Food Face-Off: Falafel

Photos by Hagop KalaidjianAn oldie, and a great one at that, the falafel is a Middle Eastern/African treat of debated origin, It would seem they originated in Egypt, where they were made mostly of fava beans. The world is now more familiar with the chickpea version popularized, probably, in Lebanon and Palestine. But whatever goes inside them, they're always deep-fried, making them an excellent comfort food. We went to two of the most beloved falafel purveyors in L.A. to find the very best in ancient snack foods.

Falafel #1: Falafel Arax is in the same East Hollywood strip mall as Spicy BBQ, a Thai restaurant beloved by foodists, and it's often overlooked as a food destination in its own right. We can't tell if the falafel are made to order here, but we can tell that they are little grease bombs -- and we mean that in the very best way. The flavors aren't as pronounced in Arax's falafel as they might be elsewhere, but this really is comfort food defined, with good crunch that also manages (because of the grease) to be melt-in-the-mouth good. The diminutive falafel wraps are great, too.

Falafel #2: Amir's Falafel in Studio City is a very low-key little restaurant with counter service; the type of place where you might not expect much pride of product. But, the falafel here are cooked to order, which means you'll never have to suffer through falafel that have been sitting under a heat lamp and drying out for hours. These are fancied up with sesame seeds -- I'm not sure it adds much to the flavor, but it is a thoughtful touch. They're not too greasy, but won't give you drymouth, either, and the flavor seems just about perfect. The bean balls can be ordered a la carte, in a wrap, or on a plate with five sides. We recommend the third option, as the sauces and salads are quite delicious and fresh-tasting here.

The Final Verdict: This one goes to Amir's Falafel! Though Arax's version is pretty great in its own simple way, we have to hand it to the freshness at Amir's. For something deep-fried, they actually taste -- and feel -- pretty healthy.

Amir's Falafel
11711 Ventura Blvd., Studio City
818-509-8641

Falafel Arax
5101 Santa Monica Blvd.
323-663-9687

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About the Author

Katherine's role as the Living editor at KCET.org keeps her running from farms to markets to restaurants to pop-up swaps all over SoCal. She's been living in and writing about this area for over a decade.
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