When Urban Garden first popped up on Fairfax last year I heard mixed things about the fast casual Mediterranean joint from the owner of Mercantile and Delancey. Hosted bloggers seem to like it enough (shocker!), while real customers complained a bit about the price. But the thing I heard the most about was how confusing the menu was. Always up for a dissecting-the-menu challenge I finally got myself over to Fairfax for a good old fashioned falafel and rotisserie chicken face stuffing.
Archive for 'Falafel'
Back in August, when word broke that Hummus Bar & Grill in Tarzana was opening an “express” location on the 3rd Street Promenade, I wondered just how excited Santa Monica should really be. After all, there was no guarantee that some of the best parts of the original (the fresh baked laffa, the all you can eat salads, the french fries in the sandwiches) would be making the journey down the 405. Well, last month Hummus Bar Express opened on 3rd between Arizona and Santa Monica and the answer is a resounding very excited. Santa Monica should be absolutely pickled tink. (See what I did there? Because, you know, there are a lot of pickles in Israeli food… and people say “tickled pink”, so I just took the first letter of… oh nevermind.)
As expected, there is no all you can eat salad option. But there is enough of the original in this express location to immediately make this one of if not THE best lunch option on or around the Promenade.
I don’t know how you feel, but hearing that a place called “Hummus Bar Express” is coming soon to the 3rd Street Promenade does not cause me to automatically celebrate. We are talking about the Promenade after all, home to such wonderful Mediterranean cuisine as Falafel King. And Greek Cuisine Stop N Cafe. I’m not saying the Promenade couldn’t use an excellent Middle Eastern option (only a crazy person would say that!) but I do question what kind of Middle Eastern options the Promenade attracts. Of course once you add the words “from Tarzana” to the end of the Hummus Bar Express, that changes everything. Tarzana? That’s in the Valley. And the Valley has pretty awesome Middle Eastern food. Santa Monica could sure use some of that.
The question is, how excited should we be for Hummus Bar Express? Well that depends on how much of the original Hummus Bar & Grill is going to make it down the 405? They did call it “Express”, which means not everything is going to make the trip. But here’s what we should be hoping for…
It’s been almost two years since I moved from New York to Los Angeles, and I have to say I’m almost at the point where there is nothing I miss about lunching in the Big Apple. Sure, I’d like to have a decent $2 slice available 15 feet from the front door of my house. And I’ve resigned myself to the fact that there will never be a proper plate of chicken and lamb over rice with white sauce and hot sauce in this city- after all if the Guru can’t really find one, nobody can. But beyond that, I can’t think of too much that NYC has for lunch that L.A. doesn’t do at least as well (if not better, if we’re talking ethnic food.) And that’s especially true now that I’ve discovered Ta-eem on Melrose.
Israeli style falafel is everywhere in Midtown Manhattan, and while I finally found an excellent (albeit expensive) version at Habayit in West L.A., there was still one thing missing from L.A.’s falafel repertoire: laffa. And not the generic, store bought bullshit lavash that a lot of places around here try to pass off as laffa (I’m looking at you Pita Bar & Grill!) I’m talking the fresh baked, super fluffy, gigantic discs of bread that when rolled around falafel make a pita pocket look like a tea sandwich. So when a Kosher friend (apparently real Jews can’t eat pig, but they can have lunch with one) told me that a falafel place on Melrose served up real deal laffa, I got excited. Very excited.
There is not much to draw you into Habayit, a small Kosher restaurant tucked into the corner of a small strip mall on Pico near Bundy. Their little rectangle of signage states, simply, “Kosher Restaurant 310-479-7173″; sharing space with other cleverly named establishments like “Coin Laundry” and “Food-Mart”. I’d like to pretend that at some point I would have been lured in by the “FALAFEL” sign with an arrow hung high on a neighboring lightpost, but I was really there because back in May The Find got all gushy about the place- writing about their falafel as if it was the best that ever existed.
Truth be told, I love falafel but I’m not big on falafel platters. For me falafel is meant to be eaten in sandwich form, and I was hoping Habayit would deliver. Because you can have the greatest falafel in the world, and still have your falafel sandwich ruined by dry pita or poor layering.
I had a “tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are” moment the other day. Fresh off my $5 pita sandwich at Shawarma Palace, I got another Pico lunch recommendation from Josh Lurie- the guy behind Food GPS. I ran into him at my new office, and he handed me a menu for Pita Way and pointed out the half and half combo sandwich featuring shawarma and schnitzel. Yup, you read that right. That’s spit roast meats *and* deep fried chicken together at last- a sandwich that he said sounded right up my alley. Translation: “I see you as a fat, disgusting pig.” I would have been offended if I hadn’t been busy thinking “Holy shit, are you joking? Shawarma and schnitzel on the same sandwich!? For under $10? That sounds like one the greatest things of all time. I need to go eat one right now.”
For fancified Israeli falafel, you could do a lot worse than Pita Bar & Grill on Fairfax, and for a cheap, no frills, good if you’re-starving-and-in-college-on-the-west-side falafel, Hungry Pocket is your spot. But what about some authentic Lebanese falafel action? For that, all signs pointed to Falafel Arax in Hollywood, the next stop on my quest to find LA’s best falafel. Situated right next to Spicy BBQ in Thai Town (on Santa Monica and Normandie), my first Falafel Arax recommendation came in the comments courtesy of Lunch’er Katherine, and since then a bunch more people have mentioned that it could be the best falafel in all of L.A. (most agree it’s the best in Hollywood.) Clearly it was time to check it out.