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Falafel Drive-in San Jose

After hearing about Falafel Drive-in on the board, elsewhere and from people I've talked to in SJ, recurring phrases were "San Jose institution" "best falafel in the world" "can't miss spot" "there since 1966" etc... It's even listed as #2 on tripadvisor.com for San Jose (that is my go-to site for hotels but I don't trust it on restos) I was curious about whether I would "get" what the regulars see in the place... this kind of hyperbole can lead to disappointment for an outsider.

So I picked up lunch there for group. I like this place! It's got some of the key ingredients that make local hole-in-the-wall institutions a blast... the "well-worn" location, the either especially personable or surly (in this case personable) staff, and most importantly, the "twist" that makes it unique, in this case the sweet red "secret sauce" on the falafels, baba gahnouj and hummus.

But, really, I hated the sauce. This seems to be part of what makes this place what it is, but, basically to me it was like baba ghanouj with ketchup. Didn't do it for me at all.

I tried the gyro, falafel, hummus, baba ghanouj and pita chips.

I'd say yes, the falafel were on par with the best I've had... they looked overcooked but in fact were wonderfully crispy outisde/moist inside. Indeed, this is excellent falafel.

The baba gahnouj itself was excellent, with a deep and rich smokiness. Hummus was pretty good.

I thought the pita chips were pretty much inedible. Coated with a very, very thick layer of spices (maybe za'atar?), almost black. Did not like them at all. The pitas which came with were also very much nothing special, so I was kind of missing a decent delivery vehicle for the very good hummus/baba... major bummer...

I'd go back for sure, with a better idea now on what to order. And, hold the sauce...

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  1. Great report. I never knew about this institution!!

    Here's the contact info for those interested:
    2301 Stevens Creek Blvd.
    San Jose
    (408) 294-7886

    1. they are also known for their banana milkshake.

      2 Replies
      1. re: hhc

        Exactly. The banana shakes are good and as a sworn carnivore, I was shocked by how tasty these falafels were and how much I liked them.

        1. re: Porthos

          The best falafel (much better than Falafel Drie-In) is at:
          www.holylandrestaurant.com/menu.html (510) 272-0535 677 Rand Avenue Oakland, CA 94610
          Big balls, loaded with sesame seeds, done from inside, not pigeon peas inside 60c/each

      2. Huh, the chile sauce should have been hot, not just sweet. They make it themselves, so maybe they got a batch of mostly sweet chiles. I thought hot sauce on falafels was weird at first, but I've gotten quite used to it.

        Until I had falafels here, I thought they were just nasty hard balls, suitable only for vegetarians who believe in suffering for their food. Now I'm a convert. Yum. Falafel's (they really spell it with the superfluous apostrophe) is one of our regular places. My only complaint is that the pita bread falls apart into a soggy mess unless you eat it very fast. But I still like to add extra tahini even though it hastens the decompostion process.

        We took a visiting friend here once. When we got there, we all exclaimed, "Wow, look at the line!" Except what he meant was "Look at the long line!" and what we meant was "Look at the short line!" By the time we finished our lunch, he conceded we were right.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Karen_Schaffer

          This place rocks! Because I hate it when the pita falls apart (and it ALWAYS does!) and makes such a mess, I've started ordering the falafel salad. Much cleaner and with more falafels.

        2. the red sauce is typically very hot... i adore the falafal and nothing else has compared to theirs. it was a regular lunch spot when I worked in SJ. I do like their pita chips... often picking them up for take out for dinner parties to put with homemade hummus I have made. I don't know about much else on the menu since all I have ever gotten were those two items.

          1. My sister can always tell when her husband, our dad (RIP) or my wife and I have lunch there without her. It's a great "hole-in-the-wall" place.

            1. I just tried the fool medames bean dish, having had serious withdrawal symptoms now that Sahari has closed. It's a real winner too!

              The falafel is good, but I prefer them more in the Israeli style (different beans and different spicing). Anyone know a source for that in the Peninsula / South Bay areas?

              I do have to try the banana shake sometime.


              1. better baba ghanouj & hummus can be had at "just laziz" down san carlos from the falafel drive in. the have decent shawarma too.

                at the drive in, the best is just falafel & a banana milkshake... if you don't stray from the standard, it is good grub.

                4 Replies
                1. re: withalonge

                  I agree. I got the gyros one time and it was not so good. The falafel and banana milkshake combo is a classic although I have to say my favorite falafel place is House of Falafel further down Stevens Creek.

                  1. re: Humbucker

                    Now that we're venturing into Cupertino, how about Vivi's even further down on Stevens Creek? I haven't been there in about a year (House of Falafel is much more convenient for me), but I really liked the falafel plate and falafel sandwiches at Vivi's. You can even get the falafels "spicy" - i.e. they put the spice in the balls themselves, not just in the hot sauce. Good stuff.


                    1. re: al88

                      I like Vivi's, but I think it's kind of a quirky love it or hate it type place. The place is Korean-owned for one thing. Also, the pita they use tends to fall apart very easily so things get very messy, which turns some people off. When I get takeout from Vivi's to eat in the car I bring my own paper plate and get a huge stack of napkins. Whenever I get something spicy there it really clears out the sinuses, if you know what I mean, which I love (but I have to get an even thicker stack of napkins so I can blow my nose). My favorite item there is probably the falafel and hummus pita sandwich which is slathered with hummus making it extra messy. They also have an interesting item called Bulgarian Beef which is basically juicy seasoned ground beef and onion in a pita (also very messy). The prices are pretty awesome with most sandwiches around $4.50 or so.

                      1. re: Humbucker

                        don't forget to support vivi's college fund.

                        this place is a local dive as far as i'm concerened. i also like neli's deli up the street.

                2. I had this place on my list for a long time. I had not read this thread prior to eating there, and was unaware of the secret sauce. Fortunately mine did not have much of it. I took a bite and thought "what the heck is this....ketchup?" It was certainly not spicy. After a few bites, it was gone and I settled in to a very nice Falafel, as good as I have had here in the Bay Area. Next time, I will get it without that sauce....

                  1. WOW!!!,you guys got to discover this amazing Falafel at Alladin Market & Deli in San Mateo. After talking to the cook, I was told that they are a little Falafel factory that supplies more 100 speciality Deli's and Stores with their unique Falafel. It's so tasty.. so incredible. They also have great Hummus, Gyros and salad...

                    1. I was not thrilled with Falafel Drive In. My chicken and falafel gyro fell apart (oversauced) and the foul maddamas was inedible - too bitter. That coupled with the 15 minute wait for our order and the lack of seating soured me on Falafel Drive In.

                      Since the gyro place in downtown SJ on Santa Clara closed I havent found a good place for a gyro. And no Pita Pit does not count - its truly a pit!