This deep-fried snack elevates the chickpea to a sublime sphere

Photograph by Edmund Barr

“The national snack of Egypt” and “the Israeli hot dog” are among falafel’s many monikers. The Middle Eastern mainstay is made of chickpeas (and sometimes fava beans), which are ground to a paste, seasoned, and shaped into Ping-Pong-size balls before being deep-fried. Served in pita or on their own, falafel preparations vary (beware dry versions made with boxed mixes), but at our favorite fast-food places the spices—proprietary blends of onion, garlic, coriander, cumin, and parsley—and the freshness assure that tradition is honored.

Amer’s | Encino

The falafel isn’t plopped into sizzling oil until you order, at this 20-year-old, smartly designed café. The orbs emerge moments later with eggshell-thin crusts and steaming, smooth interiors. Enjoy them with one or two of the freshly made Middle Eastern side dishes: meaty roasted mushrooms or chunky eggplant in tomato sauce. Takeout falafel is packed separately in paper bags to ensure perfect crispness. » 17334 Ventura Blvd., Encino, 818-995-6332 (closed Friday evening).

Falafel Arax | Hollywood

The faded sign makes it easy to miss, and the simple interior hasn’t changed since the ’70s. The falafel here is light and accompanied by turnip pickles. The shawarma and lule kebob (ground beef) sandwiches are draws, too, along with pressed sandwiches filled with such Armenian favorites as soujouk (sausage) and braised tongue. » 5101 Santa Monica Blvd., Ste. 2, Hollywood, 323-663-9687.

Falafel Express | Tarzana

This straightforward glatt kosher spot rivals the best street vendors in Tel Aviv, turning out magnificent falafel whose pale green centers are redolent of parsley. The traditional salads and dips are all beautifully made, and there’s a pickle bar. » 5577 Reseda Blvd., Tarzana, 818-345-5660 (closed Friday after sundown and Saturday).

Moishe’s Fine Middle Eastern Cuisine | Los Angeles

Hesitate too long while ordering and the counter ladies may snarl. But the falafel at this treasure in the old section of the Farmers Market is worth the mortification. Sandwiches are wrapped in ultrathin pita with excellent tahini dressing, ripe tomato, and lettuce. The savory bulgur pilaf and the muhammara, a walnut-pomegranate-pepper dip, are exceptional sides. » 6333 W. 3rd St., L.A., 323-936-4998.

Beverly Falafel | Los Angeles

At this neon-lit restaurant across from the Beverly Center, Korean, Russian, and Tagalog accents blend into the lunchtime chatter. The baba ghannouj on the house falafel plate has smoky overtones, and the falafel balls have the requisite balance of crispy and creamy textures. Garlic-marinated chicken breast and lamb chop plates come with salads and dips. » 8508 W. 3rd St., L.A., 310-652-1670.

Photograph by EDMUND BARR