Flatiron Lunch: Rainbow is More Than Just Falafel…Shawafel!

Every Friday we go south of the ML boundaries in search of a delicious lunch. Sometimes it’s Murray Hill south or the Flatiron District, sometimes Gramercy and everything in between- but we just like to call it Flatiron Lunch.

If you have spent any time lunching in Union Square or if you have been keeping up with “The Best of New York/Cheap Eats” (Falafel Edition), you probably know about Rainbow, and you have probably already tried their falafel. The large number of press clippings taped in the door are a clear indication that they are well known for it. But I encourage you to take a second look, as they have an even more brilliant item lurking on their menu…Shawafel!

When you arrive at Rainbow, don’t be surprised that it is more than an archway. The space feels like a 5 ft box, plus or minus a foot. So grab menu from the counter on the left or read the menu on door to decide what you want before going in (shawafel!). When my friend and I arrived, no one was on line in front of us. By the time we finished ordering (granted we took a while because we hadn’t pre-decided), 3 other customers were in the space and there was almost no place to stand. But with 4 people (4 people!!!) behind the counter, orders move very quickly. The counter is covered with glass and contains almost everything the serve at Rainbow, so it makes for great window browsing even if you have already ordered. They somehow manage to pull together an impressive number of meals very quickly with each other and the food on top of each other. (I think the fact that they use the doorway as storage helps.)

As someone who always looks for the combo with the most items included (what can I say, I like almost everything and I want to try it all), the shawafel, with chicken shawarma and falafel seemed like a no brainer to me. The shawafel sandwich comes in at $6.75, the most expensive, yet the most worthwhile sandwich on the menu. When I ordered my sandwich, they asked me if I wanted “everything”. Even though I said “yes” to “everything”, they checked again to see if I wanted onions and hot sauce, which is very courteous if you think about it. Either way, I wish I had asked for extra hot sauce. (A common problem for me.) As far as I can tell, “everything” includes lettuce, cabbage, tahini, tomatoes, onions, tabouli salad and hot sauce. The chicken shawarma was very tender and had a nice tart undertone (it must be the “special spices” they advertise on the menu.) The sandwich as a whole was overflowing, and I would estimate just under a cup of chicken in the sandwich (but really, it was a hard thing to judge since I was scarfing down my sandwich.) I counted at least 2 falafel, but it is possible that an extra was hiding in my sandwich. They broke up the falafels in the sandwich so they were more evenly distributed and easier to eat. The only part I didn’t like about the sandwich was the tomatoes. They were hard, mealy and flavorless. I wonder if they will improve as tomato season approaches. My friend was smart enough to ask for her meal without them.

Only the vegetarian platters are under $10, so if you feel like you need meat for lunch, you will have to go with a sandwich. If meat on falafel is not your thing (it should be!), the falafel platter is an excellent standby at $8.50. Since the fried cauliflower looked so good, for only a $1.50 extra, my friend add it to her platter. We counted 5 falafels – not great, but not bad considering all of the other tasty stuff it came with – hummus, lettuce, cabbage, onions, olives, pepper (pickled), hot sauce, tahini, lemon juice, and vinegar. The crispy lettuce, carrots and cabbage did a good job of providing a textural and taste balance for the meal, especially the fried falafel and cauliflower. The falafel were flavorful, crispy, large and not dry! We found the hummus was fairly dense and tasted like it was prepared with extra tahini. We both thought it was very good, but that style might not be for anyone. The platter comes with the option of regular or whole wheat pita. Since it was given to us in the original packaging, I can tell you they use Damascus brand pitas. There was one item on the menu that made my eyebrow raise. They have a hummus platter, but since the platter already comes with hummus, I guess that just means hummus with your hummus.

With my sandwich was coming in at $6.75, how could I not get the large spinach and feta pie for $3.50? When they asked if I wanted heated up, I said yes. But then they microwaved it, and since microwaves and fillo dough are enemies, I wish I hadn’t said yes. If you have a toaster oven back at office, do that instead. The large is about 4 inches by 2.5 inches, and the small is probably 2.5 inches by 2.5 inches. The photo does it no justice, but the pie was delicious and the spinach had a nice earthy flavor. Between the pies that are baked daily and all the desserts, you have many options to pair together with your shawafel at Rainbow.

The + (What somebody who likes this place would say)

  • Shawafel! And it tastes even better than it sounds!
  • Amazing falafel – it reminds me of my trip to Isreal/Egypt/Lebanon/etc.
  • I can’t wait to try my way through the pies and desserts.

The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)

  • My local street meet has better meat and better falafel.
  • Why aren’t the meat plates under $10?
  • They have too many choices and the ordering is overwhelming.

Rainbow Falafel & Shawarma, 26A East 17th Street btw Broadway and 5th Ave, (212) 691-8641


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