Falafel, So Hot Right Now

The lowly chickpea ball sizzles in the hands of top chefs

My first taste of falafel was at a popular local minichain that shall remain nameless. I watched as the fried chickpea balls were scooped from a glowing warming tray and dropped into a pita along with tomato wedges and a smear of tahini. Moments later I took a bite. It was…OK.

“What’s the big deal about falafel?” I thought, as I gnawed my way through a sawdusty nugget.

“I don’t want to say there’s no good falafel in L.A., but I don’t like the falafel here,” says Ori Menashe. The Israeli-born chef at downtown’s Bestia is in the process of developing his next restaurant, which will focus on the food of his homeland and include a lunchtime shawarma and falafel counter. “Freshness is key,” says Menashe. “Falafel is such a simple thing—people overlook ways to make it better.” That’s changing. Menashe is one of a number of chefs who are elevating the humble balls, a Middle Eastern street-food mainstay that’s gone global.

“Actually ours are square,” says Sara Kramer. The founding chef at Brooklyn’s Glasserie relocated to L.A. with her sous-chef, Sarah Hymanson, to open Madcapra, an upcoming nouveau falafel stall at Grand Central Market. “There are a lot of lowbrow foods that have been reinvented,” says Kramer. “Falafel has been waiting for its time in the sun.” The chefs fry their mix of ground chickpeas and favas to order. The supremely light results are set atop grilled laffa-like flatbread along with tangy seasonal salads.

California produce is on display at Atwater Village’s buzzy new falafel shop, Dune, as well. The tiny operation, run by Scott Zweizen of Echo Park’s Elf, relies on the farmers’ market for everything from the chiles in the Lebanese-style hot sauce to the rotating herbs in the organic chickpea batter. “On a vegetarian level falafel is the perfect food,” says Zweizen. After tasting Dune’s weightless version, I would have to agree.

Open Wide: Where To Get It

http://cdn2.lamag.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2013/09/arrow27.pngDune, 3143 Glendale Blvd., Atwater Village, 323-486-7073

http://cdn2.lamag.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2013/09/arrow27.pngMadcapra (Coming soon!), 317 S. Broadway, downtown