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Felafel in Philly

  • f

Years ago there used to be a middle eastern restaurant on the corner of 13th and Pine in Center City, Philadelphia. Its name was something like Sabina's. This place served felafel and hummous sandwiches with the freshest sprouts and salad items. Unlike some other middle eastern restaurants, the felafel balls were not oily and the sandwich was not drenched in sauce.

I recently discovered that the restaurant no longer exists. Any suggestions for a good replacement either in center city (The Magic Carpet street vendor no longer is available by Rittenhouse Square), olde city, south street area, west philly or the western suburbs?

As a board item, how does one search for text without having to scroll down a running list of countless items, as they appear on this message board? For example, if you wanted to go to posts about Mexican food, it would be helpful for there to be a search field which would then list the various posts and their threads. I was able to locate some posts only be searching for them on google.

This board should require registration so that a poster can be the only one to post under their name and be able to edit previous posts.

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  1. n
    Newgirlintown

    It was called Sabra.
    As for the tech stuff, you might want to post on the site talk board so the moderators can see it.
    there is an authentic falafel place around 5th and south, was written up a few months ago. Search on Citypaper.net.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Newgirlintown

      Newgirlintown - I searched CityPaper.net and it looks like the restaurant you referred to near 5th and south could be Marrakesh on S. Leithgow St near 5th and south. The 3 other Middle Eastern restaurants are on 4th and two are on 2nd near South St.

      Regarding doing the search for text, I discovered how to do so - I now see that it is on the main home page of chowhound, so my search for Indian food+philly brought me to the posts and information I was looking for. Otherwise, it takes much searching to scroll down thousands of posts that are not categorzied by food type, rather by subject threads as they occur. With so many posts coming in, I wonder if there is some other way of organizing this board so that one could locate one's area of interest more efficiently. As it stands now, I would use google with advanced search terms, such as "Indian food+philly" to locate appropriate posts.

      1. re: FelafelBoy
        s
        Smellchipper

        instead of "indian food+philly" you might have better luck with "indian food+pennsylvania" since the word Pennsylvania is on every post on this board, and may people don't use "philly" in their posts.

    2. If you hit Ctrl+F, you can enter a search for items on this page.

      1. I recommend checking out Maoz - on South and 3rd. It's a Dutch chain, but it's actually pretty good! Warning: it's a hole in the wall and it's can be a mob scene on the weekends as people need access to the one counter to order, receive the falafel and put the condiments on it. The condiments are great - not only sauces but veggies too.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Mariarosa

          I'm not a fan of Maoz any more. I used to eat there pretty regularly: it's chaotic, and inconsistent, but at least cheap.

          What turned me off is that while their food is fine, their hygiene is really lacking. In particular, they allow multiple trips back to the condiment bar, which means you get people spreading the sauce spoon all over their half-eaten falafel. That's just gross.

          1. re: Corydon

            Yeah, I know what you mean. I used to eat there all the time when they first opened, but I have eaten there only once in the last 6 months. They rarely have any orange or carrot juice, their juice glasses have shrunk, they don't have the little cups anymore to put your condiments in (and add to your falafel as you eat, therefore causing the multiple trips tothe bar that you describe), and the lines are long. A victim of its own success, which is too bad beacause their falafel *is* yummy.

            1. re: Mariarosa

              Not having come into Center City/South Street for many months, my recent visit led me to Maoz due to felafel recommendations on this thread for that restaurant.

              Now I know what the posts refer to regarding this place.
              First the pros on this place - decent felafel and a choice of whole wheat pita as an alternative to white pita. What really makes this place special are the condiments that are numerous and rather unusual for felafel sandwiches - cauliflower, two different kinds of cabbage, including one with fennel. What I added to my sandwhich was the mango sauce, the hot pepper sauce (which tasted sweeter and more minty than the hot sauce I have had at Alyan's which didn't agree with my taste buds), the cole slaw, and some tomatoes. Due to the size of the sandwich (I had the smaller size with a small spread of hummous), I had to return three times to the fixins' bar to add some toppings to the felafel filling that was dry without it. I see no problem with "double dipping" as long as one makes sure he drizzles the toppings back into his sandwich without making contact with the surface of the serving spoon with one's sandwich. It really is necessary to keep on going back to the bar due to the way their sandwich is put together. The sauce just doesn't drizzle throughout the sandwich like what you'd get at Alyan's, which is the other extreme, that is wet ones.
              I passed on having eggplant slices added to the sandwich.

              Now the cons - the position of the fixins' bar is fine if there are two people in the whole place. But that same space is used by people ordering and there just ain't enough space to eat and serve oneself without feeling hassled or that you're getting in someone's way. I was there on a Thursday at 3pm, a time you'd think wouldn't present a crowding problem, yet there was one.

              I guess the cabbage thing is an Israeli touch. I'm used to the drier salad greens, cucumber, etc. that I used to get at Alyan's and Sabras.

              All in all, an interesting experience, and that mango topping was very delicious and blended well with the felafel, as did the green hot pepper sauce. But I'd only eat there again during very slow times.

              Some day I'll have to try King of Felafels at 16th and JFK and Mama's. I think there used to be a Felafel place on Sansom by Minar Palace, but with the construction having taken place, it may have moved somewhere else. I think Minar Palace moved.

              And last, some of the posts on this thread refer to a "search" that referred to the older Chowhound board before its software changed. Now there is little problem doing searches. That's how I found out easily about these felafel places one year after the initial thread was started.

              1. re: FelafelBoy

                Jim Leff said the felafel at Maccabeam Restaurant was really good, at 128 South 12th.

                Here's the link to his account:

                http://www.chow.com/tour/90

        2. b
          Bride of the Juggler

          The other Magic Carpet truck is still at 34th and Walnut.

          There is a great new Isreali falafel place called Mama's Vegetarian at 20th and Market.

          Bitar's pita around 10th and Christian makes a great grilled falafel (not fried.)

          Thank you.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Bride of the Juggler

            Bitar's is on 10th and Federal.

          2. Alyan on 4th & South (on 4th next to Copabanana) does a pretty good falafel and has a nice greenhouse room in the back.

            1 Reply
            1. re: pilotswife

              Yes, Alyan's I am aware of. I did find Sabra's felafel and hummous sandwhiches better because of the freshness of their ingredients (sprouts and veggies), dryer (as in less oily) felafel balls, and lesser amount of sauce.

              At Alyan's, there is a reason why the sandwiches are wrapped as they are - the amount of sauce at times makes it a mess to eat. (Sabra's knew how to put together a masterfully crafted sandwich.) The felafel balls at Alyan's are of decent taste and the backroom is interesting to sit in.

            2. There's a great cart on the NE corner of 20th & Market. Long lines (sometimes 20 minutes), and he's really only there from 11:30 - 2:30 - sometimes he leaves before then. A giant felafel for $6.

              You'll know you have the right cart because it's decorated with cucumbers and onions.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Patiod
                j
                Jersey City Mods

                Does that cart happen to be open on Saturdays? I am thinking probably not....

              2. Control+F will let you search the page(Microsoft).

                1. You must make a pilgrimage to see the King - the "King of Felafel" that is. It's a weekday cart on the S.E. corner of 16th and JFK. Sometimes they go on vacation for 6 weeks, but they're there most of the time. For $3 you can't go wrong. 50-cents more and you can have tabouli and hummus on it.

                  Alyan on 4th & South, Sabra (on 2nd?), and Bitar's on 10th & Federal - all previously mentioned - are great as well. I'll have to check out the 'cucumber' cart at 20th & Market to compare with "The King"

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: CPaul

                    Went down to South and 3rd area recently. Hadn't been there in a long time.

                    I had thought of eating at Maoz, but gave up, since I wanted to sit down and eat, and from my last few experiences there, the sit down eating area is so small, that unless you mark out your space, it's hard to eat in peace inside.

                    I used to go to Alyan's on 4th (?). While their sandwiches are overflowing with food, I found them drenched in sauce. What I liked was that you could eat in peace there at large tables with room for many people.

                    Some posters have mentioned Bitar's at 10th and Federal. Seems like a good 15 minute walk from the area I mentioned. Is there any other place closer that serves felafel in this area that also has a peaceful place to sit down and eat inside?

                    Last year I was in Center City and remember a place by Sansom and 17th that had what looked like a decent place to eat in. Also saw the pictures of Mama's posted on this board, and it also looked like one could eat without crowds navigating around and through you.

                    1. re: FelafelBoy

                      The place on Sansom, between 17th and 18th, has closed. The dining room at Mama's can get crowded during lunch, but it seems to be ok.

                  2. n
                    Naomi in West Philly

                    Saad's on the corner of 45th & Walnut does great felafel and hummus. He also has a salad combo that's salad with hummus, baba ganoush (spectacular!), felafel and grape leaves for around $7-8. It's a full dinner and lunch the next day and it's all fresh and tasty. He also does a chicken felafel and a number of other really tasty and wonderful dishes - all very inexpensive. They are really busy on Friday nights when the Mosque lets out but he still gets everyone in and out fairly quickly.

                    1. i'm sorta late to this post, but i must promote mama's vegetarian -- on 20th between chestnut and market, west side of the street. it's owned by israelis, they make their own pita and the falafel is awesome. they have a nice cabbage salad that they put on the sandwich too.

                      -- arice

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: arice

                        I agree. Mama's has the best falafel in the city, without a doubt. The falafel and pita are always fresh and they also have a salad bar like maoz so you can dress your pita as you like.

                        1. re: arice

                          Couldn't agree more--Mama's is fabulous.

                          1. re: dougherj

                            sometimes i have the pleasure of eating something so simple and so delicious - i wonder how have i lived 24 years without knowing that places like this exist?? on a trip to DC three weeks ago to visit a friend, after a night of hitting several restaurants and bars he guided me to a small, brightly-lit felafel beacon in the web of dark adams morgan pubs and lounges where we topped off the night with a felafel pita. it was other-wordly, and i can't believe i never knew about felafel shacks before. then last week, i was in nyc for a business trip, staying in a hotel right next to maoz, a small vegetarian felafel chain. i finished off nearly every day with a late-night felafel snack. finally i am back in philly, officially hooked on felafel, and armed with a brand-new garmin GPS navigator (a must-have for foodie trailblazers!) where i patrolled south street checking out the felafel offerings. i ended up at mama's, on south street near 6th, which was just excellent. i spoke to the owner while he made my plate - he talked me into upgrading from the felafel pita to the felafel/humus/tahini platter and i'm glad i did. he whipped up a beautiful platter in minutes - i had to comment on what a pretty dish it was. as he was making it, i didn't think there was any way i would be able to finish but ended up having no problems with that. the felafel was fresh, made on the spot, and the humus and tahini were perfect. great, great place. i'm sure i will fight south street traffic on my bike many more times for this place. it's worth it. oh, and to address others' health concerns (very valid points) - there is a fixins bar here, but only the people behind the counter have access to it. you just point at what you're after. good system.

                            saturday i tried the middle eastern place in the reading terminal market which i found just OK.

                            are the other middle eastern places you all mention still open for business? any new ones i should know about on my quest for amazing felafel?

                            1. re: rabidog

                              You can compare with the original Mama's at 20th and Market, which may be slightly different. There is also a new falafel place on Sansom at 18th that some people love. And you must try the falafel truck at I believe 20th and Market. It's expensive ($10 for a huge sandwich or platter) but amazing, filled with a variety of interesting salads and vegetables that change daily. Truly one of the best meals I've had in Philly. Thank you.

                              1. re: Bride of the Juggler

                                oooooh, a felafel truck?! something about those lunch trucks is so appealing to me. will definitely check this place out as well as the others. thanks!

                                1. re: Bride of the Juggler

                                  i wish i had more to compare it to... but now i've checked out the maoz, the mama's on south st, and the mama's vegetarian on 20th (twice). i can't find the felafel truck... today, i meant to try out philly felafel (across from tria, 18th and sansom, funny, i've stared out the tria window at that place many a time and never even thought to try it!!!) but i was lured back to mama's vegetarian... it was SO good.

                                  in addition to felafel places, i'm taking suggestions for all things middle eastern - i'm in love with their spices. there's got to be more in this city. anything off the beaten path?

                                  1. re: rabidog

                                    I wouldn't call Bitar's "off the beaten path" since it's so well known, but truck on down to 10th & Federal.

                                    GRILLED felafel sandwich, lebanese style. Very good.

                                    Their "spicy pita" with Z'atar spice is great. The come in a pack of 2 or 3, great gently heated in a toaster oven.

                                    Their spinach pie is also very good.

                                      1. re: rabidog

                                        rabidog--your post is 10 months old now so you may have found the felafel truck by now. It's run by a guy named Chris who had a Greek restaurant on South Street about 20 years ago; he's a real character. The truck is on the NE corner of 20th & Market next to a large vacant lot that will soon be a gazillion-storey skyscraper. One drawback is there's hardly anywhere around there to sit and enjoy a quickly-cooling felafel!

                              2. joypirate - thanks for the Jim Leff link regarding the September 06 Tour.

                                As you said, he did review Maccabeam's Felafel as "the best he has ever had." He also said that the additional items in the sandwich weren't anything special. The ability to see the takeout menu from the picture he provided was very helpful to see the items and prices.

                                He also mentioned that the latkes were best not to comment on. How does anyone ruin a latke? I didn't think it was possible. It could be wet, oily, overly salty, but you really have to be inventive and creative to make it bad.

                                Years ago I ate at Maccabeam and recalled that the Felafel was put in pita type bread that was rolled, not split in half and stuffed with vegetables.

                                Some of the restaurants JL reviewed on the Tour page, while detailed and very interesting (I'll have to check out Saigon Tofu one of these days!) didn't include addresses for some places like Maccabeam. You never know when these places move. Like where is Minar Palace these days?

                                As I said before, I really found the toppings for the Felafel at Maoz very unique and tasty, but the logistics of the toppings bar and the way the sandwich is constructed creates more of a difficult eating experience that at other such places. They really need to offer small plastic toppings cups so you can fill them up and add the stuff at your table instead of having to come back repeatedly to season your otherwise dry sandwich. Even Burger King has little such cups for the ketchup dispensers.

                                I'm glad I went to Maoz, but until they change their layout, I'd prefer to go to other Felafel places more often to get "the whole package" in one sandwich.

                                I commented on the pita itself on an earlier thread. The company called "The Baker" which makes high end breads sold in mainstream supermarkets is now making pita. It is of thinner consistency than some of the other more well-know and decent brands, but their pita amazed me with its taste - like it was just baked. And its ingredients consist of just a few essentials - no preservatives, conditioners, artifical stuff. I have only had their whole wheat version which in other brands is normally heavier. This has a light and more delicate consistency.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: FelafelBoy

                                  I forgot addresses? Shoot, that's not good. When this is all done, I'll try to go back and add in any I missed. If anyone obsessive/compulsive wants to email me a list, I can do it sooner (I'm big-dog@chowhound.com).

                                  Did I really say macabeam's falafal was the best I ever had? it's close to that for israeli-style (i.e. chickpea) falafal, but I'm not sure it's better than olympic pita in brooklyn. I'd need to try both side by side. Also, never been to Israel (I hear the hummus there is like nowhere else)

                                2. Which felafel places other than Maoz offer amba, the mango pickled sauce, that you can add as a sauce/topping for the sandwich?

                                  That was probably the item I enjoyed most at my last visit to Maoz. I have read on this board and on egullet how people don't like the prospect of others going back to the salad bar at Maoz and "double dipping" (to repeat again ... when I returned to the salad bar several times, I made sure to not make contact with my partially eaten food, so if you see me there, pay attention to my procedure!!), contaminating the food for others.

                                  So, while I may act in a prudent way, the food I am eating may have been "contaminated." This wouldn't stop me from going back, but it is a thought. I actually thought of bringing my own small containers and adding the amba into it, so I wouldn't have to return several times.

                                  The few other places I have been to (Alyan's, Maccabeam, Magic Carpet) do not offer this mango sauce. Does Philly Felafel on Samsom or Mama's have this sauce? I had only associated the tahini sauce with felafel, and after having been exposed to the amba at Maoz, I thought, why isn't this offered as an optional topping elsewhere given how delicious it was and how much it complimented the felafel?

                                  Posts have mentioned how good Philly Felafel and Mama's are. For a small sandwich at Maoz, with the toppings, a price of $3+ is unbeatable. Next time, I'm not getting the hummous spread - it was inconsequential in my sandwich and didn't add anything to the enjoyment of the sandwich - I wanted as the predominant flavor that of the felafel. Next time I might try adding the eggplant.

                                  It would be great if these other places that charge $6 and up for a simple felafel sandwich (and additional salad toppings) gave patrons the option of getting half a sandwich at half the cost as is offered by Maoz. Sometimes, that's all you need.

                                  A poster on this board or that other food message board mentioned a street vendor on 38th st. (can't recall the name) doing felafel. Does he offer an amba sauce, or is it just tahini? Years ago when Magic Carpet was by Rittenhouse Square, a tahini sauce was used as the sauce.