Mawadda Cafe's falafel salad
A Middle Eastern delicacy, falafels are a tasty blend of chickpeas, fava beans and Arabic herbs and spices. They're topped with sometimes tahini, sometimes tzatziki sauce, and around these parts, they're usually smothered in hummus. Wrapped or plated, they're a perfect vegetarian lunch or dinner entree that can keep your taste buds reminiscing of the sweet east flavors you won't find in any burger joint. And, as is common with Seattle eateries, Seattleites can rest assured knowing that no falafel served up in the city's diverse districts will be the same, making this filling treat practically a delicacy of the Pacific Northwest, too.
Mawadda Cafe's falafel salad
Here are the top five places in Seattle to get your falafel fix. (Note: As is Arab hospitality, prepare to be asked dozens of times by these falafel servers if what they've dished up is, in fact, the best falafel you've ever eaten.)
5. Aladdin Falafel Corner, 4541 University Way NE, 548-9539, $5. Famous for its cheapness and accessibility, this U-District joint is an easy pit stop for students dining between classes and shoppers perusing the Ave. Everything about this falafel is gyro-ish. The falafel itself can stand good on its own, molded and fried into a thick, mild patty. But it's even better as the main ingredient in Aladdin's falafel sandwich. Housed in warm gyro bread (a pocketless pita) and covered in tahini sauce, with toppings commonly found in gyros (lettuce and thick slices of tomatoes), this falafel is a vegetarian twist on the classic gyro. A good choice for the less adventurous eaters.
4. The Real Falafel King, 400 N 34th St, $7. Perfect for strolling around the Fremont Farmer's Market (and only then, since Real Falafel King is one of the market's vendors), this falafel sandwich is placed in the pocket of a pita and smothered in tahini sauce. The falafel balls are generically tasty, as expected with the chickpea-spice blend, but it's the sides that make this sandwich unique. The people working the booth pile your plate with pickled veggies and a dolma (stuffed grape leaves). Eat the dolma first to get your palate ready, stuff the veggies in the pita, sprinkle a little of the pickled mango sauce they provide on the finished product, and toss the plate: Sunday lunch perfection with a tangy zest.
3. Mawadda Cafe, 4433 S Graham St, 760-0911, $8.99. Mawadda's not easy to find, hidden in a nook on Graham Street in South Seattle, but once the treasure hunt is over, this place is well worth it. The falafels here are much better served as part of a dish, what they call the "falafel salad." The actual falafels are relatively mild, with a hard, crispy outer layer that crumbles when broken to reveal the warm chickpea treat. But the rest of the salad is where the real flavor's at. Topped with Mawadda's special garlic sauce, a bite of the falafel accompanied with a bite of salad will make your taste buds sting with the strong garlic flavors. And if the garlic proves to be too much, the salad also supplies a refreshing dollop of Mawadda's cucumber-inspired tzatziki sauce to finish off the meal.
Falafel sandwich at Zaina Food, Drink & Friends
2. Shawarma King, 5004 University Way NE, 529-3223, $5.99. Definitely the most flavorful of the falafels on this list, Shawarma's Egyptian twist on the Middle Eastern favorite makes their sandwich a taste of its own. Sprinkled with extra spice all over, every bite has a bit of a kick. And the package is tightly wrapped in a thin pita, as it should be, so all the ingredients are well layered to blend all the flavors from top to bottom. One of the nicest additions to this sandwich is the long slices of Arabic pickles that round out the eclectic tastes to leave any falafel gourmand ultimately satisfied.
1. Zaina Food, Drink & Friends, 109 Pine St; 108 Cherry St, 624-5687, $5.99. Just a street up from Pike Place Market (with another location in Pioneer Square), Zaina serves up the best falafel sandwich you'll find in Seattle. Each sandwich is made Pita Pit-style, letting customers be a part of the ingredient-choosing process. (Note: With the tastes of their sauce and falafels, feta cheese is a perfect topper, so ask for it.) The final product is doused in tahini sauce with whole fava beans and chickpeas to accompany the blended version. Eat in or take out, the flavors of this meal will leave your taste buds aching for more.