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The top five Jerusalem falafel joints

by michael November 04 2008
Best of JerusalemFood
Moshiko Falafel and its mighty salad spread

It's not originally an Israeli food, or a Jewish food - its origins are lost to history - but Israel runs on falafel. Along with its cousin hummus, the savory, deep-fried chickpea balls are a common denominator, a food that unites Jew and Arab, religious and secular, native and immigrant, rich and poor. It's cheap. It's filling. It's delicious. It's everywhere. But the sheer number of falafel kiosks can be daunting to Jerusalem newbies. Sure, any falafel in Israel is better than the abortive just-add-water abominations they call falafel in the West, but there's good falafel, and there's great falafel. And as always, Jerusalemite is here to help you separate falafel from fal-awful (ouch).

There is a simple test for gauging falafel quality, which Jerusalemite calls the "paper bag" test: do the falafel balls stand on their own, without their hummus, tehina, amba (mango chutney) and kruv (cabbage) co-conspirators? Is a grease-spotted paper bag of plain falafel just as good as the full pita-or-laffa monty? Just as a pizza could be dressed with the freshest sauce and the finest Italian buffalo mozzarella and still fall flat if the crust is sub-par, a stuffed laffa (like a tortilla wrap but much doughier) with all the fixings is nothing more than soggy bread without perfect falafel. Rest assured, all of the following pass the paper bag test with high-flying colors. Below is Jerusalemite's list of the best falafel in Jerusalem.

Usually, restaurants in heavily-touristed areas are terrible, aimed squarely at foreign palates and shunned by locals (try getting a good meal in the Jewish Quarter). But Moshiko, in the midst of the tchotchkes-and-frozen-yogurt bustle of the cheesy Ben Yehuda midrachov, reliably serves Jerusalem's finest Israeli-style falafel. The falafel themselves are large and deeply green, and with Moshiko's non-stop traffic, almost always fresh. The side salads are abundant, and include the rarely-seen Turkish salad, a highly-recommended mix of tomatoes, onions and herbs. The ability to apply your own tehina from a squeeze bottle is another plus... but the French fries, predictably, are terrible. Hey, even the best isn't perfect.

Yemenite Falafel CenterYemenite Falafel Center
There are two schools of falafel in Israel: Yemenite and everything else. Most falafel is green from cilantro and parsley and fairly moist, but Yemenite falafel eschews the herbs for a drier, golden fritter. The most prominent Yemenite-style falafel establishment is Shalom Falafel, which attracts its fair share of devotees despite being awful, but the real deal is at the unassuming Yemenite Falafel Center on HaNevi'im Street in the Russian Compound. When you walk in, the proprietor hands you respect in the form of a piping hot falafel ball fresh from the frier - even if you don't wind up ordering. The falafel is delicious; the fixings are standard but solid, and the spicy charif is the hottest and most flavorful in town (as you would expect from an authentic Yemenite establishment). The real fun starts if you show up before closing time on a Friday, when you'll have the chance to cast aside pita and laffa in favor of either the crispy tzaluf or the spongy lahuh, traditional Yemenite breads. Tasty. Different.

Ta'ami is known for its hummus above all else, but Jerusalem falafel connoisseurs know that its mastery of chickpeas doesn't end with spreads. Ta'ami's falafel is dense, moist and intensely flavorful - perhaps the best on-its-own falafel in the entire city. The restaurant's major weak point is that they don't offer the full complement of salads - you can order a falafel to go, but all you can get in the pita is the falafel, hummus and tomato-and-cucumber salad. Still, it's Ta'ami falafel and Ta'ami hummus, which means that essentially anything else would be an unwelcome distraction. 

OvadiaFalafel Ovadia
A classic unassuming workingman's falafel kiosk in the heart of Baka. Unlike the previously mentioned joints, Ovadia doesn't shine bright in any one area, but it's all-around solid. Good falafel, good pita, good salads, and the good feeling that you're eating the kind of humble lunch that's sustained countless cabbies and hard-hats before you. And it's definitely the best and cheapest workingman's lunch you'll get in this increasingly upscale part of town.



AdirFalafel Adir
Not unlike Ovadia, The German Colony's Adir is an oasis of falafel authenticity on an increasingly hoity-toity block. Pizza Hut might have come and gone on the corner of Emek Refaim and Rachel Imenu Streets, but Adir remains. At Adir, the garlic-heavy balls and the crispy (for Israel, anyway) fries are made in small batches, so your sandwich is guaranteed to always be served hot.

And now that Jerusalemite has clued you into the best, you should know the worst. No matter what your supposedly "veteran" friends tell you when you first arrive in Jerusalem, do not waste your time at the quantity-over-quality Melech HaFalafel, or the pedestrian Shalom Falafel, or the running-on-nostalgia-and-stale-cooking oil Maoz Falafel, or the simply sad From Gaza to Berlin. When you're in this city, there's no excuse to settle for second-rate.... At least not when it comes to chickpeas.

Photo of a laffa-in-progress at Moshiko (top) by Ben Jacobson for Jerusalemite; photos of other felafel joints by the Jerualemite team.

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