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In Search Of Killer Falafel

Hey Folks,

Does anyone have a favorite place for finding a falafel in the D.C. metro area. I spent the first 35 years of my life really detesting falafel. Everywhere I had it, usually made lots of greasy falafel patties ahead of time and just heated them when you ordered. I never had a real one until I accidentally wandered into Max's deli in Wheaton. I was bowled over at the freshness. They shape and fry the falafel balls to order and they have an outstanding selection of homemade veggies and condiments to choose from. Its the only place I've ever found anything this good.

I'm curious to know if anyone has a great falafel experience to share?

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  1. It's not exactly traditional, but the falafel sandwich at Breadline is awesome.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Henry Spencer

      Breadline makes a great felafel sandwich, but its their own unique take. Open only for midweek lunch.

      But I agree that Max's felafel bar is the best.

      1. re: Henry Spencer

        Do they serve the falafel at Breadline every day? Craving it today and their daily menu isn't working (their website sucks btw!).

        Also what makes it nontraditional?

        1. re: Elyssa

          Sorry if this is a late reply, but there's always tomorrow.

          No choice of toppings, they add a spicy tahini-based sauce, deep fried whole chickpeas for added crunch, and some dark leafy greens. The whole chickpeas are a very nice touch.

      2. Actually, you were lucky enough to find the best,. Max's is by far the best falafel in the area!

        1. Pita Plus in College Park (Lehigh Road off Route 1) has good kosher ME food including falafel, schwarma and fresh Lafa bread. It can be a little slow at times and is kind of pricey, but if you find yourself at UMD and need a bite to eat it's a good choice.

          1. I love the falafel at Max's cafe also. Equally outstanding is Amsterdam Falafelshop in Adams Morgan. There you can load the pita yourself with about 15-20 toppings.

            9 Replies
            1. re: comestibles

              You should check out Amsterdam's competition on Columbia Road, Old City Cafe. Same concept, better execution in my experience. And more seating!

              1. re: hamster

                Very strongly second this recommendation. I love Old City's falafel and their topping bar is outstanding...I had it last night as a matter of fact

              2. re: comestibles

                Oh my, I love Amsterdam Falafel. So many toppings, it's different each time.

                1. re: katecm

                  I have always wanted to try Amsterdam falafel. It sounds great!

                2. re: comestibles

                  I am very surprised to hear anyone putting Amsterdam on the same level as Max's. Variety and execution of toppings plus the bread far better at Max's. like night and day. When I was there, bread at Amsterdam was small and tore easily.

                  1. re: Steve

                    We didn't say it is the same level - having never been to Max's, I couldn't compare. But for convenience for the carless, Amsterdam is a darn good option.

                    1. re: katecm

                      Maybe you didn't read the post I was responding to carefully enough. Here is the quote:

                      "I love the falafel at Max's cafe also. Equally outstanding is Amsterdam Falafelshop in Adams Morgan."

                      Who is "WE?"

                      Amsterdam is a neighborhood recommendation. If you live in the vicinity, fine. But I wouldn't go out of my way for it. Personally, I probably wouldn't go back even if I was in the neighborhood. I'll save my felafel cravings for Max's, Breadline, and and the Lebanese Butcher.

                    2. re: Steve

                      I think we are talking about several things here. The falafel balls at Max's and Amsterdam are equally good IMO. They are both tasty, crusty, crunchy on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside; and they are both made fresh or in small batches.

                      As for the toppings, AF has more variety. I don't know exactly what "execution of toppings" means. Is it quality of preparation or the way they put the toppings in your pita at Max's? because you cannot stuff your own pita at Max's the way you can at AF. I have seen nothing wrong with the topping quality at AF.

                      The white bread pita at Max's is very good and is a larger pocket than AF's whole wheat pita (they only kind I've ordered there) which does tear more easily. But my Max's falafel sandwich also tears as I eat into it, what with the juices from the toppings and the tahini. I also like to really stuff my pita at AFwith tons of toppings till it bulges. I don't mind torn/leaky pita they way you seem to. I enjoy my falafel sandwich at both places very much.

                      1. re: comestibles

                        Well, I have never counted the amount of toppings, but when I went to Amsterdam Falafel, I was disappointed in what they offered. When I went to Max's, I saw several interesting house-made sauces with varying degrees of spiciness, other condiments that clearly were made there, and some toppings using items like sauteed onions, etc. The whole thing was just fantastic, as where AFH in Adams Morgan was a let down. I don't know if there are other Chowhounds who have been to both (more recently than I) but that was my impression.

                  2. It's been awhile, but the Woodside Deli on 16th St/Georgia Ave (just S of the Beltway) used to be decent -- I believe the Israeli Embassy staff frequented it, which is about the best falafel recommendation you can get.

                    The fact that Amsterdam Falafel (described below) has 15-20 toppings makes it a good bet IF the falafel themselves are properly cooked.

                    1. There's a small place Moti's Falafel Stand on Rollins Ave. in Rockville which caters to the large Israeli population in that area. Their falafel is also freshly made and a lot thicker than Max's, and a little cheaper. As I recall from my trip to Israel, the falafel thickness and their toppings selection is more authentic Israeli than Max's. Also, their pita is thicker and fresher, since they bake it, as opposed to pulling it out of a bag.
                      That having been said, I say forget the authenticity, I still prefer Max's.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: elmoz

                        Moti's falafel is thicker than Max's? Wow! That must be one incredibly huge sandwich. (I've always considered Max's falafel to be enough for two people.) I'll give Moti's a try!

                        1. re: Sean D

                          I wasn't clear. The falafel balls are thicker and the pita is thicker so it doesn't break as easily. However, the volume of the sandwich is bigger at Max's.

                      2. Thanks everyone for the great feedback. I'm in the same shoes as many of you who have commented on Amsterdam. I have nothing to compare my current experience to. Though, I've long considered Max's falafel to be one of the best sandwiches that I've ever experienced anywhere in the world.

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: Sean D

                          Zorkafor's SandVeg in Old Town Alexandria (703 King Street, at the intersection with Washington Street) has excellent Falafel, plus a nice bar with various vegetable and sauce toppings. Quite good.

                          1. re: Sean D

                            Are you talking about one of the best falafel sandwiches you've had in the world or one of the best sandwiches in general? Max's is good but definitely not one of the best places I have experienced a falafel (that would be when I was in Israel) and DEFINITELY not one of the best sandwiches I have experienced throughout my travels abroad AND in the United States.

                            1. re: Jacey

                              I meant in the world, Jacey...and I've traveled all over this world for over 20 years. I'd definitely put it in my top 20. Of course, "best" is in the eye of the beholder. But, perhaps I should elaborate.

                              Among the top sandwiches I've had in the world:

                              - Muffaletta in New Orleans
                              - Cheesesteak at several places in Philly
                              - Schwarma in London
                              - Donner kebab in Turkey (and Germany)
                              - Speedies in Binghampton, NY
                              - Cuban sandwiches (all over south Florida)
                              - Rice burgers (from MosBurger) in Japan
                              - Beef on Weck in Rochester and Buffalo areas.
                              - Corned beef and chopped liver - all over greater NYC and in many other places
                              - An incredible beef-egg-potato sandwich in Poland
                              - A chicken fried steak sandwich in Arkansas
                              - Chicken, sweet peppers, olives, and basil sandwiches in Italy
                              - Vietnamese grilled lemongrass chicken in Minnesota
                              - Chip buttees all over England
                              - Grilled lamb and eggplant in New Zealand
                              - Grilled tuna steak on brown bread in Guam
                              - Roasted open-faced turkey all over the U.S.
                              - Deep-fried whiting on white bread in D.C.
                              - Homemade pork sausage on croissant in Belgium.
                              - Porkchop, pineapple, and seasoned mayo on sweet Hawaiian bread on Oahu
                              - Pulled pork with vinegar-pepper sauce in Wilmington, NC
                              - Lime-glazed ham on cheese bread in Nashville

                              AND, the mostly homemade, lovingly prepared falafels at Max's in Wheaton.

                              I could probably name a couple dozen more from my personal experiences...and so could many of the people who come to this site.

                              (I said "best", Jacey...not most snobby, most brag-worthy, most expensive, most distant, or most elitist.)

                              1. re: Sean D

                                It's been a while for me, but when I ate at Max's, I thought it could hang with the famed felafel shops on rue des Rosiers in the Marais in Paris, like L'as du felafel.

                                1. re: Steve

                                  Good to know.

                                  L'as du fallafel cannot be beat in my opinion, but I'd take something close.

                                2. re: Sean D

                                  I think you are over using the word best. It loses credibility IMHO.

                                  No response needed.

                                  1. re: Sean D

                                    sean, that's an enviable list, indeed!

                              2. Try out Pita House on Cameron St in Old Town Alexandria. Really hard to beat!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Plankwalker

                                  Pita House is excellent, but don't let it get out. ;)

                                2. Max's is the best, Moti's in Rockville doesn't compare. The falafel at Max's is just like you get in Tel Aviv! by the way, no falafel at Max's until after the conclusion of Passover next Friday!

                                  12 Replies
                                  1. re: dining with doc

                                    Thanks for that great insight, Doc. When I go into Max's, it does feel like I'm in a different place. The majority of the customers seem to be orthodox Jews and there is a definite sense that I'm getting something that is uncommonly authentic.

                                    I must also say that the attitude of the guy who is in charge of the falafel / schwarma bar is world-class. I once mentioned to him that I thought the kosher nature of his food really showed in the quality. To this, he took exception. He said that it wasn't because the food was kosher. Rather, he said that it was because they made only the best quality food. I can believe it. Anyone who watches them prepare a sandwich can see the real pride that goes into the product.

                                    By the way, I tried to go to Moti's last night, but it was closed. (Their website indicated that they were open until 8:00, but this wasn't the case.) Now that I've read this recommendation from Doc, I'll be curious to see what Moti's is like.

                                    1. re: Sean D

                                      When you go to Max's, don't tell them how to fix your falafel. Just ask them to prepare one they way they would like to eat it. You will get some interesting and delicious combinations of ingredients that way!

                                      Moti's would have been closed by about 5 last night for Passover, as probably Max's as well.

                                      1. re: DanielK

                                        Daniel, that is precisely what happened the first time I wandered in there. I had no idea of what to order. The guy behind the counter saw that and did just what you said. Ever since then, I prettymuch let him make it the way he wants. Its always good. I've also come to try lots of things that I might not have, otherwise.

                                        1. re: Sean D

                                          I look forward to trying the falafel there. Unfortunately it is off my beaten path and it's usually a Saturday when I am up that way. I just hope it is as good or close to as good as L'As du Falafel in Paris. I couldn't eat falafel for a year afterwards because it was so awesome.

                                          1. re: ChewFun

                                            Anyone had the falafel at Truly Med in SF? How does it compare on this list, and how does Max's compare with it?

                                            1. re: ChewFun

                                              Max's is kosher and thus closed for sabbath from Friday afternoon thru sunset Saturday night. It may open late on Saturday nites but I am not certain about that

                                              1. re: dining with doc

                                                Max's does not open on Saturday nights.

                                        2. re: Sean D

                                          Sean, Passover started last night. Your falafel credibility has just gone down a few notches. :)

                                          1. re: Jacey

                                            I'm not Jewish, Jacey. Nor, did I know that Passover began last night. I hardly see how you can logically connect these facts, to a question of credibility about my enjoyment of falafel.

                                            (By the way, in case you haven't noticed this website is for people who love food...not people who want to use it to promote personal snobbery.)

                                            1. re: Sean D

                                              Jacey was JK. Besides, the name Sean is kind of a giveaway.

                                              1. re: Steve

                                                Jeez, if you guy by names, my credibility would be limited to pastrami on white with mayo. 8>P

                                                As for Max's, this is world-class felafel. My felafel benchmark has always been Mi Vami in Coolidge Corner, Brookline, Mass. (don't bother trying to find it, it's no longer there, but the last time I was up there there was another Israeli-looking place in the same storefront, so there may still be great felafel to be had there.) After one bite of Max's felafel I knew I was back in business. Just tell the guy you want your felafel spicy, and let him work his magic with the topics.

                                                What makes Max's so great -in addition to the amazing felafel itself -- is that the guy layers felafel and toppings multiple times, so you always get a bite of something different, right to the end of your sandwich. It's amazing stuff.

                                                1. re: Bob W

                                                  That's hilarious given that Mi Vami was the name of *my* favorite felafel place in Paris - better than l'As du Felafel!!
                                                  I've tried the replacement in Brookline, quite good but actually a little undercooked occasionally. Not sure of their name.

                                      2. If you happen to venture up to Baltimore on a Sunday morning this summer, take advantage of the falafel stand at the Baltimore Farmer's Market under I-83. Its an amazing falafel sandwich, made with sprouted chick peas and very fresh, local and seasonal ingrediants. The sandwich is huge too. Plan to share it with a friend. Its one of the best and freshest falafels I've ever had. And the farmers market is a very lively place filled with all sorts of goodies.

                                        1. LOL, I clicked on this thread because I was going to suggest Max's.

                                          1. How about in the Baltimore area? Other than the little falafel stand at farmer's market (under the fallsway on Sundays), is there anywhere in Baltimore where one can get decent middle eastern food or falafel?

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: curlielox

                                              The falafel at the farmers market is the best. However, there is a place called Little Morocco on Eastern Ave. in Patterson Park/Highlandtown area that serves some middle eastern food, kebobs and such. They have a pretty decent falafel. They began as a cafe and hookah lounge and only a few weeks ago started to serve hot food. The menu includes American favorites like cheesesteaks and burgers for the locals, they just added some mexican favorites for their latino customers, but they do have some very very good moroccan fare. Its casual and relaxed. The hookah lounge upstairs is a cool place to eat. Its a great space with moroccan decor. The ingrediants are fresh and the prices very very reasonable.

                                              1. re: curlielox

                                                Mew place in Owings MIlls......Tahinas's....specializes in Falafel with lots of different toppings

                                              2. waaaah, what about us here in arlington?

                                                7 Replies
                                                1. re: alkapal

                                                  It's OK at Jerusalem near Bailey's Crossroads and Narina (? was Uncle George's for a short time) at Falls Church West End.

                                                  I'm not sure what "killer" felafel is. It all tastes roughly the same to me.

                                                  1. re: MikeR

                                                    I think you are referring to Cafe Nessma that was formerly Uncle George's in Falls Church City. I may try it this week.

                                                    1. re: MsDiPesto

                                                      Cafe Nessma -- RIP.

                                                      Today, I was in the shopping center which housed Uncle George's/Cafe Nessma and brown craft paper covered the window of the restaurant space. I was last in the shopping center two weeks ago, but the fact that I didn't notice the covered windows then doesn't necessarily mean this closure is a recent development.

                                                      1. re: Indy 67

                                                        It must have closed in the past week. It was open about a week ago. I just noticed the paper over the windows when I drove past on Sunday evening, but I thought it was over the window of the place next door, which was rumored to be a possible expansion of Nessma. Guess not.

                                                        And a few weeks ago when I drove past, I'm sure that the awning said "Kabob (something)" and I thought perhaps it had changed hands, but a few days later I walked by there and noticed that it still said Nessma. Upon a closer look, I saw that Nessma was an overlay and that I must have seen the name that was under it. Or my brain is playing tricks on me.

                                                        Whatever, it's not a big loss, but it was a decent spot in the neighborhood.

                                                        1. re: Indy 67

                                                          gosh, that didn't take long. ;-(.

                                                          1. re: Indy 67

                                                            False alarm on Cafe Nessma. I passed by there today and they looked very open, so I stopped in to inquire what was up (I just had lunch so I didn't eat). The shop next door with the brown paper on the window and the Nessma sign is now theirs, and they're using it as a smoking room. I didn't ask for details, but it's probably equipped with hookahs.

                                                            The cafe is still the same, it's still open, and they plan to remain open.

                                                            1. re: MikeR

                                                              What about the falafel place on 18th in Adams Morgan?

                                                    2. Max's is now running a shwarma/kosher hot dog/falafel stand at National's Park, so if you're there Sun-Thur for a game, be sure to check them out! (press release here: http://mlb.mlb.com/news/press_release...

                                                      1. Lest you think your opinions have no impact, after reading this thread, yesterday I packed the family in the ol' mini-V, and trundled off to Wheaton, which is about 1/2 hour from my home. Although I grew up in the Wheaton area (and remember when Shalom first opened in the 70s), I had never actually eaten at Max's. Holy cow, that was some good falafel. As per the recommendations, I had them pick the toppings (too overwhelming to do so myself). It was just great. We also had some of the chicken soup with matzoh balls. Really good soup too. Tasted of chicken and herbs, with chunks of chicken and carrot and just the right amount of salt.

                                                        1. I would suggest you give the falafel at Zorkafor's SandVeg in Old Town Alexandria a try. the falafel is prepared fresh daily and fried upon order. It is fresh, tasty and not greasy. they also have about 20 self-serve condiments to add to your order.

                                                          1. Definitely don't bother with the falafel at Legends off of Dupont Circle. Long wait and they just generally tasted off!

                                                            1. Has anyone here had falafel from the mobile stands in Bethesda (at the Farm Woman's Market) and in Takoma Park (based out of a gas station, and organic according to the sign)?

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. I went to Maoz last at 1807 M Street, it was delicious, as good as I remembered it when I had it in Barcelona. The falafal is only $4.59 and its a decent size. I added hummus to it (which was an additional charge and I had their Belgian Fries which were quite good.

                                                                  1. re: JayDK

                                                                    If you are looking for the ultimate in fluffiness, freshness, and crunch, then Kabob Tavern in Vienna, Virginia is where you want to be.

                                                                    For a killer felafel sandwich with a wild variety of toppings, then Max's in Wheaton.

                                                                    1. re: JayDK

                                                                      Another good spot for falafel is the waterpark cafe in Crystal City. Egyptian place and great when the weather is as well.

                                                                    2. Amsterdam Felafel, Jerusalem (Palestinian) in Bailey's Crossroads if it's still there, Shwarma King if its still there (AdMo).


                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                      1. re: Foodgeek

                                                                        Jerusalem is still there, going strong.

                                                                        1. re: Foodgeek

                                                                          Schwarma King is now Doener Bistro.

                                                                          There's another Amsterdam Felafel coming to 14th Street, though it's not open yet.

                                                                          I would add Shawafel to the list for a different take, though I think their meats are better than their falafel. They do a great job with the large pita and grilled approach to falafel and shawarma sandwiches. If anyone knows Shawarma King in Brookline, it's the same approach. I absolutely love it.