Falafel is tasty, vegan, inexpensive, filling and — if you live in L.A. — probably nearby.
How close, you ask? We were able to identify a falafel stand in almost every neighborhood, from Hawthorne to Ladera Heights, Reseda to West Covina. One thing that seemed universally true was that many falafel we sampled were decent, but it's the accoutrements that elevate them to great. There are tons of both old-school and new-school versions, so in our hunt for the best we had to establish some criteria: The falafel has to be sold at a restaurant, it has to be house-made, and it has to be served traditionally, with an option of laffa or pita, pickles and tahini.
Over the course of 10 months, we sampled more than 22 falafel. (You can see some more on Instagram using the hashtag #FalafelResearch) So, which 10 made the cut?
10. Joe’s Falafel
In the short time since it opened in the Valley, Joe's Falafel has gained a loyal lunchtime following for Joe Mattar's entire menu — and the falafel plate in particular. It's a hearty meal that comes with romaine salad, yellow rice and creamy hummus. The uniform falafel has the requisite crunch and strong hints of herbs and spices, and it's a filling experience. 3535 Cahuenga Blvd., Studio City; (323) 512-4447, joesfalafel.net.
9. Fala Bar
At this tiny but bright and airy vegan shop, there are falafel choices abound. You can go for the classic, which boasts a whisper of cumin and jalapeño, or get wild with the kale or sweet potato variations. The fritters all have a bit of an Egyptian flavor profile and are dense, slightly dry and compact. This is the only spot we came across promising organic ingredients and eco-conscious containers, which is always a good thing. The complimentary house-blended s'hug and amba pickled mango sauce both add incandescent heat. 7751 Melrose Ave., Fairfax; 323-424-7131, falabar.com.
Mention Habayit and someone will inevitably point out that it's the only kosher restaurant west of the 405. Run by the Simyonov family, Habayit makes everything from scratch and clearly with care. The gorgeous falafel are burnished and crispy, with a nicely mottled, almost pebbly texture. In each bite is a bit of this and a bit of that, coming together to make a delicious ball of crunch that stands on its own. We double love that this falafel holds up as a to-go order. 11921 W. Pico Blvd., Sawtelle; 310-479-7173, habayitrestaurant.com.
7. Falafel Arax
There is no denying Falafel Arax is a beloved Hollywood institution. The strip-mall Lebanese restaurant has been a stalwart favorite for years. Made to order, the uniform, straightforward, lively balls of flavorful fried bean mash are served in a plain and classic style, with extra salty pickled turnips and tiny hot pickled peppers. The thin, renowned flatbread and extra creamy hummus round out the experience. 5101 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 2, East Hollywood; 323-663-9687, falafelarax.menutoeat.com.
This of-the-moment Atwater spot offers a slightly nontraditional falafel sandwich, but it is really terrific nonetheless. The wheaty and slightly charred bread is just chewy enough that it takes a bit of work to get through, while the falafel balls are quite large and have a golden hue. (Yes. We rhymed.) The fried balls are flecked with green herbs and have a distinctly sour/sumac taste, and the sandwich is rendered more piquant by the gorgeous pickles, arugula and assorted fried bits piled on top. 3143 Glendale Blvd., Atwater Village; 323-486-7073, dune.kitchen.
5. Z Garden
There is more than one Mediterranean restaurant choice in this quiet neighborhood, but the best, cleanest and loudest — thanks to a pumping soundtrack — is Z Garden. The staff is happy you're there, and they're ready to fry up your order or blend you a smoothie. The falafel is heady, deeply flavorful, dark and herbaceous. The large portion makes it a plate that can be shared. Served with hummus that is almost ethereal and a dish of za'atar, this is a meal worthy of your time and attention. 313 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; 310-395-7799, zgardensantamonica.com.
4. Bella Pita
Bella Pita is owned by an Egyptian UCLA computer science professor, M. Yahya Sanadidi, but these days there's a USC-adjacent location as well. School affiliations aside, this sweet little stand hits all the right notes. The walnut-colored and flawless disks of extra-crisp, hearty falafel are served unadorned, allowing you to top it how you want it with vegetables, pickles and sauces — try the garlic sauce — from their on-point salad bar. We especially love that the rounds of pita bread are hot and fresh; each one is rolled and baked to order. 3013 S. Figueroa St.; University Park; (213) 744-1136, bellapita.com.
The city of Haifa in northern Israel is breathtakingly beautiful and a bit of a stark contrast to the strip of Pico Boulevard where you'll find this unassuming storefront. Step in and you'll be confronted with a few small tables of leisurely diners listening to the din of a seemingly nonstop catering operation. Have a seat and order your à la carte sandwich. You'll get four or five tawny, slightly flattened, mildly spiced and pillowy falafel. The falafel balls, which are so fine they almost fall apart, are topped with cucumbers and tomato, and wrapped gently in an ethereal puff of pita. The whole thing is uplifted by the vibrant cabbage salad. The extra thick bread is from Super Pita in Reseda. This is Israeli food at its best. 8717 W. Pico Blvd, Pico-Robertson; 310-888-7700, haifarestaurantla.com.
This bustling, family-owned restaurant almost always has a well-deserved line of hungry diners waiting to order. The falafel comes on pita or laffa and is made with chickpeas and a touch of seasoning. Skip the sandwich and go for the plate, which comes with an array of pickles, hot sauces and salads, including a shredded carrot salad and lightly tangy cabbage — gemlike dishes of Mediterranean banchan that turn a simple meal into a soulful experience. The room is spacious, with communal seating and a pleasant din. The portions are generous, the mood is exuberant. 7422 Melrose Ave., Fairfax; 323-944-0013, ta-eemgrillinc.com.
1. Pita Bar and Grill
Since 2008, Sam Maman, the owner of this buzzy little Israeli spot on Fairfax, has been offering the idealized version of an all-garbanzo-bean falafel. What they achieve is at once a crispy, pleasantly textured, distinctly flavored ball of elevated falafel. It holds together when you bite in and has a balance of light spice and confident crunch. Top yours with the outstanding house-made pickled carrots, tahini and other sauces for a meal that will bring utter happiness. There is no finer example of classic falafel in L.A. 519 N. Fairfax Ave., Beverly Grove; 323-653-9024, pitabarandgrill.com.