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 fries. Now 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…
There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to Azuri’s Falafel
Azuri Cafe465 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.
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.
The cross section reveals falafel balls flattened to accommodate a rainbow of fresh ingredients.
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.
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.
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.
Another unique starter or side option is the flaky, sesame-topped boureka ($2.50) filled with potato or spinach and topped with tahini sauce.
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.
Taim222 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.
What Taim lacks in outright deliciousness, they attempt to make up for by offering three different flavors of falafel balls:
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.
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.
Taim’s salad bar reflects this simplicity, lacking the multitude of vibrant colors that make for Azuri’s deliciousness.
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.