My search for the best falafel in New York continues….

RAINBOW FALAFEL, 26 East 17th Street (between Broadway and Fifth Avenue), Flatiron DistrictIf this was 1992, the year that Rainbow Falafel opened, I’d be jumping up and down because I just discovered a secret little, under-the-radar falafel joint housed in the back of a tiny little bodega. But it’s 2014 and Rainbow Falafel has certainly been discovered with lines out the door every lunch shift.

A Serious Menu For a Little Place

But it still feels like it could be a secret little spot. The tiny kiosk displays their drinks and coolers up front, has no seating, and the food counter with a set-back menu is against the wall. If you didn’t know it was here, you could easily miss it.

The Spaciousness of a Food Cart

The owners are from Syria and they’re mighty popular with the lunch crowds. I have walked by here many times, but have never wander in. You don’t stay long – just a few minutes to decide what to eat, place your order, and be on your way. The entire cramped space experience reminded me of a food cart.

Falafel Sandwich at RAINBOW FALAFEL

I’m afriad the falafel weren’t quite as interesting as the space. In the sandwich, they were smooshed into bits and served with a packaged mix of lettuce, tomatoes, and carrots that was probably fresh two days prior. No pickles or tahini that I could place. The one saving grace was a sprinkling of chiles and spices over the top. The heat really woke up the sandwich (and my tastebuds).

Falafel at RAINBOW FALAFEL

The falafel provided a nice crunchy texture to the sandwich, but I wanted to try them on their own as well so I got a side of three falafel balls, which ran me a pricey $2 (these side orders are usually half that). They drowned them in hot and white sauce (and some more chiles) so they got soggy pretty quickly.

A Dull GreenBut the first bite wasn’t so terrible. It had some crunch, yet the inside was rather mealy and chewy. I think they stuffed one too many ingredients in the mixture. And none of those ingredients glowed green. The inside was instead a light brown and the flavor was just a little bit sour.

Hidden Little Kiosk

I think these falafel could do in a pinch, especially if you urge them to go a little lighter on the sauces (although then these mealy specimens would probably taste rather dry). But in my opinion, they’re not cheap or tasty enough to line up for.

So I guess I’m thankful I wasn’t the one who first discovered this tiny little place. There might be a slight backlash. And my ego couldn’t handle that.

Does Rainbow Falafel have the best falafel in NY? It’s cool little gem of a spot, but 6 out of 10 because the mealy, chewy falafel leave something to be desired although the hot sauce and additional chile flecks provide decent flavorful heat.

RAINBOW FALALEL
21 East 17th Street (between Fifth and Sixth Avenue),
Flatiron District
(212) 691-8641
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Category: Falafel

About the Author

Brian Hoffman is a classically trained actor who is now a full-time tour guide, blogger, and food obsessive. He leads food and drink tours around New York City, which not only introduce tour-goers to delicious food, but gives them a historical context. He also writes food articles for Gothamist and Midtown Lunch in addition to overseeing this blog and a few food video series, including Eat This, Locals Know, and Around the World in One City.

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