Tag Archives: falafel

Shaya – Amazing Israeli food in New Orleans

We always love to get Cajun and Creole food when we are in New Orleans, but we are also impressed at how much international cuisine and fine dining is present in the city. On our latest trip, we were excited to learn about James Beard-winning chef Alon Shaya’s eponymous modern Israeli restaurant in the Garden District, Shaya (4213 Magazine Street, New Orleans, LA).


The key feature of Shaya is the impressive wood-burning stove in the corner of the bright, airy restaurant. The stove was running at full tilt during lunch, and it was fun to watch the pita being pulled out of the oven and being brought right to the table. The menu at Shaya is vegetable-focused and that shines through the menu. For lunch one of the most popular items is the salatim – where you select from a variety of small plates to share (3 for $15 or 5 for $23). Salatim means “salad” and refers to the assortment of cold dishes that serve as a kind of appetizer for Israeli meals.


We were really excited to sample some salatim that we had never heard of: Ikra (whipped cream cheese, caviar and shallots), Lutenitsa (roasted pepper, eggplant, garlic and tomato) and the more familiar Labneh (yogurt with peppers and radishes) and Tabouleh (parsley and bulgar salad). Each of the salatim had a unique flavor profile, and we loved the lush, creamy flavors of the Labneh and Ikra, and the piquant peppers of the Lutenitsa (also popular in Balkan and Eastern European cuisines).


We had also heard great things about Shaya’s hummus, which comes in varieties from plain tahini ($9) to more exotic takes with curry, eggplant, or lamb ragu. We selected a variety with asparagus and crispy shallots, which was perfect for early spring. The hummus was creamy and rich and we absolutely could not get enough of the pita, which we sopped up every morsel of hummus with. Fortunately, you can get as many pita refills as you want.


Beyond the salatim there were soup and salads (including matzoh ball soup and a fresh cucumber salad), small plates (ranging from halloumi cheese to the ubiquitous avocado toast), and sandwiches like the classic Israeli staple, the sabich. For the rest of our lunch we selected L’s favorite: falafel ($12) and the lamb kofte ($15) along with the roasted Brussels sprouts. The kofte was shaped into more of a patty, and was topped with tomato jam, herbs, tahini, and served over a bed of white beans. It was like the best kebab you ever had and a burger had a baby, with a sprinkling of spice. The falafel was our favorite variety, crispy and bright green from the high herb content, and they were each clearly fried to order.


The grand finale was the chocolate Babka cake, served in a small cast-iron skillet. We are huge fans of babka, a sweet brioche loaf marbled with chocolate, and Shaya’s version was divine – and drenched in a caramel sauce (there now appears to be a cinnamon variety on the menu). Shaya reminded us a lot of Zahav restaurant in Philadelphia, another modern Israeli powerhouse, which is a good thing. However, the fresh pita really sent Shaya over the top. This place is the real deal! Alon Shaya is opening up 2 more restaurants, and we can’t wait to see what else he has in store.


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Falafel’s many flavors

A single word may have many meanings, and that is especially true when it comes to food! To me, the word “falafel” conjures up an image of fried chickpea croquette; but the flavors, shapes and contents of the simple falafel may vary widely by country. Community Radio of Northern Colorado has a very interesting piece about what falafel is to a variety of cultures in the Bay Area, from Sudanese to Israeli.

Palestinian falafel from the former Chickpea Restaurant in Chicago

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Sultan’s Market, fast and fresh in Lincoln Park

Sultan’s Market
2521 N Clark
Chicago, IL

jordanWe recently came upon yet another ranking of Chicago’s top falafel spots, and this time Sultan’s Market came out on top. Why had we still not been there? So many friends raved about it, so we finally made the decision to go, trekking down to Sultan’s Market hoping for falafel paradise. The space is super tiny, with just a few tables a food counter and a salad bar. You order at the counter where your sandwich was prepared for you with freshly fried falafel and shewarma from the spit. The food is super quick and you pay after you eat (I guess they assume you are pretty honest!). There is shiny golden tin on the walls and ceiling which adds a cool ambiance, amplified by a few colorful glass lamps.
The value-ratio at Sultan’s Market simply cannot be beat. Matt ordered a lamb shawerma dinner ($7.00), expecting a light meal. He got a big plate of marintaed, spiced lamb, accompanied with pita, hummus, cucumber salad, and a *small* lentil soup ($2.00, which, as you can see from the photo below, was by no means small). Meanwhile, Lindsay ordered a falafel sandwich ($3.75) and another small lentil soup. Total bill was less than $20 for two people, and we had way more food than we needed – we ended up taking about half of the food home for lunch later. Everything was very good, especially on the falafel front. Lindsay enjoyed hers, very delicious, fresh, and it comes in regular or spicy versions. It also has the characteristic green tint, provided by fresh herbs, that we appreciate.
Sultan's Market
One brilliant aspect of their business model is how they seamlessly integrate self-service into a sit-down restaurant concept. Everything seems made-to-order, but they have a salad bar There is also a salad bar where you can fill up a container with tabbouleh, baba ghanouj and other Middle Eastern favorites (oh, and salads…), as well as mounds of take-home containers for those who inevitably cannot finish their meals. Keeps costs down and portions big! We are totally smitten with Sultan’s Market, and will certainly be back. The menu at Sultan’s Market is so cheap, it is just a bonus that it is so good!

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The Best Falafel in Chicago

You know we love rankings – and here’s a new list for one food that we will never turn down – falafel! Chicago Magazine has a new list of the top falafel places in Chicago. We are happy that one of our picks for falafel in the city came out on top: Falafill! Here is a review from our visit to Falafill (and their fabulous topping bar).


A falafel sandwich from Falafill

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A New Place for Falafel: Falafill

Various Locations in Chicago, IL

The Eaters – especially L – are pretty particular about falafel. It’s no exaggeration to say we make a point to try falafel in pretty much every city we go to. In all our travels, a few places stand out above the rest. Pita Inn in Skokie has some of our favorite falafel in Chicagoland; while the expanding fast-food joint Maoz remains our all-time favorite, owing to their great falafel and toppings. Maoz’ Philadelphia location remains the standard by which L judges all other falafel, a shining beacon of perfection on the Delaware River, never to be equaled….Until today.

We like the logo!

Falafill, a brand-new falafel lunch spot in the Loop, may have perhaps the best topping bar we have ever encountered, and while its falafels may not be as good as Maoz, the topping bar and the excellence of the falafel otherwise may actually put this place over the top in L’s rankings. Falafill starts out appealingly, with a sleek and appealing dining area decorated with falafel witticisms perfectly suited to the Facebook generation. On the food side, the simple menu is complemented by an impressively wide range of sodas and juices: M got a mango yogurt drink , while our old salty yogurt favorite Ayran was also available. The menu is simple. Pick your falafel (classic, curried, or seasonal – all with fries)  in a pocket or a bowl ($5.95/$7.95). The seasonal falafel when we visited was white bean, and we heard from our dining companions that it was out of this world. L opted for some classic falafel and M for the curried, and a side of some sweet potato fries ($2.95).

The toppings bar at Falafill. Amazing.

Both falafels, curried and classic, were cooked to order, and perfectly spiced.  L’s classic had the hallmark appealing green color that means there ‘s fresh parsely and cilantro inside. Yum! The fries were also tasty and crisp, not soggy like many other sweet potato fries. Yet what REALLY sets Falafill apart is the Mezza bar, where you can select all the toppings you want for your falafel. As expected, the salad bar contained hummus, baba ghanouj, lentils, tatziki, harissa tabbouleh, all middle eastern standards we love. In addition, we were really excited to see some awesome new flavors at the bar, including cracked wheat with pomegranate, beets, toum (garlic sauce), zough (jalapeno sauce) black bean and corn salad, and cabbage and mint. Each order of falafel includes a trip to the salad bar, and there is no limit to how many toppings you can add. For those who are obsessed, you can order simply a bowl ready to fill with mezza toppings ($6.95). All in all, for under 8 dollars you can create an out-of-this-world falafel experience with a wide variety of contrasting flavors that will have you full for days. Falafill is now one of our go-to Loop lunch spots, and like L has sacrilegiously stated: if not her favorite falafel place in the United States, it is definitely giving Maoz a run for its money.

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Israeli Falafel in Paris: L’As Du Fallafel

L’As du Fallafel
34 Rue des Rosiers
75004 Paris

One of the few repeat destinations we visited on this small trip to Paris was L’As du Fallafel. We remember being impressed with the falafel four years ago, so we were excited when our friends that lived in Paris suggested we visit there again. As you might guess, the specialties at L’As du Fallafel are falafel, shewarma and the like. Approaching the restaurant you know it must be good, because even at an odd time like 3 PM – it was completely full, with a line for both take-out and restaurant service. One famous celebrity fan is Lenny Kravitz – a fact of which the owners are very proud – and there are photos and quotes of Lenny Kravitz plastered over nearly every wall and also on the outside of the restaurant. You can see evidence of the popularity below, a huge line to get in, even at 3PM (note also the Wikipedia article).

However, the line is not for nothing, L’As really delivers. The specific type of falafel at L’As is Israeli, which happens to be one of our favorite types, and one we have tried extensively on all of our travels and back in Chicago. Each falafel sandwich (€7.50) came with grilled eggplant (delicious), cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers, and was doused in tahini sauce. As you can see below – this was no paltry sandwich. Though we had to wait for over ½ hour to simply sit in the restaurant – our food came out lightening-quick. The falafel were fresh and perfectly spiced, and arrived piping hot. We can’t imagine how many falafel they turn out in a week – at least several thousand, we’d bet. The crispy fries were nothing to scoff at either and the chicken shewarma (€9.50) was freshly carved off of the spit. We think perhaps that L’As du Falafel has grown in popularity since we were there last- we do not remember nearly as big of a crowd – maybe it is all of the Lenny Kravitz fans swamping the place? If you are craving some good, relatively cheap falafel in Paris, this place is certainly your best bet.

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Palestinian falafel in Chicago: Chickpea [closed]

2018 W Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL

It’s not often that you enter a restaurant to find a wall entirely covered with Arabic versions of 1980s film posters. But, as you can see below, that’s exactly what you see when you walk into Chickpea, a cool Lebanese eatery in Ukrainian Village. Tucked into the corner is a pinball machine and colorful glass lanterns hang from the ornate tin ceiling. It’s a pretty cool space, and somehow manages to retain a vintage feel – even with airbrushed posters of Bruce Willis looming large.


At Chickpea, you place your order at the counter, and grab a number. A cooler of international sodas like Vimta are available in a fridge next to the counter. The wait time was very quick, perhaps sped along by a few games of pinball. We started out with an order of Koosa ma Laban ($4), a dip made of yogurt, zucchini and mint. It came to the table with a basket of pita, which we utilized for dipping into the rest of our main courses. The Koosa ma Laban reminded us of the more familiar Indian dish raita, but with a chunkier texture. We gobbled up the dip, and it bears noting that we were particularly smitten with the plate it came on – an orange Moroccan-inspired plate from CB2.


Back to the food…for an entree, L ordered the Falafel platter ($6). It came out on a bed of hummus, spiced with green chili sauce and cumin. They were not kidding by calling that green sauce ‘spicy’ – it was hot (hot enough for fire-breather M, even). For his entree, M ordered the Saturday special of the Palestinian national dish, Mussakhkhan ($12). Mussakhkhan is chicken roasted with sumac and pine nuts, served on a round of flatbread. We haven’t seen Mussakhkhan at any other middle eastern restaurants in town so it was a treat to try. It came loaded with perfectly caramelized onions that M especially liked. Chickpea really impressed us. It was quick cheap and tasty, and with free pinball. Whenever were in Ukrainian Village we will certainly be hitting this place up for some Nosh.cpint

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Our Favorite Place for Middle Eastern in the Chicago Suburbs: Pita Inn

turkey.png Pita Inn
New Location: 4700 Dempster St.
Skokie , IL

If you see that a restaurant is packed full at 3 PM on Sunday, you know it’s probably pretty decent. In the case of Pita Inn, It was more than decent. Talk about bang for your buck! From the outside, the Pita Inn just looks like a typical fast food operation. Same on the inside – there is a counter where you place your order and get a number. One word: Amazing. The menu features a variety of pitas and platters: Chicken and Beef Shewarma, Kifta, Beef and Chicken Kabobs and Falafel sandwiches. There are also all of the classic appetizers: Hummus, Baba Ghanouj, Tabouleh and Dolmeh.

Our table ordered 2 falafel sandwiches and 1 each of the chicken and beef shewarma pitas. Each sandwich came in a chewy, obviously-fresh pita at the bargain price of less than $4.50 each. The shewarma sandwiches were tasty and well-seasoned. However, the stars of the show were the falafel. These are some serious falafel – good texture, crispy outside, even better drenched with tahini. Yum!

The best part, however, was the fact that the Pita Inn factory was located in a strip mall that shared a parking lot with the restaurant. There was a little window that connected the pita factory to a Middle-Eastern grocery store by a pass-through window. You could buy bags of fresh pitas in the grocery store for less than 4 bucks to take home. Here’s our fresh-out-of-the-oven purchase. As you can see, the bag is full of steam! These pitas were absolutely delicious. Pita Inn doesn’t have a Zagat rating of 24 for nothing.

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[Philly Trip] Netherlands 1: Maoz

Netherlands flagMaoz
1115 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA

This post about my favorite Amsterdam-based falafel chain has been a long time coming. I [L] first ate at Maoz several years ago in Philadelphia, at the time their only US location (2nd and South Street). I introduced M to the original Philly Maoz, if I recall, after we saw a late-night showing of Brokeback Mountain. My travels have since taken me to the Maoz in Paris, and all three Maoz in Barcelona. The Paris Maoz, pictured at right, was by far the worst Maoz of the bunch. The fries were soggy beyond belief. Maoz’ delicious Belgian fries are half the draw, so that ruined it for me, though eating our takeout at the Square du Vert-Galant helped fix everything. The three Barcelona Maoz, all located in the Barri Gotic were excellent, and I assume, owned by the same people. However, the Philly Maoz holds a special place in my heart, so when I heard there was ANOTHER Maoz open in Philly, I had to go on my next trip.

MaozFirst off, this 2nd Philly store is huge by Maoz standards, usually Maoz are only walk-up counters with maybe a bar stool or two. However, this brand-spanking-new Maoz has a nice big areas of wooden tables and benches. Notably the entire restaurant, tip to toe, was covered in shiny lime green tiles. Beware, epileptics, I’m talking lime green everywhere. You can make out the tiles in this photo my friend Dan snapped of the Philly Maoz (My camera died a horrible sputtering death on this tip to Philadelphia, so all of my photos come from my archives or friends).

Onto the food- your main and only choice is falafel, which Maoz does very well. The primary decision is if you want a whole pita (white or wheat), a half pita or a salad with falafel. I usually order a junior meal ($6.75) which is a half pita with falafel, an order of fries and a soft drink. Maoz falafel is Israeli-style, which apparently means that you then build your sandwich with lots of condiments. At Maoz there is indeed a nice salad bar of fixings, including couscous, eggplant, tomatoes, pickled carrots, spicy peppers and more. At the end of the salad bar are squeeze bottles of assorted sauces, including mango curry, tahini, garlic mayo and tzatziki.

The other attraction are the crispy-delicious, thick-cut Belgian fries, which come in a paper triangle covered in foil. The fries at right are a lovely sample from Barcelona, but the Philly Maoz fries were even better. These are an awesome snack, and are great accompanied with the garlic mayo. An interesting added feature of this new Maoz is fresh-squeezed juice. However, I prefer to get whatever exotic Israeli sodas they have in the cooler.

I would definitely recommend Maoz to falafel lovers, or to French-fry lovers. You will not be disappointed, and your delicious and filling meal will not break the bank. Apparently there is a NYC outpost now, as well. Hopefully they will make it out to Chicago, soon.

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