Welcome to the most important food document you will read this week.
To some, falafel is little more than a humble deep-fried ball of chickpeas. To me, falafel is a reason to get out of bed in the morning. It’s my favorite food, my comfort food, my celebration food, my every day, any way food. You can put it in a pita, pile it on a platter with hummus and tabbouleh or chop it up in a salad. I will never not eat it.
While living in Spain on my second semester abroad in college, I subsisted almost exclusively on manchego cheese sandwiches, Oreos that my host madre gave me for breakfast and falafel pitas from Maoz Vegetarian, a European falafel fast food chain that has found its way to the US but, of course, not to Charlotte.
Not to worry, though. We have our fair share of local joints to cover my insatiable falafel hunger. Some are fancy. Some are cheap. All are excellent.
I have yet to meet another human that matches my level of enthusiasm for the wonder that is falafel. If you’re out there, let’s eat at any of the following places.
Best cheap falafel
Restaurant: Little Village Grill
Address: 710 W. Trade Street
Neighborhood: Uptown, Fourth Ward
Everything on the menu at this tiny family-run restaurant in Fourth Ward is under $5.15, and the budget-friendly falafel pita clocks in at just $4.80. It’s a substantial 7-inch Kontos pita topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, tzatziki sauce and three falafel balls. Seating is very limited but your pita comes wrapped in foil for easy eating on the run. There are no frills here and I like it—reminds me of the standing-room-only Maoz set-up in Spain.
Best date night falafel
Address: 135 Levine Avenue of the Arts
Neighborhood: Uptown, Third Ward
For a more formal (and much more expensive) falafel affair, head to Levant with its ornate hand-carved decor and plush green velvet curtains. I recommend going all in with the vegetarian combo platter ($23) which comes with your choice of seven sides, at least one of which should be falafel. My order: (1) falafel, (2) hummus, (3) baba ghannouj, (4) potato harra, (5) tabbouleh, (6) fattoush and (7) more falafel. You could share if you want to but that’s for quitters. Get your own.
Best fast food falafel
Location: 720 Governor Morrison Street, Suite 120
This casual, Chipotle-style Mediterranean counter-service joint from serial Charlotte restaurateur Frank Scibelli is my favorite new addition to the falafel scene. I’m obsessed with it, in fact. They make their own laffah (Middle Eastern flatbread) in house so the falafel laffah wrap ($10.99) is a solid choice. Personally, I go for the build-your-own grain bowl ($8.99) with falafel as my protein ($2).
Best birthday falafel
Restaurant: Kabob Grill
Locations: 1235 East Boulevard and 7828 Rea Road
Neighborhood: Dilworth and Piper Glen Estates
Honestly, if you love falafel as much as I do you could probably have your birthday at any of these places (and I plan to). I turned 29 at Levant and 30 here at Kabob Grill. Don’t judge me. Kabob Grill and Levant are owned by the same family so you’ll see a lot of the same menu items. The big difference is that Levant is Uptown and fancy-ish while Kabob Grill is a more casual spot located in the strip center by Harris Teeter on East Boulevard. My order here is the vegetarian combo ($18) with hummus, tabbouleh, baba ghannouj, falafel, spinach pie, potato harra and extra falafel instead of the yalanji (stuffed grape leaves). Yolo.
Best Moroccan falafel
Address: 2903-C Central Avenue
Neighborhood: Country Club Heights (right on the Plaza Midwood border)
You’ll find falafel most commonly in traditional cuisines from countries along the eastern side of the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey down to Israel. But for an African-spiced variant from the western side of the same sea, Ajbani, a Moroccan restaurant on Central Avenue, has you covered. Their Fez Falafel and Hummus sandwich comes with Moroccan-spiced falafel, hummus, greens and homemade taktouka, a pureed tomato and red pepper salad. I love this place.
Best suburban falafel
Restaurant: Le Kabab
Address: 350 E. McCullough Drive
Address: 3419 Toringdon Way
I didn’t forget about the burbs. To the north, we have Le Kabab Mediterranean Grill where you can get falafel wrapped in pita or flatbread for $4.99. It’s topped with lettuce, tomato, pickle, tahini and hummus. You could also build a sampler platter with three starters (one being falafel) for $7.99.
Down in Ballantyne, Zeitouni serves falafel up as a pita wrap ($5.99) or as a platter ($10.99) with your choice of salad (fatoush, Mediterranean or tabbouleh) OR dip (hummus or baba ghanouj).
Best falafel service
Restaurant: La Shish Kabob
Address: 3117 N. Sharon Amity Road
I love this place because owner Izzat Freitekh is such a visible, smiling fixture and he frequently hand delivers food to your table. It’s clear he takes a lot of pride in his restaurant and it shows in the cult following he’s garnered with regulars. My order: the vegetarian combo ($7.99) with falafel, hummus, salad, baba ghannouj and extra falafel instead of yalanji. They’ve also got a falafel wrap ($4.99).
Best worth-the-drive falafel
Restaurant: Kabab Je
Address: 2233 Township Parkway, Matthews
When I put out a call for the best falafel in town, almost every email I got recommended Kabab Je down in Matthews. I still haven’t made it down but trust me, I will.