Falafel, a fritter crafted from garbanzo beans, fava beans or a combination of both beans, has historical ties to Egypt, but can now be found across the Mediterranean and Middle East. Regional nuances are evident in versions from countries like Armenia, Israel, Lebanon and Syria. Color, spicing and shape are key differentiators. Regardless of how they’re made, falafel is having a moment in Los Angeles, with modern interpretations joining classics. Learn about 10 of the best falafels in L.A.
No, chef Scott Zwiezen isn’t re-enacting David Lynch’s sci-fi movie “Dune” in Atwater Village. Instead, the Elf Café co-founder spearheads a sandwich shop with white awning, wood stools, marble counter and the menu written on a mirror. Green Herb Falafel comes flecked with mint, cilantro and parsley. The balls aren’t especially crispy and they crumble easily. Whole wheat flatbread supports falafel along with creamy hummus, house-made pickles, malfouf, nutty tahini sauce and shoestring potatoes. Spoon on amba - a chunky, pungent mango condiment - or zhoug, a spicy green chile sauce crafted with Serrano.
Elena's Greek Armenian Cuisine
Elena’s Greek Armenian Cuisine is an institution from Elena Petikyan and her family on a residential stretch of Glendale that dates to 1976. Not much has changed apart from the décor, which now includes a mural involving a nude woman reclining on the back of a bull amidst playful dolphins. Delectable falafel pieces are freeform, fist-sized and golden crusted, with moist, pillowy cores. Each plate comes with cool tomato slices and rich hummus dusted with paprika and a green Armenian spice blend called chaimen.
Esso Mediterranean Bistro
Located in the back of an Encino strip mall, Esso Mediterranean Bistro is a family-run Armenian-Syrian restaurant with a small patio and year-round Christmas tinsel that dates to 2011. Esso is the childhood nickname of owner Jack’s wife. The restaurant’s falafel is much like you’d find in Jack’s hometown of Aleppo - donut-like rings crafted from garbanzo and fava beans are served with creamy tahini dipping sauce.
Chef Travis Lett and business partner Fran Camaj move beyond Gjelina’s compound with this bakery and café behind Gold’s Gym. The space features white brick walls, marble counters, outdoor benches and plenty of Lulu Lemon. Falafel patties are made every morning using raw garbanzo beans, chickpea flour, coriander, cumin, cayenne, parsley, cilantro, garlic, onion and more, all fried in soybean oil. These vegan wonders arrive on a supple toasted house-made baguette with tahini, cucumber, crunchy red radish, parsley, cilantro, pickled red onion and sprouts (daikon, alfalfa and sunflower).
This Israeli restaurant in a West L.A. strip mall has been around for more than four decades. Tel Aviv natives Amir and Pnina Simyonov grabbed the keys to this orange-walled space 15 years ago. Their Falafel Plate features six golden orbs made with a coarse blend of garbanzo beans, parsley, cilantro, garlic and onion fried in vegetable oil. Each plate comes with two pieces of warm pita, thick hummus and creamy, nutty tehina dusted with ground red pepper. Every table hosts a bottle of house-made hot sauce featuring Serrano chilies, parsley, cilantro, garlic, onion and olive oil.
Hayat Shatila and husband Hassan run this bustling Lebanese restaurant in the back of a North Hollywood strip mall. Their space features a yellow awning, tan walls and welcoming patio. Falafel is a comforting starter featuring six garbanzo bean balls folded with parsley, onion and garlic and fried to crispy. Each order comes with tahini and green salad. Bonus: they let customers upgrade to tabbouli or fattoush with fried pita chips.
Hummus Bar Express
The owners of Tarzana’s Hummus Bar and Grill streamlined their Israeli offerings when they expanded to Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade. The fast casual outpost houses skylights, high-top wood tables and a patio with white umbrellas. Their falafel balls are the size of Gobstoppers, with crisp coats and soft green cores accented with herbs. Request a ramekin of spicy green chile sauce, which takes matters to new heights.
Joe Mattar has enjoyed influences from across the Mediterranean. He’s a Tel Aviv native with an Israeli father and Greek mother who blends both cuisines in a strip mall near Universal City. Mattar fries garbanzo, parsley and cilantro falafel to order, resulting in golden golf balls with soft, crumbly green centers. Dip the balls in cool, sesame-rich tahini sauce. Better yet, load Joe’s falafel into house-made laffa, the supple Israeli flatbread that in this case is whole wheat.
Chefs Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson previously found success with Glasserie in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Madcapra is their first L.A. restaurant, a stylish vegetable-focused stall in Downtown’s Grand Central Market with a marble counter and neon green “FALAFEL” sign. Their falafel squares star garbanzo and fava beans, coriander, onion and garlic, all fried in non-GMO canola oil. Their house-baked flatbread is a blend of whole wheat and organic flour and falls somewhere between laffa and gyro wraps on the bread spectrum. Order falafel “red” and your sandwich comes topped with tomato, cabbage, pickles, tahini and basil. “Green” falafel combines pickled cauliflower, shaved fennel, tangy labneh, cilantro and a mountain of greens. In both cases, the duo supplies squeeze bottles of zhoug, spicy red or green, which builds on a time-tested Israeli recipe.
Skaf's Lebanese Cuisine
A cedar tree logo signals your arrival at this corner restaurant with brick and olive green walls, which spun off from father Sam Skaf’s North Hollywood original. Since 2007, the Skafs - who originally hail from the small town of Zahlé, Lebanon - have been represented in Glendale by daughter Nora, chef/sister Marlene and other family members. Their falafel entrée involves five pieces of fluffy garbanzo balls with crisp crusts and a pronounced kick from garlic, onion and spices. Each plate comes with pita, pickled turnips and pepperoncini, sliced tomato, nutty tahini, tangy cabbage salad, and hommos dressed with olive oil, chopped parsley and paprika.