My search for the best falafel in New York continues….
Whenever I learn somebody has moved to Astoria, I start rattling off a list of food recommendations. The list might be slightly longer in this neighborhood than others because I spent more than a decade of my life here.
Always high on my list is Kabab Cafe. While this place sounds (and looks) like a take-out spot slinging skewers of halal meat, it’s actually an intimate, comfortable little restaurant serving some of the best Egyptian food in the city.
It’s owned by Chef Ali El Sayed (a legend in these parts), who greets everybody in the 16 seat restaurant with a warm smile and makes you feel as if you’ve stumbled into his living room. And, in some ways, you have. No menus are presented; instead Chef Sayed converses with you about what is fresh today and what dishes you might enjoy. These conversations often happen while he is chopping onions or sauteeing garlic.
I’ve been here many times for full meals and they’re always a wonderful experience, as long as you ask about the prices (the lack of menus means he can charge you whatever he likes). Since I was in the neighborhood in the mid-afternoon, I wanted to re-live at least a little taste of Kabab Cafe.
The falafel is included on his memorable mixed meze platter and I remember it being transcendent. The menu outside (the only one on premises) promised he served it in sandwich form, but I learned that the only catch is you really must take it to go. A stay-in platter is $2 more.
So after some friendly chit chat and a few minutes of pan-frying my falafel, I took my sandwich outside to a nearby bus stop and enjoyed the sounds of Astoria.
I also enjoyed the tastes of this sandwich. It was truly homier and more refined than most falafel being served at take-out spots across the city. Instead of one large overstuffed pita, Kabab Cafe gives you two smaller pockets both packed with unexpected ingredients.
Slices of apples brought a nice sweetness that, along with rich chunky hummus, aided in cooling the thick pepper-flecked hot sauce that reared its head in every bite. The entire sandwich was sprinkled with a master chef’s taste for salt and pepper.
The falafel itself was small, but packed with large amounts of spices and seeds. It had a nice crunch and lightness that was not weighed down by grease.
Inside, however, the falafel was just a little bit dense. I imagine it’s hard to keep falafel this small from drying out and the use of a home frying pan could add to some inconsistencies.
Within the sandwich and amidst the fresh and fanciful ingredients, the falafel worked really well. If you’re lucky enough to frequently visit or live in Astoria, you must add this place to your list.
Does Kabab Cafe have the best falafel in NY? They might be the fanciest and are truly homemade, but a dense interior takes them down a notch to an 8 out of 10.
|2512 Steinway Street (between 28th Avenue and 25th Avenue),