Maybe you’ve gone meat-free for Lent, maybe you’re meat-free for life, or maybe you just enjoy a deep fried food that is still high in soluble fiber. Obviously, the right food for you is falafel. Let’s see who has the best and whose isn’t even passable.
Mona’s (various locations)
My first falafel ever was either from Mr. Gyro’s in the Quarter (R.I.P.) or from Mona’s on Banks Street. My dad was a hardcore gyro lover (we used to make fun of how he would say JHEE- Ro) and I was too, until I became a teenage vegetarian and had to pick something else off the menu. Falafel it was—and I was hooked! So Mona’s has certain nostalgia value for me that outweighs the mostly lackluster nature of the food. I went with the vegetarian plate, which is hummus, baba ghanouj, and falafel; which is (as I’ve learned) comparatively kind of a paltry spread. This falafel is roughly the size of an avocado pit and has quite a crispy exterior. The interior is bright green, which is one of those falafel mysteries I can’t quite solve. Chickpeas aren’t green so I’m assuming it’s parsley that lends that signature green color? In any event, this falafel is fine. It’s a perfectly average offering that won’t dazzle you, but it won’t hurt you either. The pita bread here isn’t the best, but it’s serviceable. Are there better choices than Mona’s? Sure, but do I go there anyway? Of course I do.
6/10 Trips Down Memory Lane
1000 Figs (3141 Ponce De Leon St.)
I’ve always avoided the Fat Falafel food truck because the name is so silly, but I was willing to try 1000 Figs, the brick-and-mortar version, nonetheless. The Falafel Feast is truly a feast; I couldn’t believe how much food they bring out. You get falafel, flatbread (which reminded me of my mom’s Sunday morning tortillas more than a pita bread— not complaining), hummus, baba ghanouj, yogurt, various pickled items, salad greens, tahini, a cilantro sauce, and my personal favorite: a garlic paste called toum. So much food! But we’re discussing falafel here, so let’s talk about them. First of all, they AREN’T green on the inside—they’re a tannish white color, which is more what I would expect from smushed up chickpeas, but not really what I’ve come to expect from a falafel. Are they not using parsley in there? No matter, because these falafel are crispy and flavorful. I should mention that they’re smaller than I’ve come to expect, which I think must contribute to their high crisp factor. Also, they’re served with shredded up beets, which is the true way to my heart.
10/10 Silly Names
Cleopatra (2701 Manhattan Blvd, Harvey)
Much like 1000 Figs, Cleopatra isn’t playing around with portion sizes. As we sat down, our waiter brought out stacks of super poofy pita bread, olive oil, zaatar, and pickled vegetables. Yes indeed. I ordered the Chef ’s Vegetarian Plate which is hummus, baba ghanouj, falafel, couscous, tabouli, green salad, vegetable soup, and grape leaves. My dining companion ordered lamb, which comes with my beloved toum, so I stole some of that too, because I’m greedy. The falafel here is not round! What? It’s a UFO – shaped patty that has sesame seeds on the outside. There’s a nice green interior, the crisp factor is medium, and the flavor is on point. Also, I had food for three days from the leftovers, and my whole meal only cost $12!
Stella Maris (7555 W Judge Perez Dr., Arabi)
I thought everyone knew about Stella Maris at this point, but found out recently that several of my ( born and raised New Orleanian) friends had never even been to Arabi or Chalmette before, and had never heard about the wonders of Stella Maris. I felt so lucky that I was able to bring them there for their first time! Since I was with newbies, I ordered the Special Appetizer, which is a nice big platter of hummus, grape leaves, falafel, tabbouleh, baba ghanouj, and foul. The falafel here are large, almost the size of a golf ball, but they still manage to be somewhat crispy on the outside. Also, they have just a touch of heat, which is welcome and pleasant. Like always, everything at Stella Maris was excellent: the baba ghanouj had a good creaminess-to-chunk ratio and the hummus was perfect. My new-to-the-game friends were impressed, and are even planning to go back, so I’d say it was a win! Also, did you know Stella Maris means Star of the Sea? Isn’t that cute?
10/10 Golf Balls
Kebab (2315 St Claude Ave.)
Sigh. These falafel were bland and soft. Like seriously, this was the least flavorful and smushiest falafel I’ve ever eaten. It tasted like nothing, not even salt. Have you ever bought a package of falafel mix in a box from the grocery store, and then because you don’t want your house to smell like oil, you just bake the balls in the oven instead of deep frying them? That’s exactly what these taste like. I think the good people of Kebab are trying; they put beets, cucumbers, arugula, kale, spinach, onion, hummus, and tzatziki on the sandwich, but it still manages to not really taste like anything. It’s honestly kind of impressive (and puzzling) that a sandwich with that many ingredients manages to not have any flavor whatsoever. Also, why do they serve the hummus with ciabatta bread? I don’t get it. I think Kebab has some good options (what’s up, doner kebab) but the falafel isn’t one of them.
1/10 Sandwiches with Ten Ingredients
Shyan’s Kitchen (3320 Houma Blvd., Metairie)
I didn’t expect to see falafel on the menu at an Indian/ Pakistani restaurant, but thought, “hey, why not?” The falafel here are served on a piece of roti, with a little side salad of cucumbers and tomato. The first thing to note is that these falafel aren’t round, they’re more of a depressed football shape and, much like Cleopatra’s falafel, they’ve been dipped in sesame seeds, which might explain how they’re so crispy. If crisp factor was the only criteria, Shyan would win by a mile. Alas, there are other things to take into consideration. This falafel was well-flavored and tasty but I don’t understand the purpose of the greasy roti that it was sent out on. I’m a bread superfan, but I couldn’t bring myself to eat this one. On a non-falafel related side note, I think I must always order the wrong thing at Shyan, because I haven’t had anything there that I love (the saag paneer is just bad and the goat is always a little too filled with bone hunks for my taste), but I know other people adore this spot. What am I doing wrong? Help! What do you order when you go there?
5/10 Desperate Pleas For Advice