Flatiron Lunch: Ilili Box Offers Falafel Sandwiches and Beyond

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.

You might have noticed that Ilili is missing from Mad. Sq. Eats this fall. Thankfully, this doesn’t mean that you have to spend $25 for a 2-course lunch at the restaurant up Fifth Avenue. Instead, Ilili has opened Ilili Box (subtitle: Mediterranean takeaway), a shipping container converted into a take-out window located in the Flatiron public plaza diagonally south from Mad. Sq. Eats.

Since I have seen no indication of how permanent or the time-frame for this pop-up, I made the executive decision to skip the first look and start eating.

On a recent beautiful, sunny, gorgeous day, people were happily sitting around bistro tables and on stools, standing or leaning at the counter top surrounding the shipping container, all while munching on sandwiches and fries.

The line was about 10 people long when I walked up, and with only one register, it took a couple minutes to place my order. It also took about 10 minutes for my food to come out, so I would advise a little extra time to get your food. On the other hand, the line had one person when I was getting ready to leave, so I am sure the process would have been much faster if I arrived then.

Anyone who knows me well could have guessed that I ordered the mexican falafel sandwich. And let’s not pretend that I wasn’t tempted by the falafel Korean sandwich, because I was. And it was a struggle to not buy the $12 lamb shoulder sandwich. I’m sure it is delicious, but I try really hard to respect the $10 limit (in part to avoid the readers that would complain about it.)

It is not just you, I also noticed that the font on the menu was tiny. I took this photo to help, but I recommend they reprint their signage to make sure people in line can read their options. In the meantime, you can visit the website here.

Once my Mexican sandwich was ready, I planned to take a photo in the sun before heading back to office, but it was entirely too good to stop eating. I downed the whole sandwich in a couple of minutes. I guess that was one way to make up for the wait while my food was prepared.

I wasn’t sure how all the ingredients would come together, but after I tried it, I wouldn’t have changed a thing other than to cut the full cilantro stems. They made the sandwich a little difficult to break off into chewable amounts, and I ended up having to carefully “cut” the stems with my front teeth on most bites.

The falafel was hot and crispy, the jalapeños burned my mouth a little, the capers and olives added salty explosions and the garlic whip kept it from being dry. Why would anyone use normal mayo when they could use garlic whip? Should we start selling this by the jar in stores? Toum by the jar. Boom…million dollar idea. You’re welcome.

Ilili Box also has two manoushe (pita) options on the menu. One is “special” with zaatar, olive, mint, labne, cucumber and tomato ($8). It is made fresh daily and there are limited quantities, so, unfortunately, they were sold out when I ordered (although, suspiciously, they had it about 20 minutes later after I got my food. Perhaps a batch was delivered from the restaurant up Fifth Ave.)

Instead, I ordered a manoushe bil jibne ($8), a Lebanese cheese bread. It had that incredible fresh baked bread smell that sometimes wafts out of pizzerias or bakeries. In my opinion, it was delicious for a piece of cheese bread, but is that going to be a full lunch? Probably not. I would be interested in an addition to the menu featuring lamb shoulder shawarma wrapped in the manoushe bil jibne. Over the top? Maybe. Maybe not. But I would be willing to spend more than $10 for it.

THE + (What people who like this place will say)

  • Fusion falafel sandwiches done right.
  • Garlic whip on everything, please!
  • The lamb shoulder shawarma sandwich is very tempting even at $12.

THE – (What people who don’t like this place will say)

  • Does Ilili not respect Mediterranean food enough to fill a menu with it? What is up with the random Korean and Mexican sandwiches?
  • The best falafel comes from halal carts. Fact.
  • Is there a point to full cilantro stems that I am missing?

Ilili Box , Shipping container in pedestrian area between Fifth and Broadway and 23rd and 24th Streets, (646) 771-4090

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