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Haifa Falafel (Ann Arbor/Ypsi)

t
trapani Jul 15, 2013 07:55 PM

For several years I have enjoyed Haifa Falafel, an economical, friendly place on the border of Ypsilanti & Ann Arbor. While the menu overlaps with the many Lebanese places, Haifa Falafel distingushs itself with a few touches. For example, a lovely pickled red cabbage garnish. My favorite dishes are the majjdarrah, fattoush & kefta. My friends and family have all enjoyed a range of meals.
Tonite I tried something different: Sholbata, described as a spicy bulgher dish. Sholbata was that and so much more, An ample mound of warm cracked wheat, cooked in a savory tomato sauce, and laced with soft chunks of carrot, melting onion, and green pepper. And it was spicy, with an almost smokey flavor. All topped with some tahini & the fresh vegetable garnish.
With two decades in SE Michigan, I have eaten alot of Middle Eastern food. The sholbata came as a total surprise. According to the counterman, the recipe is unique to Haifa Falafel.
Would I drive to Washtenaw County just to try Haifa Falafel? Maybe not, but if you find yourself on US-23, exit at Washtenaw (Ypsilant-bound); within a mile, you can enjoy your own plate of sholbata.

  1. j
    Jim M Jul 16, 2013 06:41 AM

    Their falafel itself is also unusually good. Only place I know of in the area to get the Israeli-style Middle Eastern food.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Jim M
      t
      trapani Jul 16, 2013 11:04 AM

      Yes, the owners are Israeli Arabs. Alot of Israeli Jews enjoy eating here.

      1. re: Jim M
        b
        boagman Jul 16, 2013 10:41 PM

        They graciously offered me a falafel ball with a sample of their Haifa sauce, and yes: the falafel is a step up from others I've had. I'm still not a huge fan of it in general, but this was certainly better than others I've tried. I was very pleased that they offered me this without my even asking...I was curious about it since you made mention of it.

      2. b
        boagman Jul 16, 2013 10:39 PM

        Stopped there today based on your suggestion(s). Very nice. Pricier than most Middle Eastern places, but due to its proximity to Ann Arbor, I wasn't surprised.

        I decided to start (as I almost always do) to start with the baseline of a Chicken Shawarma sandwich, and a carbonated beverage. I can say without a moment's hesitation: this is the prettiest-looking chicken shawarma sandwich I've ever been served. It really looks divine, with lots of different colors, and it's just highly appetizing in appearance. It's a very nice start.

        Taking my first bite, I was pretty impressed with it. The ingredients are fresh, the taste was pretty good...but it definitely needed more garlic sauce, which the folks behind the counter were more than happy to provide at no charge. With that, it's a definite winner. It's a pretty busy chicken shawarma sandwich with all of the ingredients in there, too, but in no way was it too dry (which can be a problem with chicken shawarma sandwiches at various places...even my beloved Bucharest Grill can be a bit too dry at times).

        With my Mountain Dew fountain beverage (serve yourself, with free refills), my bill came to a total of $7.25, and I'm perfectly happy with what I had at that price point. It may not be the best chicken shawarma sandwich I've ever had, but it's nowhere *near* the bottom, and it was, in fact, rather good, especially once more garlic sauce was added.

        I wouldn't drive all the way here to score one, but when I come back to A-Squared for my locksmithing work, this will surely be a place I'd return to, possibly to try the Shish Tawook sandwich which the nice food maker/order taker showed me and told me, "You'll have to try this one next time...it's my favorite."

        I should also add that the place was dead empty when I arrived around 1:30PM, but when I left, it was half-full. They seem to be doing several things right, and I liked my experience.

        1 Reply
        1. re: boagman
          j
          Jim M Jul 17, 2013 05:00 AM

          Yes—you can get a lot of food for seven dollars there.

          Also good on Washtenaw: Pita Pita, a bit farther down toward Ypsilanti. For my money, the best lentil soup in the entire area. Has a kind of scorched curry flavor that's unique.

        2. dearborn barkis Jul 17, 2013 05:57 PM

          Is their shawarma "real"? i.e. shaved off broasting chicken or lamb vertical rotisserie spits, or is it just grilled chicken/lamb pieces? ...I just hate fake shawarma.

          And fake shawarma is so common outside Dearborn I just avoid buying it outside the vicinity unless I know otherwise.

          2 Replies
          1. re: dearborn barkis
            b
            boagman Jul 17, 2013 08:40 PM

            I'm going to say a "cautious yes", here. According to the order taker/food maker, the chicken shawarma I ordered had been shaved off a rotisserie spit not too much earlier in the day. He actually pointed to a beef rotisserie spit back in the kitchen (very plainly visible) to show me for a visual aid. I'm prone to believe him based on this, however I cannot say that I actually saw the chicken rotisserie spit for myself...it just wasn't there at that time. The chicken was still good, though.

            If I have the shish tawook sandwich next time, my meat won't come from the spit...it's a separately grilled (and separately marinated and spiced) chicken breast that's done differently, but I imagine it'd be hard to miss a big vertically-mounted rotisserie spit of chicken rotating back there.

            You might be pleasantly surprised.

            1. re: dearborn barkis
              j
              Jim M Jul 18, 2013 02:07 AM

              Pita Pita has the actual spit.

            2. dearborn barkis Jul 17, 2013 07:04 PM

              Nice writeup, trapani.

              1. c
                charlesbois Jul 17, 2013 09:01 PM

                Haven't been back there since last year. When they first opened, they fast became a staple for me. But the quality slipped a bit. A catering order got royally screwed up. they stopped using the pillowy pita bread pockets for a while and subbed in really gross, dry pitas. Hopefully they are back on their game, so I'll be stopping in to see. Their Haifa sauce is definitely a draw, I usually ask for extra.

                1 Reply
                1. re: charlesbois
                  b
                  boagman Jul 17, 2013 10:12 PM

                  I wouldn't call the pita that my sandwich came in "pillowy", really. I had no complaints with it, as it held together the contents of the sandwich quite nicely and added a bit of texture crunch to the exterior. Soft and pillowy it was not, however.

                  Having not been privy to the quality as it was a year ago, I can't say yea or nay to whether it is at the same level or not, but like I said: it was quite good, fresh, and I enjoyed what I had at the price point I paid, especially when the extra garlic sauce and the free falafel ball are taken into account.

                  Now, if the sandwich pita was never made out of that pillowy bread in the first place, I guess my commentary doesn't really make any difference. If it used to be that pillowy soft stuff, however, it is not what they're using with their sandwiches now.

                  Aw, heck, just go back and spend a few bucks. You won't leave ticked off for $7.

                2. t
                  trapani Jul 23, 2013 10:46 PM

                  Glad that my chowhounders are finding their way to Haifa Falafel. But seriously: chicken shawarma? You can get that anywhere. Try something unique next time: try sholbata!

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: trapani
                    b
                    boagman Jul 23, 2013 11:16 PM

                    Regarding chicken shawarma: it's a baseline item I get the first time (at least, most any first time) I go into any Middle Eastern joint. A measuring stick to gauge a place, in the same way that a pulled pork sandwich is at any BBQ place I go to. If they can succeed with this, they can be trusted in other areas. If they have a hard time passing muster with a baseline item...then I need to re-evaluate whether I should give the place another chance.

                    Happily, I can guarantee you that they've earned more opportunities to have me come back and meander around their menu with the other choices they offer. Not sure that I'll go full-bore and have their sholbata (not a huge fan of cracked wheat...), but I can certainly say that I'll be taking more chances here.

                    1. re: boagman
                      t
                      trapani Jul 25, 2013 12:45 PM

                      I lived in Israel for a year. There was no chicken shawarma, so I always think of it as inauthentic and made for gringo diners. But that was 30 years ago & it certainly is a popular choice in SE Michigan.

                      1. re: trapani
                        b
                        boagman Jul 26, 2013 12:58 AM

                        It may not be authentic, but I'll say this for chicken shawarma: it single-handedly got me from a hater of all things Middle Eastern (cuisine-wise) to actively exploring that type of food. In previous years, I'd been exposed to some seriously *lousy* food of the ME type, and had written off the entirety of it as a result.

                        The chicken shawarma sandwich drew me back in by itself...and it'll always serve as a baseline to me: do they do garlic sauce well? Is the chicken dry? What's the bread like? Are the vegetables fresh? Do the flavors work? Is it reasonably priced? All of these questions can be reasonably answered, or at least surveyed, by a chicken shawarma sandwich.

                        I also have a sneaky feeling that this would be readily available in Israel these days. I can't say for certain, but I'd lay pretty good odds. Maybe one day I'll find out for myself.

                        1. re: boagman
                          dearborn barkis Jul 27, 2013 06:29 AM

                          Ah--the best chicken shawarma sandwiches don't use fresh vegetables. Pickled vegetables in garlic sauce rule in chicken shawarma sandwiches. However, fresh onions and tomatoes in tahini are typically used in meat (lamb/beef) shawarma sandwiches.

                        2. re: trapani
                          dearborn barkis Jul 27, 2013 06:16 AM

                          Chicken shawarma is indeed very authentic to Arabic food in the Middle East. Turkey shawarma, however, is a different matter.

                    2. j
                      jgirl3003 Nov 15, 2013 12:13 PM

                      We have been here 3 times - once to eat there and 2 take outs. We really love the food and the pickled red cabbage is divine.

                      I do wish they had different pita - the ones they use are like cardboard... but they are really just a vehicle anyway...

                      My fav is the falafel plate - the rice is great and I love the salad.

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