops, we went to two restaurants considered by many to be among the best falafelers in Southern California: Dune (in Atwater Village) and Falafel Arax (East Hollywood). We wanted to go to more places — sorry, Joe’s! sorry, too, Saffy’s, but you too fancy with that ten-dollar soft serve — but then also we didn’t actually want to go more places. (Again: the power of un-self-imposition. It’s quite heady.)
Dune was our final stop, by far the trendiest of all falafel shops we went to this summer: only outdoor dining smack in the middle of Atwater Village, the off-the-charts cute factor of which made us both throw up in our mouths (it’s okay–when you throw up in Atwater Village, you throw up unicorn puke; tastes like Lucky Charms). Dune was very good. We ordered the meze plate ($17; fried chicken, hummus, falafel, loads of great sides including delicious flatbread and a killer cabbage slaw). We really liked Dune. The food — especially that fried chicken — was insanely delicious: the chicken was well-breaded, very well-seasoned, still juicy, and it wasn’t 4x too big to take a bite out of (looking at you, Howlin’ Rays).
- Texture: 2/5: But this was very disappointing. These falafel were pretty huge. Hand-shaped, we think, and well beyond golf ball size … so the result was, of course, an underdone interior. These were mushy. Bummer.
- Spice: 4/5: But also these were delicious. Had they been better cooked/sized, these actually might have been the best falafels of the summer: the spice mix was great, nice cumin and cayenne, maybe a touch of cinnamon (faint, thankfully). Very tasty.
- Herbaceousness: 3.5/5: Just about the greenest falafel we had this summer: loads of parsley and cilantro, very visibly present. Was the flavor strong? No, it never is. But it looked good!
- Value: 5/5: This is a little tricky since we didn’t get a falafel-only plate … but the meze was a TON of very good food … in Atwater Village … for $17. Great deal.
Again, we like Dune. Is Dune a falafel place? Not really. It’s more like a Levant/Eastern Mediterranean restaurant (exactly how it self-describes). It’s closer to Ammatoli, closer yet to Kismet (both of which we prefer). But the food is great, and we’d recommend it to anyone.
Our penultimate stop was Falafel Arax, down the street from DeSano and in the general neighborhood of Jitlada (we knew the latter because our eyes began to water, our mouths began to burn). Did we wish we were eating at DeSano or Jitlada? Of course! That’s why this quest has been so half-assed. But we ate at Falafel Arax, and it was … really good!
We ordered the pictured falafel wrap ($10?) and a shawerma wrap ($11?). Both were great. (The shawerma was better.)
- Texture: 4/5: small, crunchy exterior, soft but not mushy interior–hooray! It shouldn’t be that hard. (These really were extremely crunch–but that perfect falafel crunch that gives way.)
- Spice: 3/5: I’m just putting a three because I don’t really know. The flavor of these was overwhelmed by the (very good) tahini sauce. They tasted like falafels. They were fine.
- Herbaceousness: -/5: Nope! Spice-forward brown falafels.
- Value: 4/5: a single falafel is eighty cents. That’s cheap. But also they’re small. So it’s only mostly cheap.
We liked Falafel Arax–it had a nice neighborhood feel, and the cook and cashier were both friendly and conversational, and locals kept pouring in and speaking languages we didn’t understand (Armenian, we think). Was it amazing? No. It was falafel.
So our final thoughts are pretty predictable … mainly that we don’t very much love falafel. (Will we be making/have we made our own? Yes and yes. We have realized that Tarazi falafel mix is much tastier and easier than homemade. Plus we can doctor it as we see fit: lazy *and* fussy.)
But should you find yourself driving across Southern California … and suddenly you feel peckish … and for some reason the only thing that will satisfy you is falafel … well, here are our recommendations:
#5: Saca’s (Pomona Valley area): Saca’s is like falafel: totally fine!
#4: Falafel Arax (Hollywood area): see above, but basically, if you want falafel, go to a falafel place. While Dune might be “better” overall, Falafel Arax has you falafel covered.
#3: Father Nature Lavash Bistro (Pasadena area): because they also use Tarazi falafel mix, we’re pretty sure, and it’s really good!
#2: Ammatoli (Long Beach area): Ammatoli is lights out–easiest the best single restaurant we ate at for FalafelQuest©. The food is Levant, fresh, intentional, fussily made but easily eaten. A fantastic restaurant that we wish were much closer.
#1: Kareem’s Falafel (Anaheim/Little Arabia): Kareem’s is dedicated to falafel so much that it’s A) in their name and B) they sell their own mix that you can buy (sold out for now) and C) they sell a falafel burger (!) and D) the location, in a nondescript strip-mall, suddenly opens into a lovely shaded courtyard, making you feel like you’ve discovered something very few others know about and E) most importantly, they’ve invented and sell falapeno’s, beautiful crisp falafel nuggets studded with pieces of pickled jalapeno.
And that was the best falafel we ate this summer. And now we are done.
(Next up: yeah, we’re going back to tacos. The real quest that was always there, waiting for us to return. It’s not a summer thing, we don’t think–more a life thing.
Oh, also, we meant to ask: What about you? What’s your quest?)