What? Dueling falafels (fried balls of spiced fava beans and chickpeas)
Where? Cedars Restaurant (1319 NE 43rd Street) and Samir’s Mediterranean Grill (1316 NE 43rd Street)
What does $13 get you? A falafel sandwich ($3.50) and “homemade” lemonade ($1.50) at Cedars, then another falafel sandwich ($4.00) and a giant baklava ($3.00) at Samir’s, plus a buck to spare. If you hit the to-go window, tax and tip are a non-issue. So bring a friend, because the good prices means you’re easily going to score enough for two. And make sure you have cash — there’s a $.50 fee for using plastic on purchases under $10.
Recommended? It’s hard to argue with cheap eats! The price was definitely right, and the taste was easy to love. There’s also a similarly-priced selection of gyros and other sandwiches to enjoy if chickpeas aren’t your thing.
Official tasting notes: At first, I was a little perplexed that the two manage to exist at such a close proximity, literally right across the street from each other, but it was clear that neither had any issues shoring up business.
For everyone who’s ever eaten a pita, well… there’s only so much variation you can employ. It was pretty much the usual at both places: a soft shell stuffed with lettuce, tomatoes and onions and drizzled with sauce. But in this case, it was falafel balls that provided the main substance of the meal rather than gyro meat or beef. To be honest, I wished it was the other way around a few hours later — being an omnivore, I wasn’t quite satisfied by the vegetarian meal.
At first, the taste and texture reminded me a little of hush puppies… but if I wasn’t quick to follow with a bite of wrap or lettuce, the aftertaste was decidedly unpleasant. Luckily, there was more than enough of the other ingredients that any traces of bitterness were usually avoided.
I split the two falafels into halves and took one of each. Half way through, I forgot which sandwich was from what restaurant. I eventually figured it out (colored wrapping paper!), but that example illustrates just how similar the two are.
As for my sides… I’d recommend passing on the “homemade” lemonade; the tiny serving and syrupy sweetness was unimpressive at best. Just stick with water, or grab a can of soda for a little less. The baklava, on the other hand, was well worth its cost — the piece was huge, easily two or three times the size I’m used to seeing, and though it tasted a little mass-produced the honey-tinged flakiness was a perfect end to the meal.
The verdict: The difference between the two is really splitting hairs. If you’re in a hurry or really appreciate great service, swing by Samir’s. Or, if you’re feeling picky (or extremely cheap), cross the street and wait a few extra minutes for Cedars — you’ll save a few cents and get a little more taste.