Chickpeas, please

A guide to choosing the crispiest, greenest and tastiest felafel.

Moshiko felafel 521 (photo credit: Courtesy Moshiko felafel)
Moshiko felafel 521
(photo credit: Courtesy Moshiko felafel)
If there is any food that could qualify as a national one, felafel comes pretty close. Dozens of stands offering the fried chickpea snack dot every pedestrian area, and just about every “Israeli-style” restaurant serves its own variety. And, as the saying (sort of) goes, for every two Jews, there are three opinions on felafel balls. Crispy or soft? Spicy or not? Huge or tiny? Chunky or smooth? Everyone has his own preference, and just about every type was represented in my 12 different samplings. And here they are, ranked... according to my preferences.After all, this is my column! All tested establishments are kosher.
This more than 70-year-old Jerusalem landmark is always chock full of people eating the restaurant’s Israeli fare, and they would all do well to add a felafel ball or two to their order. Rachmo’s fried chickpea offerings are crispy outside, with an excellent balance of sweet and salty flavors, a slight green tinge and just a hint of a spicy aftertaste. The texture hits the right balance between completely smooth and too chunky.
NIS 15 pita; 50 agorot for a ball 5 Ha’eshkol Street and 25 Yoel Salomon Street
It would be easy to write off this Ben- Yehuda storefront as a tourist hangout, but I was pleasantly surprised by its felafel’s extra-crispy exterior, very green, soft inside and well-balanced flavors.
NIS 8/10 for half a pita/laffa; NIS 15/19 for a pita/laffa; NIS 19 for a baguette; NIS 32 for a plate 5 Ben-Yehuda Street
I was inclined to like this tiny storefront from the moment I walked in, mainly because I was handed a fresh, piping hot felafel ball to munch on while I waited.
But I continued to like it after ordering my sandwich, as I enjoyed the soft felafel balls with just a hint of spice and a strong chickpea flavor. Although I didn’t love the cold French fries that topped my pita or the uneven tehina distribution, I’d still go back for more.
NIS 8 for half a pita; NIS 15 for a whole pita; and 60 agorot for one felafel ball Corner of Havatzelet and Hanevi’im streets
For months I’ve been intending to try the felafel at this hole in the wall, mainly because it is always crowded. It certainly has a measure of charm, including a sign detailing 35 different responses to the question “Harif?” (spicy?), including “What, do you want to kill me?” “Put it on; it’s for the boss” “A tiny, tiny, tiny bit” and “I’m Ashkenazi!” Shalom served probably the smallest felafel balls on this list, and they were also among the crispiest, though they could have used a touch more spice. My pita was packed so full, it ripped, although some would consider that a plus.
NIS 8/9 for half a pita/laffa; NIS 14/16 for a pita/laffa, 50 agorot for a ball 34 Bezalel Street
This King George storefront snags many a tourist with its prime location. Luckily, they’re being served quite well and will enjoy hot and fresh-tasting felafel balls, with an excellent crisp-soft balance. The balls’ flavor is fairly one note, with a spicy after-kick. The felafel balls are not green at all, and I may have even spotted a piece of carrot inside, which just confused me.
NIS 8/9 for half a pita/ laffa; NIS 14/17 for a pita/laffa; 50 agorot for a ball 19 King George Avenue
It would be easy to miss this hole in the wall at the very entrance of Mahaneh Yehuda. Unless, of course, you notice all the people crowding around and munching on pitot.
The Levy brothers have created a felafel with a chunkier texture than most, and the outside was not very crisp.
NIS 7 for half a pita; NIS 14 for a whole pita; 50 agorot for a ball.Corner of Mahaneh Yehuda and Agrippas streets
In what can only be a grand joke on the dieters of the world, this “lowcalorie” felafel stand is found in Talpiot.
I don’t know if they’re really low fat, but they were not very crisp, though they had a nicely balanced flavor. Plus, with a free ball to munch on while I contemplated my order, I was happy.
NIS 10/12 half a pita/laffa; NIS 15/20 pita/laffa or baguette.37 Pierre Koenig Street
Hungry Baka residents can chow down on this well-textured felafel ball, though they’d do well to add some sauces and salads to jazz up their sandwich to make up for the somewhat bland flavor.
NIS 8/9 for half a pita/laffa; NIS 15/18 for a pita/laffa
76 Bethlehem Road
This felafel and shwarma stand seems almost out of place on trendy Emek Refaim. Still, it’s probably the cheapest reliably tasty meal you can get in the German Colony, if not fairly unmemorable.
Perhaps they draw people in with the offer of a free ball while you wait.
NIS 8/10 for half a pita/laffa; NIS 16/20 for a pita/laffa; NIS 7 for 10 felafel balls 42 Emek Refaim Street
This off-the-beaten path haunt in Rehavia, named for the streets that intersect right outside (not for the more disparate geographic locations), offers felafel balls that you can see pop out fresh from the fryer. They were nice and crispy (and piping hot), with an extra-green inside.
There were a lot of complex flavors, but they bordered on the sweet side and could have used a touch of salt.
NIS 15 for a pita; NIS 1 for one ball Intersection of Aza and Berlin streets
This old-school Israeli-style restaurant only serves pitot whole, not half, and when you get one, you’ll know why: The felafel balls are practically the size of golf balls. This made it somewhat more difficult to eat, and it meant there were only three of them in the whole sandwich.
Regardless of the size, I was less than enthralled with this offering, as the felafel balls were much too spicy for my liking (I could see red pepper flakes inside) and were not too crispy.
NIS 17 for a full pita 3 Shamai Street
This centrally located tiny storefront has quite a name to live up to, but its felafel isn’t quite “king” worthy. They didn’t taste very crispy or fresh, though they were very soft on the inside, with a wellbalanced flavor and a hint of spice. They don’t sell half portions, but at these prices, you don’t really need one.
NIS 10 pita; NIS 12 laffa; NIS 20 plate Corner of Agrippas and King George streets