8 Of LA's Most Fabulous Falafels
Tell your friends you're craving falafel and you'll probably get a shrug. Not that people actively dislike the crusty brown orbs, but they are about as far from a feast for the eyes as you can get, especially lined up next to glistening shish kabobs kissed by flame, crisp bits of shawarma sliced straight from a spit or lule logs oozing with rivulets of rendered fat. That doesn't mean falafel is bad, just underappreciated.
Originating in the Middle East — probably Egypt although no one knows for sure — "falafel is as contentious as the region itself," History Today says. While multiple cultures claim invention or ownership of the spiced chickpea fritter, falafel's popularity has spread far beyond its likely geographic origins. Crunchy on the outside, moist and fluffy on the inside, it's become a ubiquitous street food throughout the Mediterranean, Europe and North Africa, and a popular snack around the world.
In Los Angeles, falafel comes in as many shapes, sizes and colors as the people who sell it. From Van Nuys to downtown L.A., from Glendale to Melrose, here are the best places to find it.
Almost no one in recent memory has done as much to elevate our city's falafel consciousness as the folks behind Dune. When they opened in a sunny, stylish shoebox on Glendale Blvd. in 2015, they flipped falafel from an afterthought to the focus, putting it at the top of the menu. Their falafel is stupendous, perhaps the best around. It's craggy and rough on the outside with a bright green interior like Griffith Park on a rainy spring day, moist but not mushy and bursting with herbs. The stretchy, toasted-to-order flatbreads and immaculate renditions of Israeli-style condiments like zhug, a fiery green chile and parsley-based hot sauce, and amba, a salty pickled mango sauce, make an excellent overall meal. They've powered Dune to mini-chain status, with an additional location in downtown L.A. and, if we're lucky, more to come.
- 3143 Glendale Blvd., Atwater Village. 323-486-7073.
- 199 W. Olympic Blvd., downtown L.A. 213-628-3586.
Joe's Falafel feels out of the way, hiding in the corner of a strip mall on a flyby section of Cahuenga Blvd. near Universal City. It's not quite Hollywood, not quite the Valley. But the falafel, rounded at the bottom with a protruding tip like a deep-fried muffin, is worth the trip from just about anywhere. It doesn't hurt that they bake fantastic lafa and pita to order, make their own harissa and handle loads of large group pickup orders, to the delight of production assistants on both sides of the hill.
- 3535 Cahuenga Blvd., Universal City. 323-512-4447.
B'ivritWe're accustomed to BBQ pop-ups and taco trucks, to sidewalk pho and backyard birria, but it's an unexpected delight to discover vegan Israeli food in a floodlit tent outside a Silver Lake bar. B'ivrit is a one-woman operation with excellent pickled veggies, silky hummus and an intriguing meat-free version of arayes, a stuffed-then-griddled pita pocket that's like an Israeli crunchwrap. But you're here for the falafel, in all three colors -- stained red with paprika and harissa, yellow with turmeric or the classic herbaceous green. When you order a falafel sandwich, you get two of each kind tucked into two split pieces of pita and topped with tahini, finely chopped Israeli salad and cabbage slaw. A hit of spice here and a snap of turmeric there, the contrasting falafel flavors work together to keep each bite interesting. All together, it makes an excellent foil for whatever alcohol you consume.
- Roving pop-up, currently at 4100 Bar in Silver Lake on Sunday nights.
Falafel Arax is an East Hollywood institution and a city-wide legend. It's a simple spot, powered by a steady stream of lunchtime takeout orders, the four tables often occupied by people waiting for containers of falafel or tongue sandwiches. Like the restaurant itself, the falafel is no-frills. Their rough-edged saucers are the same brown, inside and out. Don't let their unrefined appearance fool you. They are perfect. Crisp on the outside and impossibly light inside, like a deep-fried dirigible laced with garlic and cumin, they're a textbook example of simple food prepared with exceptional technique.
- 5101 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 2, East Hollywood. 323-663-9687.
The first thing that hits you when you get an order from Ta-eem is the amount of food you receive. Even if you opt for a pita sandwich, the smallest unit of measure, you receive five pieces of falafel stuffed into an oversized pocket of bread. You'll also get a plate heaped with thick-sliced pickles and a saucer split 50/50 between their forest green zhug and bright red harissa, both housemade. But you don't come to this Israeli street food specialist in the heart of Melrose for quantity alone. The falafel is bright and punchy, a vivid green inside, denser than some but still moist. When you pile on sauces, pickles and vegetables then wrap it in fresh, fluffy pita, it makes an excellent and filling lunch.
- 7422 Melrose Ave., Melrose. 323-944-0013.
Unlike most falafel joints, Open Sesame is a table-service restaurant with a heated patio overlooking busy Beverly Blvd. near the Grove. It's fancier than any other spot on this list, with décor and vibes to match. The falafel is dark, dense and fried hard so its heft runs right up to the border of stodginess, but it is seasoned aggressively enough to make up for the excess weight. These chickpea fritters will crack you across the nose and linger on your palate, in a good way. And the relative poshness of the spot has one crucial advantage -- Open Sesame serves beer. Nothing pairs so well with falafel as a $3.25 happy hour bottle of malty Lebanese lager.
- 7458 Beverly Blvd., Beverly Grove. 323-525-1698.
The place is named for Kobee, the Syrian beef-and-bulgur specialty that comes either fried or grilled, but Kobee Factory also makes a mean falafel. The light brown pucks arrive with a divot in the middle, sprinkled with sesame seeds and lightly fried so the batter forms delicate tendrils around the outside, creating a bird's nest so airy you hardly notice as you inhale a plateful of the toasty brown delicacies. They are earthy and salty, pairing well with the minty tzatziki and smooth hummus.
- 14110 Oxnard St., Van Nuys. 818-909-2593.
Hollywood Falafel Balls
When you walk up to the recently renamed Hollywood Falafel Balls truck for the first time, owner Yaniv Cohen is ready with his line: "You're so lucky, I would pay a million dollars to taste this falafel for the first time again." His falafel, he'll tell you, is unique in Los Angeles because it is done in the style of Haifa, Cohen's hometown. The balls are smaller, lighter and loosely packed, yellow inside and generously spiced with a lingering smack of heat. It's a treat to encounter a hyper-specific take on a familiar food, particularly from a noteworthy street food city. A million dollars is a lot of money but Cohen makes a fantastic bag of falafel.
- 12431 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. 888-495-7747.