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The sad state of falafel in Toronto

hari mirch Oct 15, 2010 10:52 PM

(restarting this thread, minus the part of the post that caused the thread to be deleted)

Years ago, I used to enjoy the falafel at El Basha on Bloor. But then the owner, Tony, returned to Lebanon and there was a period when it was staffed by hired hands, and the food was horrible. Tony's ex and sons then took over the kitchen - they'd operated some sit-down Lebanese places previously - and the food became amazing again. The falafel balls were always large, with a crispy crust on the outside. The inside, while cooked, was deliciously moist and fragrant. The tahini sauce was perfectly balanced with garlic and lemon flavours. And I still try to recreate the hot sauce, which was obviously made, in part, with some kind of roasted chile. I have had falafel all over the world (though not in the Middle East) and so far none has surpassed this falafel when it was at its best.

Eventually, the landlord took over the premises, and the family moved the shop to Yonge Street, and it never got the business there that it used to have, and finally closed.

For a few years in the mid '00s there was a place on Queen West called Syriandipity, which was owned by a Syrian guy. Although the other components never made it up to El Basha's standards at its best, the falafel was its equal, in my opinion. The shawarma and meats were also great. Sadly, the owner had to leave the country and sold the restaurant, which passed to someone who didn't know how to make the food (and didn't care).

Since then, I've never had a good falafel in Toronto. But maybe I'm missing out on something. I'd love to hear there is great falafel somewhere in Toronto. So far, I haven't found anything south of Bloor, at least.

Aida's, now called Laila's, long ago stopped trying. That said, if you go when the Arab woman is making the food - sorry, I don't know her name, or which country she is from, but she is the only Arab person in the shop, the others are Iranian or Korean - the food can be really tasty. But when the owner (who is Iranian) is running the show, he really just does not pay attention and falafel or shish taouk get horribly overcooked as a result. My other gripe with them is they use powdered chile instead of making a hot sauce, which they always did, even back in the early days of Aida. (They've gone through several changes of owners, with a long period in the middle under the ownership of a Hyderabadi man). Also, they make really small falafel balls, although they do give three, rather than two, as in most places.

As for Ghazale, flavourless falafel balls, served with tasteless tomato and apparently unseasoned tahini. Anything with any flavour (tabboule, hummus) costs extra, so of course it's cheap. Price is their selling point, and since they have high turnover, I guess the food is going to be fairly fresh.

Based on comments on this site (including one on the previous incarnation of this thread), I want to try out King Falafel and Armenian Kitchen - here's hoping.

504 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M5S1Y3, CA

Armenian Kitchen
1646 Victoria Park Ave, Toronto, ON M4A, CA

Laila Restaurant
553 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M5S1Y6, CA

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  1. t
    Toronto Fastfoodie Oct 16, 2010 05:06 AM

    I hate to tell you, but for really good falafel, you need to go Little Jerusalem, which is way north of Bloor, in the Bathurst and Steeles area. My personal favourite is Sababa, which is on Steeles just east of Bathurst. It is not pretty but has the best, fresh falafels with a variety of salads to choose from and homemade pita bread. Virtually every strip mall in that area has a falafel restaurant and they are all good. It may not want to be what you hear but think about it like any other ethnic food in T.O: the best Greek? Danforth. Italian? Little Italy. Etc...

    390 Steeles W, Thornhill, ON L4J6X6, CA

    1. Herb Oct 16, 2010 05:36 AM

      Akram's in Kensington. $2.99. Lots of options. Fried to order.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Herb
        KitchenVoodoo Oct 21, 2010 04:10 PM

        I tried Akram's - didn't like the fallafel AT ALL - it was bland. But I'll be back to sample the other items on their steam table, and the people are wonderful!

      2. m
        magic Oct 16, 2010 06:26 AM

        Definitely try King Falafel, at Bathurst/Eglinton. Ask for it to be fried fresh. They happily oblige.

        Other delicious falafel: Hakotel at Bathurst/Steeles and Tov-Li at Bathurst near Wilson.

        1 Reply
        1. re: magic
          sherry f Oct 16, 2010 10:40 AM

          Try Jerusalem on Eglinton West of Bathurst. The falafel balls are fresh and crunchy.

        2. duckdown Oct 16, 2010 10:44 AM

          I think Tov Li makes a really good one

          1. Mr.D Oct 16, 2010 11:32 AM

            Once upon a time ago Tov Li use to make a great falaffel but not anymore. Ive had Fallaffel at King Falafell and Sababas and Jerusalem and many more but there is a new kid on the block and he honestly makes the best falaffel I have ever had in this city Period! the name of the place is Best Grill small place on Steeles Ave just west of Dufferin at the end of the plaza. Definitely worth the drive for anyone that appreciates a realy great falaffel

            390 Steeles W, Thornhill, ON L4J6X6, CA

            Dufferin Cafe
            2917 Dufferin St, Toronto, ON M6B3S7, CA

            1 Reply
            1. re: Mr.D
              terrycar Oct 16, 2010 01:59 PM

              Baba Ali's is a place recently opened on 3371 Lake Shore Blvd.W. that makes very good falafel, as well as manakeesh and other baked goods, all handmade on the premises.

            2. s
              ShellyR59 Oct 16, 2010 02:16 PM

              Afraid I dont know the name but I have often gone to a place on Bloor a few doors west of Brunswick Avenue on the South Side of Bloor.
              I am assuming this is not the same place the original poster is speaking of for i believe I was last there about a year ago and had a very enjoyable falafel....??!!

              Afraid I dont know the name of it...
              Also a bit further north then you are asking, but in Forest Hill Village, on Spadina Road, a few doors south of the Kitchen Table, just south of Lonsdale there is a great Mid Eastern restaurant..again, I cannot recall its name but they have a great falafel

              4 Replies
              1. re: ShellyR59
                magic Oct 16, 2010 04:20 PM

                Mashu Mashu is the Forest Hill restaurant's name. And its a great restaurant, agreed.

                1. re: ShellyR59
                  Herb Oct 16, 2010 06:29 PM

                  Sarah's on Bloor?

                  1. re: Herb
                    shekamoo Oct 17, 2010 05:29 AM

                    Sarah's is just ok I guess, nothing special, dont you agree?

                  2. re: ShellyR59
                    piccola Oct 16, 2010 06:49 PM

                    Are you thinking of Laila's (on Bloor)?

                    Laila Restaurant
                    553 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M5S1Y6, CA

                  3. c
                    carb_queen Oct 16, 2010 03:51 PM

                    Sababa is my favourite - definitely worth the trip to bathurst & steeles.

                    King falafel is also great. Skip Tov Li - it used to be good, but not anymore.

                    Meron brothers (also bathurst/steeles area) is worth a try as well, and here you can get it on lafa.

                    514 Eglinton Ave W, Toronto, ON M5N1A5, CA

                    390 Steeles W, Thornhill, ON L4J6X6, CA

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: carb_queen
                      magic Oct 16, 2010 04:18 PM

                      Has the Wilson Tov-Li gone downhill recently? I was last there maybe 3 years ago and it was great.

                      1. re: magic
                        juno Oct 17, 2010 07:58 AM

                        If Tov-Li - specifically, the branch on Bathurst St. south of Wilson Ave. - has gone downhill, I haven't noticed it. And I get there pretty regularly. Agreed, it's not the most charming venue in which to ingest a falafel sandwich, but the falafel balls are deep-fried fresh upon ordering, most of the many add-ons are tasty (and free) and the pitas (white or whole wheat) are warmed and hold the ingredients (except for the pickled beets) nicely. The regular clientele of Tov-Li are a knowing, if cranky, lot, and would never put up with a diminution of quality.

                        So long as the balls are freshly fried upon ordering - rather than held in a warmer after being deep fried - a falafel sandwich will usually be sterling. Which is why the above-mentioned Sababa is strong, both for takeout and eat in. As well as the also-mentioned Mashu Mashu. Though I don't think either beat Tov-Li on the add-ons that help put extra crunch and zing into the sandwich.

                        Meron Brothers, on Bathurst St. just north of Steeles Ave., has been out of action for quite a while. I've never been to King Falafel or Hakotel, but friends like both of them. Ghazale, next to the Bloor Theatre, is, in my experience, a total dud, as well as smelling unpleasant. The above-mentioned Baba Ali's sounds promising, but I'll probably never get there to find out for myself - there's only so far that I'll drive in search of a good falafel.

                        Mashu Mashu
                        387 Spadina Rd, Toronto, ON M5P, CA

                        390 Steeles W, Thornhill, ON L4J6X6, CA

                        King Falafel
                        700 King St W, Toronto, ON M5V2Y6, CA

                        Hakotel Restaurant
                        1045 Steeles Ave W, Toronto, ON M2R2S9, CA

                        1. re: juno
                          magic Oct 17, 2010 08:08 AM

                          Yeah, last time I was at the Tov-Li Wilson location it was damn good, so I was surprised to read a couple of posters had negative reviews. Thanks for your update. I think I'll have to make it there again soon!

                          Mashu Mashu is a great restaurant, but falafel is not really their specialty per se. Don't get me wrong, it's pretty good. But it's not their specialty and places like King Falafel and Tov-Li definitely do it better.

                      2. re: carb_queen
                        Charles Yu Oct 16, 2010 06:16 PM

                        Yes! Totally happy with a meal at Sababa with Falafel as appertizer and Lamb shish Kebab as entree. Pity their salad dressing is so !@##$&^ sour!!

                        390 Steeles W, Thornhill, ON L4J6X6, CA

                      3. PoppiYYZ Oct 17, 2010 05:39 AM

                        Can't say I'm an experience falafel eater, but I can tell you that the falafels at Falafel World on Bloor west by Jane taste great. Tabouli and Yogurt sauce along with the Shawarmas are also very very good.

                        Falafel World
                        2396 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M6S1P5, CA

                        1. p
                          pakmode Oct 18, 2010 08:54 AM

                          Read some of the reviews on Shawarma Empire on here.

                          It's gotten alot of reviews the past few months based on recommendations and is located in the Lawrence of Arabia strip (Lawrence east from Warden to Pharmacy).

                          The falafels are made to order and well spiced.
                          The hot sauce is also made from scratch, and while not overly spicy, it has an interesting tang to it.

                          Shawarma Empire
                          1823 Lawrence Ave E, Toronto, ON M1R2Y3, CA

                          1. m
                            MeMeMe Oct 18, 2010 08:57 AM

                            Tov-li - hands down - for the most delish and authentic falafel in town. And enormous - i get the half sandwich and that's enough for me.

                            1. s
                              sman Oct 18, 2010 10:17 AM

                              I haven't tried most of the places already mentioned but I do like the falafel at Paramount which now has a location near the Eaton Centre. I think the falafel sandwich is a reasonable facsimile of the sandwiches I grew up eating at home. The falafel is fried to order and I like the tahini sauce, as well as the use of pickled turnip and parsley. Not my mom's falafel sandwich but good when I've got a craving!

                              1. atomeyes Oct 20, 2010 07:27 AM

                                I always forget its name. Its a block south of Lawrence on the west side of Bathurst.
                                Jewish restaurant with THE best falafel sandwiches in the city.
                                Very inexpensive, excellent choices of salads.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: atomeyes
                                  magic Oct 20, 2010 05:52 PM

                                  I think you mean King David.

                                  1. re: magic
                                    longolame Oct 21, 2010 06:38 PM

                                    There's also a King David's at the Bathurst Manor plaza on Wilmington south of Finch.

                                    1. re: longolame
                                      magic Oct 21, 2010 08:21 PM

                                      And a location around Bathurst/Centre too I believe.

                                    2. re: magic
                                      atomeyes Dec 25, 2010 06:56 PM

                                      i was just in the 'hood last week. sadly, it wasn't King David that I meant. it was the resto 3 buildings north of King David. that resto went from being a dairy resto to now being a meat resto. so no more falafel.

                                      Went to King David's for lunch. it was very good but not amazing. salads were better than most of the places named above. he skimped on the humus and tehina. and its $5 a falafel-pita. higher than the $3 i paid at the previous (and now defunct) place

                                  2. b
                                    bakersdelight Oct 21, 2010 11:01 AM

                                    there's this big fluorescent-lit place on Dundas, 2 blocks east of University. had a great chicken shwarma there last night, and would have been happy to try their falafel! Lebanese place.

                                    1. m
                                      mlz Oct 21, 2010 02:28 PM

                                      I know this is a bit out of the city but if you are ever in the Markham area on Hwy 7 near Kennedy Rd. is an amazing Falafel place called Alex's Falafel. I think it is the best I've had, does not even compare to Tov-li which I used to love. Very Authentic and the Shwarma is delicious as well.

                                      Alex's Falafel
                                      1921 Queen St E, Toronto, ON M4L1H3, CA

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: mlz
                                        pancake Oct 22, 2010 10:44 PM

                                        The best falafel I've had is from Ali Baba that just opened up on Dundas, west of Bathurst. The ingredients are always fresh, the toppings plenty and it's a great steal when the you can get 2 for 3.99 as one of the weekly specials (I forget which day of the week it is). I work in the area and eat here often. Everything is always fresh and consistent. I would highly recommend it for a quick, nutritious and affordable meal! There falafel balls are not huge and when they fry them the outside gets a nice crisp crust and the inside stays soft. Delicious. Extra garlic sauce is a must!

                                      2. j
                                        Jazminsdaddy Dec 24, 2010 06:51 AM

                                        There is a new place called Taste of Beirut on Lawrence Ave E. I think it is 1960 Law Ave E. I had the falafel the other day and it was wonderful. Fried to order, a crusty exterior and a moist, tender center. I am far from an expert but, man, it was good.

                                        1. m
                                          merlot143 Dec 24, 2010 07:07 AM

                                          One place to definitely avoid is on Eglinton East, close to Mt. Pleasant. I forget the name but it has the word "Authentic" in it. The food was mediocre. A friend had a chicken shawarma and felt nauseous afterwards. It didn't help that the chicken had been left sitting in a tin of water.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: merlot143
                                            kwass Dec 24, 2010 10:33 AM

                                            Hanna's @ Bathurst and Rutherford makes really good falafel. And although I haven't tried their falafel, everything @ Shoom Shoom, which is a Middle Eastern Restaurant on Bayview just North of Steeles, is awesome, so I imagine that their falafel is fantastic too!

                                            1. re: merlot143
                                              Yongeman Dec 25, 2010 08:14 PM

                                              The place you are thinking of is Quick Pita, a chain of sorts. I agree with you about the mediocre food. We live quite close and would eat there if it was any good, but, alas, not even close. It doesn't help that the added to their sign that they also specialize in Philly Cheese Steaks! No thanks.

                                              Quick Pita Restaurant
                                              188 Eglinton Ave E, Toronto, ON M4P2X7, CA

                                              1. re: Yongeman
                                                Barbara Morris Jan 28, 2011 07:34 PM

                                                Quick Pita on on Eglinton used to have great falafel, crunchy and tasty. But lately they've been shaping them flat with a falafel press so they can't really get crunchy. They don't seem as tasty as before either; I don't get that big cumin garlic parsley taste I'm looking for. But the lack of flavour might be down to the doughy rather than crunchy texture.

                                            2. Charles Yu Dec 24, 2010 02:24 PM

                                              Sababa on Steeles / Bathurst and Big Joes on Bayview north of Elgin Mills still make pretty good ones!!

                                              390 Steeles W, Thornhill, ON L4J6X6, CA

                                              Elgin Cafe
                                              100 Elgin St, Ottawa, ON K1P5K8, CA

                                              1. JonasBrand Dec 24, 2010 08:38 PM

                                                Milo's Pita serves excellent homemade falafel.

                                                Milo's Pita
                                                10 Dundas St E, Toronto, ON M5B, CA

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: JonasBrand
                                                  abigllama Dec 25, 2010 10:40 AM

                                                  I second Milo's and it's really the only one I'll eat because others are such a let down. They cooked to order and always very moist. It's a bit pricy at about $7 but I'll gladly pay more for something that's great.

                                                  Like the OP I just don't really taste test falafel much because most places let them sit around. An old, dry falafel is horrible and neither a microwave nor a panini press can save it.

                                                2. p
                                                  Pizza Lover Dec 27, 2010 05:46 AM

                                                  I would add a new contender to the list of good falafels in Toronto. It is located in the Tim Horton's plaza at Bathurst and Finch and shares space with the pizza store. Freshly made light falafels, a variety of fresh and tasty salads, a top notch zchug and the friendliest guy working behind the counter. The price is a steal at $3 and they make a very good shawarma as well.

                                                  1. hal2010 Jan 28, 2011 07:49 PM

                                                    Do most falafel places use the re-hydrated dried falafel mixes? I once made falafel from cooked chick peas and it was completely different. Very soft inside with a more crunchy outer layer.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: hal2010
                                                      hari mirch Aug 27, 2011 06:33 PM

                                                      That's how it should be. I really don't know what most places are doing, but they aren't doing it right.

                                                      1. re: hal2010
                                                        Tatai Sep 2, 2011 01:28 PM

                                                        Falafel should actually be made using soaked DRIED chick peas (or fava beans depending on the country of origin). Cooked chick peas do not a proper falafel make.

                                                      2. p
                                                        pf9k Aug 28, 2011 03:36 PM

                                                        queen pita - gus serves great food

                                                        1. f
                                                          FishinWitGummyWorms Aug 31, 2011 08:11 PM

                                                          Agreed. Use to eat @ El Basha's all the time in the '90's. Always took my friends and spent many a night hanging out in the area (lived just around the corner) and having dinner there. Knew Tony and the Sons - loved the people and the food. When the food wasn't great it was still damn good, and when it was rockin, wow. Crispy delicious falafel with fluffy centres, good bread, super crisp turnips and veggies, and amazing hot sauce. Stopped going there a little while after the boys opened Cedar's on the opposite side of Bloor across the street. I miss El Basha and haven't been able to replace it.

                                                          As far as Sababa's goes, started eating there in the early '00's, and it used to be a must have every single time I came to Toronto. I would go nuts and eat much more than I should have - and loved it. However, over the last couple of years I have found the quality of the food sliding somewhat, along with the service. Maybe I'm just getting the wrong waitstaff, and maybe the law of diminishing returns is playing a part, but Sababa's just doesn't seem to be what it used to; Really Damn Good.

                                                          390 Steeles W, Thornhill, ON L4J6X6, CA

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: FishinWitGummyWorms
                                                            biggreenmatt Sep 1, 2011 06:08 AM

                                                            Sababa's falafel is ridiculously good- fresh warm pita, baked in-house, plump falafel balls deep-fried to order, perfect balance of hot sauce, tahini and lemon, and all for less than $2.50. Been eating them for the better part of 20 years, but oddly, I've never actually had it in the restaurant. Right next door there's a middle-eastern grocery that does take out food, and that's where I always go. Takeout falafel, mango nectar and a six of vine leaves make of an excellent vegan lunch.

                                                            If you care about falafel: this takeout will change your world.

                                                            390 Steeles W, Thornhill, ON L4J6X6, CA

                                                            1. re: biggreenmatt
                                                              FishinWitGummyWorms Sep 2, 2011 08:01 AM

                                                              I'm in town for another week so I will give them a try again and see how it goes.

                                                              1. re: biggreenmatt
                                                                DDD Sep 2, 2011 04:49 PM

                                                                Agree, Sababa is the most consistent.....but we live west end now and Falafel World is totally fine in a pinch. However, I was disappointed with the shawarma there (falafel world), lacked flavour and was dry.

                                                                390 Steeles W, Thornhill, ON L4J6X6, CA

                                                                Falafel World
                                                                2396 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M6S1P5, CA

                                                            2. t
                                                              Tatai Sep 2, 2011 01:31 PM

                                                              A place called Shawarma and Falafel recently opened at 570 St. Clair West (a few blocks west of Bathurst on the north side) and their falafel is really good. Freshly cooked when ordered, it's well seasoned, crispy and non-greasy. And the pita is well filled; no skimping here.

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