The tin-foil-wrapped cornucopia at Hazar.
Photo: Jody Wissner
Falafel varies as much from Cairo’s streets to Beirut’s squares as do the local dialects. Here, those regional variations are kept intact. Many of the best — but not all — falafels in the city are endemic to their immigrant neighborhoods. So the Lebanese, Syrians, and Turks of Bay Ridge are well served, as are the Cairenes and Maghrebians in Astoria.
The Absolute Best
1. Hazar Turkish Kabab
7224 Fifth Ave., nr. 73rd St., Bay Ridge; 718-238-4040
The yeasty scent of pita baking in the pizza oven is strong. The service is gruff, waiters beefy, and the Turkish pop songs loud and melodious. All augur well for Hazar’s falafel. When it arrives, nestled in a fresh pita so stuffed with salad and marinated red cabbage it looks like a tin-foil-wrapped cornucopia, the falafel doesn’t disappoint. The crunchy carapace is unusually swarthy, but the bright-green chickpea within surprisingly moist. Mint, celery, and parsley stud the dough, which gives a fresh herbal bounce. A hidden application of tahini and hummus on the pita’s inside wall adds moisture, and a small glass of very sweet tea serves as the ideal traditional end.
2. King Falafel
7408 Third Ave., nr. 74th St., Bay Ridge; 718-745-4188
There is both internal equilibrium in the falafel at this Lebanese restaurant as well as external. As is typical for the Lebanese version, this falafel comes in a wrap rather than a pita. It is stuffed not only with the familiar and anodyne salads and tomatoes of the world, but crisp and acidic pickled radishes and turnips. The house hot sauce is hot, truly, but cooled by the yogurt, drizzled on like a salve.
3. Kabab Cafe
25-12 Steinway St., nr. 25th Ave., Astoria; 718-728-9858
The magic of the falafel plate at this small, bizarre, and winning restaurant in Astoria is twofold. First is the ball itself, made Egyptian style, which is to say with fava rather than chickpeas. They are small and weirdly shaped, fried on a hot plate, and burst lightly after an initial crunch. The second is that chef Ali El Sayed produces them at all. One hardly notices his mise en place — the flash-frying of herbs; the cutting of pears, which accompany the platter; the scooping of his herb-studded fava dough — amid the décor and his declamations.
4. King of Falafel & Shawarma
3015 Broadway, at 31st St., Astoria; 718-340-8068
A nod to his beginning as a food-truck savant, Fares Zeideia has installed a faux truck grill at his new Astoria storefront. Inside the colors are bright red, green, and black, in honor, perhaps, of his home country, Palestine. Near the window, two shawarmas rotate on their spits, and a deep-fryer crackles like a radio on the fritz. Zeideia’s falafel are cylindrical like deep-fried quenelles, and the herbs inside — coriander, parsley, anise, and a few other nominally secret ones — bring a freshness to the chickpea. This serves as the base note for a complex harmony of vinegary pickles, pickled turnips, hot sauce, tahini, and sumac.
487 Amsterdam Ave., nr. 84th St.;212-595-5050
Chef Jose Paulo Cortes, who succeeded taboon-whisperer Efi Nahon at this bougie Upper West Side restaurant, has perfected Israeli falafel. The chickpea balls, like small shorn Kooshes, are gussied up with pickled mango and zhoug, a very spicy, fragrant green-chile sauce from Yemen.