This is where America’s hottest street food comes from
We went to a little town along the Mediterranean to see it for ourselves.
Michael Solomonov once called Falafel Devorah "the best falafel in Israel." And if you know anything about Solomonov, you'd know that's just about the highest form of praise, from the most reliable of sources.
After all, the Israeli chef launched several restaurants in Philadelphia with one of the hottest street foods in America as a key component. It's falafel, and it's allowed Solomonov and many other chefs from New Orleans to New York to introduce the rich, unmistakable flavors of the Mediterranean to their American clientele.
In Philadelphia alone, there's Zahav, Federal Doughnuts and Rooster Soup Co., as well as Solomonov's newest place, Goldie. The latter is a no-frills sort of establishment, with only a few items on the menu. It's in keeping with his culinary inspiration – Falafel Devorah. And it's why I found myself there on a recent afternoon in northern Israel, 90 minutes from my home base in Tel Aviv, looking to try out this one-of-a-kind falafel for myself.
Falafel Devorah is in a small town called Pardes Hanna-Karkur. Solomonov went to school nearby, and one can imagine he ate there often. It certainly left an impression on him: he wrote about his love for the place in the food magazine Lucky Peach, where he called it the "best falafel in Israel."
Accordingly, Solomonov's association has meant solid gains for Devorah. It's a huge hit in the northern region and beyond, attracting folks like me from miles around, hoping to experience Solomonov's inspiration firsthand.
When I arrived, it was as I had imagined it: unassuming, modest, scrappy. It was quiet, too. Everyone seemed to be too focused on their falafel to be bothered with talking.
Its namesake, Devorah, no longer works there, but her son does. He was busy helping customers who poured in, despite the late-afternoon hour (I had purposefully timed my arrival to miss the lunch rush).
As I inspected the place, one gentleman finishing up his meal saw my camera and called me over. I explained to him why I was there. "It's the best around. No question," he told me.
Eager to verify, I ordered a sandwich. Before I tell you what I thought, though, a little background first.
One of the unique features of Falafel Devorah is that there's little variety. Most falafel shops in Israel have a salad bar and a dozen different toppings that can be added to the pita, in which the falafel is placed. Not so here. There weren't even french fries, what I've come to understand are a consistent presence at any falafel spot worth eating at.
Cabbage, pickles, tahini and tomatoes – that's what's available. Harissa, a spicy sauce, can be added if you so choose. There's not even hummus, a staple garnish at every falafel joint I've ever been to. It's as if Falafel Devorah is the hipster of Mediterranean cuisine.
That said, I had to decide what I wanted on it. I decided on everything. It was, to be frank, much more difficult than deciding what to drink (I chose a Nesher Malt).
Now, where to sit? It was a sunny day, as most days are this time of year along Israel's Mediterranean coast, so I planted myself in the outside seating area, a charming space reminiscent of a small courtyard you might find at any number of beer gardens in Germany or the U.S. Then I dug in.
The falafel was as advertised. It was as Solomonov had described it in that Lucky Peach article: "crispy on the outside, tender on the inside." There was a nice consistency, not like so many other falafel I eat that are overcooked, greasy or loaded with salt.
The minimalist approach to dressing the sandwich was also welcome. Sometimes the falafel can get lost beneath the million or so toppings. At Falafel Devorah, there's no fear of that happening.
If the sandwich was a film, then the tomatoes, pickles, cabbage and tahini would have been the perfect supporting cast, there to help move the story along but not overshadowing the star, the falafel.
By the time I had finished my sandwich, the crowd had thinned out and I, having come all the way to this small town, decided I couldn't just leave empty-handed. I approached the register and ordered a bag of falafel to go. Then I asked the man behind the counter, whose name I didn't catch – so transfixed was I on the task at hand – the secret behind the falafel. He wouldn't say.
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