Rainbows long-standing monopoly on Union Square falafel has been challenged with the recent opening of Maoz Vegetarian, the first New York outpost of a chain that launched in Amsterdam in 1991. Maozs cheery green-and-white faade is already a beacon for Euro expats familiar with the signature salad bar, a spotless stainless-steel roughage trough where customers can take their garnishes into their own hands.
An early tasting revealed the falafel balls to be mini-muffin-shaped, with a crispy exterior and fresh, nutty flavor, and the salads varying between humdrum winter tomatoes and pitted olives to pink pickled baby eggplants, herb-dappled couscous, and soft roasted cauliflower. Sandwich variations include the Royal, with hummus and mushy fried eggplant, and an unusually sour-tinged Feta-studded version, but Maoz gets points for offering a choice of pitas (white or whole wheat), sizes (the five-falafel regular and three-falafel Junior), and meal deals that come with Belgian-style fries and a soda. And being able to customize ones own falafel is a major improvement over the alternative a pita packed with too heavy a hand on the tahini sauce. Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld
Maoz Vegetarian, 38 Union Sq. E., nr. 16th St.; 212-260-1988.