Mamoun’s is the popular choice for many falafel-lovers, but a few blocks north and a few more blocks west is Taim, another falafel joint. I skipped breakfast so that I could compare both of their sandwiches over lunch.
Mamoun’s began selling falafel in 1971 from a hole-in-the-wall located in Greenwich Village. Ever since its humble beginnings, Mamoun’s has expanded to four locations (two outside New York). What seems to drive in customers is their cheap, reliable, snack on-the-go. Mamoun’s always has a line snaking out the door, and it was no different when I showed up. Before I could absorb the entire menu, it was already my turn to order. At Mamoun’s it’s less about standing in line than it is about walking in line. I asked for a falafel sandwich and had a bag in my hand before I could dig out $2.50.
As you can probably tell from the picture, it didn’t look very appetizing. You’d think it was made under 10 seconds by guys who tossed a few items in a pita pocket (it was). The pita was weak and the lettuce was just as limp and pathetic. The tomato slices were mushy and tasted pulpy. All of this was topped with a watery tahini sauce. The main attraction, the falafel, had less of a taste of spiced chickpeas, onion, garlic, and parsley than it did of grease. The falafel patty even had a slight sheen to it. Overall, you get what you pay for.
The atmosphere at Taim was lighter and cleaner. Taim had just as long of a line, but it wasn’t moving as quickly. I had enough time to wrap my mind around Taim’s extensive menu, which promised “middle-eastern recipes with a gourmet twist.” There was the option of three different falafel flavors (green, harissa, red) and I was tempted by their saffron aioli french fries. I resisted and ordered another green falafel sandwich, which cost $6.25, more than double what I paid at Mamoun’s.
To be fair, the sandwich was a lot larger and heaver than Mamoun’s. It was also a lot better in every other aspect. Rather than have a few decaying shreds of lettuce thrown in, Taim packs the sandwich with an Israeli salad (diced cucumber and tomatoes), that was mixed in with pickled cabbage. It arrived in a warm, and thickly fluffy pita that smelled wonderful. Even more aromatic was the falafel balls, which had a satisfying crunch on every bite. Despite the frying that was necessary to create the crispy shell, the inside of the balls were moist. Just as I was ready to declare this the best falafel of the village, I tasted the tahini sauce, which was a delicately creamy paste spread throughout the inside. It tasted nothing like tahini I was used to, but I didn’t mind. The entire package was fantastic.
The clear winner is Taim. Despite the additional cost, it’s a delicious meal that’s still cheap, just not dirt-cheap. Mamoun’s has a loyal, almost cult-like, following so I expect some responses. The additional cost is certainly worth it for the service, taste, and freshness of the meal. Mamoun’s is the fast food of falafel. If you’re the type of person that indulges in McDonalds and Starbucks on a regular basis, Mamoun’s is for you. A criticism may be that Taim is not authentic, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the food. Serious Eats did a “Best Falafel Sandwich of NY” post over a year ago, and Mamoun’s was eliminated early on for many of the reasons I’ve cited. The overall winner was actually Taim.
I probably will never eat at Mamoun’s again. Neither should you. Give Taim a try and I’ll be surprised if you don’t reach the same conclusion.