NYC Best Falafel: Azuri Cafe beats Taim as NYC’s Best Falafel

Date February 5, 2009

New Yorkers desire the best and when it comes to food, NYC Food Guy delivers just that.  I’ve made the claim before about burgers, West Village slices, Midtown pizza, and french friesNow it’s time to deliver the best falafel crown to Azuri Cafe on 51st Street near 10th Avenue. The cozy Kosher cafe run by a Jerusalem native serves up the freshest and most flavorful falafel I’ve had in Manhattan.  And to prove it, I put Azuri’s falafel up against Taim, a place Serious Eats calls the best falafel in New York.  Read on to find out why Azuri Cafe beats Taim as NYC’s best falafel…

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There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to Azuri’s Falafel

Azuri Cafe

465 West 51st Street nr. 10th Avenue (Google Map)
New York, NY 10019
(212) 262-2920
Open Sun. – Thurs. 10AM – 9PM, Friday until 4PM, Closed Saturday
$15 Minimum for delivery
Cash Only

I believe the saying goes, the more colors on your plate, the better something is for you.  Well that’s the golden rule at Azuri, ask nicely for a falafel pita ($5.55) and you will receive a colorful and delicious bounty of Israeli delicacies stuffed into a freshly baked, sturdy pita. Baba Ganoush, tabbouleh, red cabbage mixed with thinly sliced red pepper, hummus, and Israeli salad are crowned by flattened and fried, perfectly spiced falafel balls which are crispy on the outside and delicate inside. A green, fiery hot sauce, a well balanced tahini and two tiny sour pickle spears top it all off.  I may even be omitting several more ingredients, but it all works. Ezra Cohen’s recipe has been honed over his 18 years in the United States and the result is heaven in a pita.

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Fear not for the mental state of this seemingly schizophrenic falafel because harmony is achieved.  The inner sanctum overflows with deliciousness but the structurally sound pita’s exterior prevents breaking and leakage.  You’re going to enjoy this falafel so much, there won’t be time for the sauces to soak into the airy dough.

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The cross section reveals falafel balls flattened to accommodate a rainbow of fresh ingredients.

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And looking at the salad bar, you can see how the rainbow is built.  The glass a window to what is truly a falafel artist’s palette.

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If you want to deconstruct the flavors of the rainbow, look no further than the falafel plate ($8.75 small, $10.75 large). The plate below is a small and it still offers a generous variety of salads and sauces to be sampled alone or mixed to your liking.

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I strongly recommend you start you meal with a deep bowl of the subtly spicy split pea soup ($4.50), which arrives with tender bits of carrot, celery and pea floating in a thin yet hearty broth.

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Another unique starter or side option is the flaky, sesame-topped boureka ($2.50) filled with potato or spinach and topped with tahini sauce.

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Sweet, flaky dough is folded around a potato knish-like filling which arrived a little cool at first. Make sure you ask for your boureka to be cooked hot.  The mellow tahini sauce balances the sweetness of the shell.  I plan on ordering French fries ($3.50) upon my next visit after noticing the long, fresh cut and crispy fries on another table.

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Taim

222 Waverly Place (Google Map)
New York, NY 10014
(212) 691-1287
Open Daily 11:30AM – 10PM
Cash Only

Taim means “tasty” in hebrew and there’s no doubt their falafel pita ($5.25) is just that.  What it lacks, however, is the ability to combine hummus, cabbage, Israeli salad, lettuce, tahini and tiny, crisp falafel balls in a manner that is more flavorful and balanced than Azuri Cafe.

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What Taim lacks in outright deliciousness, they attempt to make up for by offering three different flavors of falafel balls:

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All the talk I had heard about Taim mentioned the harissa as the go to falafel. Harissa is a North African red chili paste which when mixed with the falafel batter provides a mild albeit short-lived spice.  If you want some lingering heat, add some of the green substance below, the Yemeni hot sauce S’rug.

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The cross section shows Taim’s falafel is more basic than Azuri’s.  Anyone who reads this website regularly knows that I have great appreciation for simple food prepared well, but Taim’s falafel is just simple.  There’s no balance or complexity in construction or flavor.  Azuri’s construction has a distinct purpose:  providing a precise flavor adventure.  Taim’s falafel sandwich is unbalanced, sometimes dominated by the neutrally flavored hummus.  Hummus, as it is in Azuri’s falafel, should be a unifier of flavors, not the main component.

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Taim’s salad bar reflects this simplicity, lacking the multitude of vibrant colors that make for Azuri’s deliciousness.

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Taim’s fries with saffron aioli ($4.00) were also highly touted.  Fried just once, the thin, crisp and generously salted fries are generic but tasty.  The saffron aioli, as my friend put it, has a “mustard/mayo vibe” that lacks any real flavor punch.  Ketchup’s tomatoey sweetness contrasted better with the s’rug’s spice than the aioli.

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49 Responses to “NYC Best Falafel: Azuri Cafe beats Taim as NYC’s Best Falafel”

  1. michele said:

    This made me literally drool! I have to go there!

  2. phil-ate said:

    thanks michele, ive been known to have that effect on woman.

  3. Matt said:

    This looks amazing. Will definitely be going there this weekend. Thanks Lawrence.

  4. maritza said:

    Wao!1 Looks delicious..gonna visit soon

  5. AG said:

    Nice roundup. Both are great options, but I lean towards Taim for the freshness of ingredients and variety they offer. I used to get Azuri when I was in midtown more often.

  6. Mike V. said:

    wow, does that look good. reminds me of this place we went to in Amsterdam last year near Rembrandt Square.

  7. moe said:

    Thank you again,

    Moe

  8. Kuj said:

    Never been a falafal eater. There’s few meals I eat without meat (pizza is about the only thing I’d consider an actual meal without meat). But after this post I’ve gotta give falafel a serious try. I’ve had before, but dismissed it. I’ve always felt it could use some bacon, or roast pork.

  9. Sweet Freak said:

    Hurt me. Gotta get to Azuri. Consequently, there’s a great new(ish) hummus place nearby on Ninth Ave: Hummus Kitchen. I think the cross street is 51st or 52nd and they have delicious and well-priced salads, sandwiches (falafel sandwich is a winner!) and entrees…

  10. TS said:

    I usually agree with you in all of your reviews and I’ve never had Azuri but as someone who grew up on homemade falafel (and now makes it) and has tried all the different types of falafel in Israel, the suggestion that Taim’s falafel is not complex is not fair. I most usually always get the green (cilantro, mint). Harissa is not my favorite, but I certainly don’t think it lacks flavor. Taim is really some of the best falafel I’ve ever had, certainly in the states.

    I’ll try Azuri this weekend…

  11. Vegny said:

    Great review, but I can’t agree. I enjoyed Azuri’s falafel sandwich the last time I went there, but I remember finding the pita to not be very special. Contrast that against the delicious, fresh-baked and warm Taim pita bread.

    Aside from the bread, though, while I enjoyed Azuri’s falafel balls and especially the other add-ins, I LOVE Taim’s falafel. The freshness, the vivid flavors, and the wonderful spice combinations make it in my opinion the best falafel in town.

  12. angela said:

    looks and sounds delish!!! however, MAMOUN’S on McDougal near West 4th….seriously, it’s the best and $2.50 still after all the years they’ve been open (1980’s ish) they kept the prices the same…….

    hands down the best……….

  13. Jonah said:

    Never tried Azuri, but I have been to Taim. Just wanted to chip in that the only falafel I’ve ever enjoyed in the five boroughs is included on the app sampler plate at Kabab Cafe in Astoria.

  14. Stinkus the Pincus said:

    I have never eaten at Taim but I have eaten at Azuri and think it is delicious. I actually had the Schwarma instead of falafel and it was extremely good. The baby chicken meat was soft and melted in your mouth. It was stuffed with all the same goodness food guy talks about and was a meld of delicious flavors. Oh yeah and you gotta love the random one or two french fries they put in. But I know they do that at other places too. Another place I heard was pretty good is Kosher Deluxe around 46th between 5th and 6th… or somewhere near there.

  15. The NYC Food Guy said:

    michele,
    Ha, great minds think alike. Glad to hear my mission is accomplished.

    Matt & Martiza,
    Glad to hear it. Lookin forward to your review.

    AG,
    When you say variety what do you mean? the three falafel ball flavors? You shouldn’t have to rely on variety of falafel balls when it comes to the city’s best. No love for simplicity and purity?

    Mike V,
    Ha, I’m surprised you remember that falafel in Amsterdam.

    Kuj,
    Glad to hear I’ve made you a non-meat convert, at least momentarily. Look forward to hearing how it goes. You can always get some chicken shwarma at Azuri, though I can’t vouch for it.

    Sweet Freak,
    Gonna have to check out the new spot. Want to meet up and check it out?

    TS,
    That’s a strong claim coming from a native Israeli. I’m looking forward to your thoughts about Azuri. Is Taim really a true representation of Israeli falafel? Ezra the owner of Azuri is from Jerusalem, talk to him about his food and you’ll feel the passion he has for his falafel.

    Vegny,

    I was fine with the pita at Azuri, I remember Taim’s being equally as sturdy but with a little more flour dusted on the outside of the pita. I don’t think you can wholly judge a falafel on its pita though, it’s more about the flavor inside. If people were judging on pita, why would anyone go to Mamoun’s?

    I didn’t find the vivid flavors at Taim, where can I find them?

    angela,
    Respect to Mamoun’s for being a great late night option but that’s about it. Can’t mention it in conversations for NYC’s best falafel. That pains me the way it hurts when I hear people say Corner Bistro’s burger is the best in the city.

    Jonah,
    I need to do some Astoria work. kabab cafe is def on the list. would love to hear how it compares to Azuri if you get the chance. what makes kabab so good?

    Stinkus the Pincus,
    MMMM fries in the shwarma. Where you been Stinkus? We miss you. I haven’t had the Kosher Deluxe falafel but its expensive. The key is eating it there according to midtown lunch because at $8 for the falafel you get a plate to fill up as much as you want on sides. You miss out on that if you get delivery. Plus delivery falafel is just a shaky move overall.

  16. Midtown Lunch » Midtown Links (The ‘Hot Pho’ Edition) said:

    [...] Superman calls out of bounds ML favorite Azuri Cafe the best Falafel in NYC [NYC Food Guy] [...]

  17. Vegny said:

    “If people were judging on pita, why would anyone go to Mamoun’s?”

    It’s cheap?

    “I didn’t find the vivid flavors at Taim, where can I find them?”

    You should try ordering some food there next time :-) .

  18. AG said:

    NYCFG,

    Not relying on variety of Taim to make it better, but its the sheer quality of their falafel and ingredients that pushes it past Azuri. Perhaps my response was not clear, my fault. Taim’s standard falafel, IMO, is better than Azuri’s, then on top of that they have two other equally good options allowing for some variety in your ordering.

    But when it comes down to it, simplicity is the key, and the standard Taim falafel is the one to which I hold all other falafels up against.

  19. Beach Pediatrician said:

    All this talk of falafel, but no mention of the best place to get a “taim” falafel in all of Queens??

    Grill Point on Main and Jewel, better known for their shawarma, but the falafel is their hidden gem!

    All chickpea (no filler beans), brick oven pita bread made on premises,
    an open salad bar to rival the best in Jerusalem (check out their unique yemenite tomato onion salad), fresh hummus with a smooth yet tangible texture, excellent “charif” (spicy sauce) and fries “chips” that are fresh, from actual potatoes and stay crunchy in the sandwich.

    Getting hungry???

  20. CK said:

    I just had the falafel pita at Azuri today, it is WAY better than Taim. I was very impressed.. thanks for the rec!!

  21. The NYC Food Guy said:

    Vegny,
    Cheap doesn’t always mean good. Mamoun’s is great late night after an evening of drinking, I wouldn’t seek it out for an exemplary falafel though.

    And as far as ordering food at Taim, what do you recommend I get next time to find something that is actually worth mentioning?

    AG,
    You know that I, above all, respect simplicity. What I also respect is a finely tuned falafel that’s significantly more delicious than the one I tried at Azuri. I’ve posted on Naomi’s falafel in Queens, saying its the best I’ve had, and it’s just falafel balls, tahini, cabbage, and lettuce. But you know as well as I do that as eaters, we have to keep an open mind. I think the time has come for Azuri to steal the spotlight.

    Beach Pediatrician,
    Getting hungry is an understatement. That sounds awesome, particularly the fries in the sandwich. When are we getting it?

    CK,
    That’s what I like to hear!

  22. Vegny said:

    NYC Food Guy,

    I really love their falafel platter…but of course you’ve already tried that. Their sabiches (eggplant) are outstanding as well, as are their smoothies (they have with date in it I think), and their desserts. I think their hummus and other ingredients are excellent as a general matter too.

  23. NYC Late Night Food: Specialty Sandwiches & Whole Wheat Honey Pancakes at Galaxy Diner in Hell’s Kitchen « NYC Food Guy said:

    [...] Diner in Hell’s Kitchen By The NYC Food Guy I’m willing to cause controversy by declaring NYC’s best falafel, but when it comes to diners, there are so many in this city that it’s impossible to applaud [...]

  24. Tom Parrett said:

    I’ll try it. Taim is wonderful. But may I suggest Tanoreen in a residential neighborhood in Bay Side, Brooklyn. Ten of us, almost all widely experienced in Mideast and Med cooking, were flat knocked out, or knocked flat. Better than Taim by a quantum, and better I suspect than your Hell’s Kitchen place. A Palestinian owner/chef from Nasareth. That lady can cook.

  25. The NYC Food Guy said:

    Tom Parrett,
    I’m going to check out Tanoreen for sure. I also heard about a place on 9th Ave in the 40s in Manhattan that’s a Turkish falafel joint called Troy.

    If I’m going to check out Tanoreen, you have to check out Azuri. What makes the falafel at Tanoreen so good? Where is Bay Side? Do you mean Bay Ridge?

  26. angela said:

    YEAH LOOKS GREAT TOO BAD THEY ARE FALAFEL NAZI’S…THINK SEINFELD!!!!

  27. Evan said:

    I’ve been in love lately with Murrays falafel on 16th and first avenue. Its not cheap and you don’t get the choice of salads, but the falafel itself is delicious, but the best part is they give you the tahini and a container of green sauce similar to the sauce they use on steaks at argeninian restaurants.

  28. hagay said:

    you want to have the best falafel in new york?
    go to marcy ave and broadway in williamsburg, new spot, small but clean and just the best falafel ever.
    2 cool israeli brothers, great atmosphere and music.
    FalafaPita 295 broadway

  29. irie one said:

    TAIM Is still by far the most amazing scrumptuous tasting falafel not to mention everything else on their menu like babaganouj, their specialty drinks/teas, tabouli, even their pita and everything else I tried. so much flavor so much yummyness so much LOVE! No one can step to them!

  30. The NYC Food Guy said:

    Evan,
    Interesting. I’m going to have to check that place out, I live right there. How do you integrate the tahini and green sauce?

    hagay,
    I’ll put it on the list, thanks.

    irie one,
    Big claims there kid. Where else have you tried falafel that can dust Taim’s coattails?

  31. Charlie said:

    on friday i had to go to azuri because when i called for a delivery, the dude answered and then hung up immediately after saying he couldn’t deliver.

    so then i went there. and i was standing in the doorway because it looked like the line was out the door. turns out the 2 people ahead of me were just waiting, and the the dude (owner, azuri??) said something along the lines of “why are you standing in the doorway” so i said “because it looked like the line was out the door”

    i made a comment to my friend saying he was the falafel nazi… and then i saw a picture of him… with seinfeld. irony.

    and i’ll still go back.

  32. Paul said:

    OK, the falafel at Azuri Cafe sounds/looks great and I will try it for sure, but you are being kind of hard on Taim, where they make what is easily the best falafel sandwich I have ever had.

  33. The NYC Food Guy said:

    Paul,
    Honestly, I didn’t love Taim. It was good but it wasn’t a unique experience. For a pita as large as the one they offer they can afford to pack in a few more falafel balls. I say that because their toppings really didn’t look that fresh or alluring. The beauty of Azuri is that there is a schmorgasboard of fresh, colorful and flavor toppings jam packed into the falafel and they all blend together perfectly. Unreal. The only place Azuri loses points is the plastic-bag pita. Taim definitely wins in the pita race. Tell me what I’m doing wrong at Taim so I can experience what you are. I WANT TO LIKE IT!

  34. Paul said:

    OK, I did get around to trying Azuri Cafe’s excellent falafel sandwich. Comparing it to the falafel at Taim is difficult, as they are very different, even though they are both called “falafel”. Anyway, Taim is still probably my favorite, but there will be times when I’m more in the mood for Azuri’s sandwich. I really love both places. Thanks for the rec!

  35. The NYC Food Guy said:

    Paul,
    They’re totally different but interesting that you like Taim better. How come?

  36. Paul said:

    It’s totally subjective, but the overall flavor of the Taim sandwich is transcendent to me. Like I said, I love BOTH places, and I’m not sure calling one “better” than the other is the right way to characterize it. The flavor “safari” from the top of the Azuri sandwich to the bottom is really cool, interesting and delicious. Taim’s sandwich varies less in flavor from top to bottom. I would advocate that there’s more than one right way to do falafel.

  37. The NYC Food Guy said:

    Paul,
    Very astute analysis. They really are different types of falafel. Great usage of the term “flavor safari”, I may use that! What is it that you actually love about Taim though?

  38. Ben said:

    Anyone have comments on Sam’s Falafel stand…Liberty Park Plaza down near Wall St. Lines of up to 45 minutes for this one…great, fresh and only $3.00!

  39. laura martinez said:

    Dear NYC food guy im affraid you have crowned someone a little too fast, check out falafapita guys in wiliamsburg israeli falafel at its best.
    i put the falafel crown on Falafapita

  40. Adam said:

    I must say I have not yet tried taims falafel, but Azuri does not even come close to the best I’ve had and this includes Los Angeles. I must say the owner (I’m assuming since he was an Israeli guy behind the counter) acts as if he’s doing you a favor by letting you be his customer. I asked how much the falafel was and he grumbled something. When I asked again he screamed 6 dollars!! If you don’t care about being treated like garbage, the falafel is good but not great. I felt the sandwich had too much stuff that masked the taste of the falafel. When I did try the falafel alone it was too garlicy. I’ve had falafel from countless places in Israel and am of Syrian decent (not too mention a chef) so I know exactly how a good falafel should taste. His is only good at best. What I was impressed by was his pita. By far the best I’ve this side of the mediterranean. Even though it’s not a true pita since it has no natural pocket. The great consistency, flavor, and thickness worked great with the sandwich. So all in all not worth dealing with that guy to get a good but not great falafel I.M.O.

  41. Adam said:

    Ok I did try Taims falafel and Azuri doesn’t hold a candle. Sorry NYC food guy but you got it wrong on this one. If you ever get a chance, head out to Israel and see what proper falafel tastes like. Taim wins hands down.

  42. peter said:

    OK this is all purely Subjective Subject when it comes to the “Best of” foods. everyone has different palates and taste buds. you can they its one of the best.

    Taim is very good, i have nothing to say bad about it. i like everything on the menu. especially the fries w/ saffron aioli dipping sauce! but id consider it a more fancy falafel at 5+ dollars. better ingrediants etc.

    its like comparing a regular cheese slice to a wood fire-brick oven thin crust pizza.. right?

    the best “regular” falafel is Rainbow Falafel in Union Square at 17th st and broadway. Its a hole-in the wall place, its been there for years, nothing fancy, same old ingredients, but the falafel balls are soo damn tasty. it makes you go back for another one.

    my 2 cents.

  43. sari said:

    Dear NYCFG
    im affraid Mrs Martinez is right.
    falafel crown should go to Falafapita in williamsburgh,
    by the way they are saying they are taking a bigger spot in the neighborhood

  44. TimmyZ said:

    Tiam > thee BEST FALALEL around, the spicy was just perfect. I drove from Chicago cause I heard her falafel was great and so I put the top down on the car and headed out… OMGoodness I was so so pleased…

  45. NuMystic said:

    Going to have to second the Murray’s recommendation. Hands down the very best falafel ball in NYC and my wife and I have tried more than a dozen including all of the “best” rated around town.

    Taim is great, but currently Azuri and Murray’s tie for our top spot.

    Azuri’s for the perfect blend of condiments and toppings with a good falafel that is often a bit overcooked, and Murray’s for the best falafel balls hands down paired with pita/toppings that aren’t noteworthy in any way. In fact, now when we go to Murray’s we just order a falafel platter with an extra order of (bare) falafel.

    Murray’s falafel in a fresh baked pita from Zaytoon’s, filled with Azuri’s condiments would be heaven in your hand.

    As for all of the venom directed at Ezra (Azuri’s Owner), we have never once seen him behave with the acclaimed rudeness reported here and elsewhere online.

    Granted, we heard the stories before going, and went out of our way to introduce ourselves and be friendly on that occasion. Every subsequent visit he’s met us with an absolutely hospitable demeanor, even though we often go 6 months between meals there.

  46. Jacky said:

    Azuri cafe is a place that looks to grow and get better through the years. I have had a chat with the owner. and I understood that the first thing the owner car is about their custemors. health is the primery importent, what you see and what you get is so much more than you see. they blend herbs and spices in all their food. you can test the goodnes and the care of what they do. they have changed the pita completely it is now only whole wheat multi grain and multi fiber. If you just want to stuff your mouth with food because you are hungry, their are other places for sure, just like if you wish to drink and get drunk,you can buy cheep beer, but if you care what you put in your body your are what you eat!

  47. Emmanuel Buriez said:

    good cook
    but the french cook is the best ^^

    A french :D
    Emmanuel Buriez

  48. Cathy said:

    I used to go to Jerusalem Grill on 62nd/1st avenue. I thought their falafel was very well seasoned and their salad had everything in it. Too bad they closed down. I wish I could find another falafel restaurant similar to the way they made theirs.

  49. Sigal said:

    Hoomoos Asli should definitely be mentioned….I used to be a Taim customer and then a friend recommended I try her go-to spot and I couldn’t be happier that I did…all the flavors are there….the falafels are super yummy and the humus…I mean Hoomoos is perfect… so is their “schoog” which is similar to harrisa without the paprika…I know a lot of people that are doing the switch…hoomoos asli is just not as well known (although they should be) but once you try it you cant deny it! Hoomoos Asli is the definite winner here folks…..

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