Alan’s Falafel is a Worthy Contender in the “Falafel Wars”
This kind of battle, described so eloquently by Rob and Robin in New York Magazine, is one that this otherwise peacenik Lunch’er can definitely get behind.
The other partisan in this fried chickpea conflict is, of course, Sam’s Falafel, which Daniel gave a thumbs up to back in 2008. I would have raved even more about Sam’s food that he did, but as much as I love Sam’s, I had to give the competition a try.
So who has the best falafel in the plaza? Whose fried chickpeas reign supreme? The winner is…
Nope. Sorry. They’re both great. Maybe that makes me a jerk, maybe it’s just a cop-out, but I love both these places. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it like fresh tahini to a crisp falafel.
I’ve been going to Sam’s (real name Yasser) for years, and he has never done me wrong. But in my new capacity, it was my clear responsibility to see what Alan (I neglected to ask if it was his real name or not) had to offer.Here’s the man himself loading my $5 falafel platter up with deliciousness. And boy did he load it up:Clockwise from top right, that’s falafel, hummus, baba ghannouj, a grape leaf, a pepperoncini, fried eggplant (under the grape leaf and pepper), salad (all under the bottom part of the box), tahini, and a piece of fried pita. And of course, there’s hot sauce on the whole lot of it.
I love fried pita, and one of the best part’s of eating at Sam’s is the basket of it he puts out for people in line to snack on. There’s no such basket at Alan’s, and that’s probably the biggest factor in Sam’s favor. How about it Alan, can we get some snacks up in this line?
There are eight falafel balls visible here, and I think there was a ninth under the pile. It’s definitely enough for even the hungriest luncher. I think Sam’s may occasionally throw in a ball or two more, but since this was my first visit to Alan’s, I can’t say that you don’t occasionally get a little more here too. Either way, this is a great portion for $5.
The falafel are excellent: Crisp outside, moist inside, flavorful and well seasoned. There’s nothing worse that a dry falafel, and that’s definitely not a problem here. Definitely a top-notch fried ball o’ chickpeas.
The tahini is good, and the hot sauce is great. Good and spicy, but not so purely hot that it doesn’t have a nice flavor of its own.
The hummus is only ok, but so is Sam’s. I think the baba ghannouj is the place where Alan’s one-ups Sam’s: The baba I got was creamy and smoky, delicious on the falafel or by itself. I’m a huge baba ghannouj fan, so this is definitely a plus, and I may ask for more instead of hummus next time.
The pepperoncini and the grape leaf were a pepperoncini and a grape leaf. I’m sure that they come from the same jars from the same food suppliers that Sam’s do. I enjoyed them both, but they’re nothing remarkable.
Just to their left, though, is a piece of pickled cauliflower, which I thought was a nice touch. Though there was just the one piece on my platter, it was a nice contrast to the richness, creaminess, and heat of the rest of the food.
The pita I got at Alan’s seemed bigger and sturdier that the ones I get from Sam’s. I definitely don’t base my falafel-buying decisions on this, but it’s definitely handy if you like to make a sandwich out of your platter.
I saved the worst for last, and I’m not just talking about my photography. The salad that came on my platter was really a pitiful affair with yellow lettuce, raw white onion, and unripe tomatoes. Blech. I got more salad at Alan’s than I do at Sam’s, but I had no interest in eating it. In fairness, I think Sam’s falafel may give you so little that I just never noticed how bad it was, so there’s no real loss here. And besides, I may also have just gotten a particularly undelicious portion. It may be fresher on other days, particularly days that aren’t in winter.
So as I said above, the verdict is indecisive. I think I’ll just start alternating between the two for all my falafel needs, which, as it happens, are copious.
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- A lot of excellent falafel for a good price.
- Good fixin’s and great hot sauce.
- Particularly good baba ghannouj.
- A solid pita that’ll hold up when stuffed with falafely goodness.
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- I can’t wait in a line unless there’s snacks.
- The salad is gross, and having a lot of it doesn’t do anything to help that.
- Sam’s my uncle.
Alan’s Falafel, Cart in front of 140 Broadway, between Liberty St. & Cedar St.