Photograph by Matt Walljasper
Pizza, burgers, burritos—ever feel like your lunch choices are a bit stymied when you’re in a rush? So do we. Thankfully, the modern lunch market is awash with options ranging from traditional Americana to previously undervalued treasures (think ramen and poke, for starters). Even typical salads now are graced with flavors from all over the globe. One of the earlier outside-the-box lunch options to hit the scene was falafel. The Middle-Eastern street food staple is typically inexpensive and quick and easy to make—not to mention vegetarian and packed with fiber.
Here in Atlanta, these little balls of fried chickpeas or fava beans have popped up all across the metro area—including various fast-casual eateries. To help you out when you’re in a rush for lunch, we compared four of Atlanta’s fast-casual falafel spots—three local, and NYC-based newcomer The Halal Guys—to see how they stacked up.
Just as we did in our Battle of the Burritos, we ordered a similar dish at each restaurant: A falafel bowl with tahini sauce and a side item unique to each location. We then rated the falafel’s taste, texture, how it was complimented by the other ingredients in the bowl, and an X-factor exclusive to the restaurant.
With the light touch of your fork, the falafel at this Midtown fast-casual spot falls apart into bite-sized morsels ready to combine with basmati rice; smooth, zesty hummus; and white tahini sauce. Texture is key for both the fried, dark golden shells and the vivid green goodness contained within. Each bite is moist, yet never over-fried or mushy. A hint of oil and spices elevate the legumes’ flavor sufficiently, but for the best experience, you’ll want to dress it up with your bowl’s other offerings (try the cucumber and tomato salad and spiced onions). What really makes Bezoria stand out is the side of fries. Cut fresh and cooked to order—no heat lamps here—they’re coated with Mediterranean spices for a salty, savory zing. They’re served with cups of ketchup and a yellow curry sauce, which when mixed together create a tangy, velvety sweet accent that takes these fries to the next level.
X-Factor – Fries: 5/5
This Krog Street Market favorite serves up wonderfully fresh, very well-seasoned falafel patties adorned with veggies galore. While not over-fried, each piece could have been a little less crunchy on the outside and bit more granular on the inside—a little less heat might have added more texture to the legumes. Despite those shortcomings, the ingredients that round out the bowl—hummus, tomato, cucumber, pickles, lettuce, and tahini and zhug (hot) sauces—accompany the falafel well, providing some cover for the crispier texture. Yalla also offers craft sodas. We ordered a refreshing mint and cucumber combination that LaCroix drinkers everywhere would envy. (Though it’s hard to resist the libations from nearby Hop City Bar or Ticonderoga Club.)
X-Factor – Craft sodas: 3/5
The Halal Guys
Atlanta’s newest falafel-flinger might still be experiencing out-the-door lines, but it’s worth the trip to Buford Highway. For your patience, you’ll be rewarded with a giant bowl (you can easily turn it into two meals) of falafel, served with tomato, lettuce, basmati rice, and pita bread. The falafel was overly crunchy, and flavor-wise, it was fairly middle-of-the-road. Combining bites of falafel with the veggies and rice did little to elevate it. What did help was the sauces, both the much-loved “White” and hot varieties. A little goes a long way here: The white sauce is rich, and the hot’s sinus-clearing spice does not pull any punches. You can order crinkle fries on the side, which although simple in appearance hide a masterfully fried, salty, starchy mix that satisfies—more than crinkle fries should.
X-Factor – Fries: 4/5
Aviva by Kameel
If you’ve never braved the line at Peachtree Center (and it can get a little gnarly during lunch hour) you’re doing yourself a great disservice. Inside, you’ll find fresh vegetables, savory meats, and arguably the friendliest chef in Atlanta. The falafel itself is unbeatable. It combines Yalla’s superb taste, Bezoria’s excellent texture, and greatly expounds on each. A drizzling of green tahini sauce amps up the flavor, acting (thankfully) more as an accent than drowning it. The wide selection of palatable sides will make you feel like a kid in a (healthy) candy store. We chose grilled veggie medley and green beans, which were gently coated in olive oil, yet still produced a satisfying crunch. After we scarfed down our falafel, chef Kameel Srouji made his usual rounds, greeting everyone in his restaurant while passing out samples of baklava. The honey and maple glazed wedges practically melt in your mouth. Do not pass this dessert up.
X-Factor – Kameel’s friendly service: 5/5