Falafel has its roots in the Middle East, but it makes a perfect New York City street food. The fried chickpea dish—often served in a pita with such accoutrements as tahini, salad, hummus and hot sauce—is cheap, fast, filling and suitable for vegetarians. Nedal Chater, who helps run the legendary Mamoun's, believes the dish's appeal lies in its speedy preparation and affordability. “It's cheap—that's the draw,” fala-sophizes the son of founder Mamoun. “And then it tastes good.” He adds, “We know that people don't like to wait. I hate when I go into a restaurant and [employees] are socializing. No! We hustle in our store.” It's true—falafel purveyors are famous for their swiftness.
For those who'd like to taste what the fuss is about, we've taken the liberty of listing a few fantastic falafel traffickers, arranged by price from fal-awfully cheap to merely economical.
Greenwich Village and East Village, Manhattan
Price of falafel sandwich: $3
The original Greenwich Village location has been cranking out fast, cheap, crispy falafel sandwiches for 40 years, and it's open till 5am. There's not much room to sit in the cramped little storefront, but you're supposed to eat these while wandering MacDougal Street, anyway.
King of Falafel & Shawarma
Price of falafel sandwich: $4
If this beloved street vendor's name suggests a lack of humility, the world's not doing anything to resist his bombast—the King won a 2010 Vendy for his efforts. His sandwiches, which are stuffed with ovoid falafel balls and a salad including pickles and pickled turnips, back up the boasting.
East Village, West Village and Upper West Side, Manhattan
Price of falafel appetizer: $4.50
The service is quick and efficient, the hummus features nice frills like a drizzle of olive oil and some garbanzo beans set in the middle, and the tea is refreshing. As one regular sums it up, this attention to detail shows that “they care,” and that goes a long way. The falafel, however, comes only as an appetizer; there's no sandwich available.
Rainbow Falafel & Shawarma
Union Square, Manhattan
Price of falafel sandwich: $4.50
This tiny Union Square storefront specializes in minuscule prices, moist falafel and fleet service. It's a dependable no-frills lunch option; and if you're in the mood for dessert, another three bucks buys baklava.
Price of falafel sandwich: $4.61
“Hoomoos” is right there in the name, so of course the falafel sandwich includes a healthy dollop of the stuff; two chickpea-based foods, living in perfect accord. The assorted appetizers are also worth trying; we're big fans of the carrot salad and the Israeli salad.
Price of falafel sandwich: $5.25
The self-serve salad bar at this chain falafel joint practically dares you to stuff way too many toppings into one pita. Pile on as many carrots, beets, broccoli and olives as you can manage without spilling any on the way out.
Bay Ridge, Brooklyn
Price of falafel sandwich: $5.44
Rawia Bishara serves top-notch falafel, to be sure, but the salads and other dishes really make this a place worth going out of your way for. We're especially fond of the fattoush (a Middle Eastern salad that includes parsley, mint, sumac and pieces of pita). For dessert, try the knafeh, the phyllo dough layers of which are dusted with pistachios and stuffed with two kinds of sweet cheese; it's substantial, so you may want to share.
Financial District, Manhattan
Price of falafel sandwich: $5.75
This is a go-to lunch spot for the Wall Street folks and government employees who work in the neighborhood. It's on countless publications' “best-of” lists and has abundant seating to accommodate the big weekday-afternoon crowds who come for crispy falafel balls stuffed into pitas that are on the thinner side.
West Village, NoLITa and roving food truck (seasonal), Manhattan
Price of falafel sandwich: $6.25
Taïm's falafel comes in three flavors. In addition to the traditional (with parsley, cilantro and mint), it proffers versions with roasted red pepper and Tunisian spices. Whichever flavor you choose, wash it down with one of the refreshing signature smoothies; we favor the date-lime-banana combination.
Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan
Price of falafel sandwich: $7.25
The sandwiches here are jammed with crispy falafel balls and vinegary pickled vegetables. It's a hole in the wall, but owner Ezra Cohen (who's helpful, but not effusive) assembles the sandwiches with precision—strategically distributing falafel and fixings so you'll get a little of everything in each bite.