Taxonomy: A Falafel in Every Pita

In the 40 years since Mamoun’s started stuffing pita pockets on Macdougal Street, much has changed on the falafel front. The humble snack has become a politicized metaphor for appropriation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a bulwark of the cheap-eats vegetarian diet worldwide, and, most recently, a very loose framework for the culinary imaginations of some of New York’s most renowned chefs, whose inventive interpretations include the bacalao falafel Marcus Samuelsson served last week at his Global Street Food pop-up. With increased activity on both the low and high ends, New York is becoming a bona fide falafel town. Here, our classification of styles, from the fried to the baked to the raw.

Raw With nary a chickpea or fava in sight, raw “falafel,” consisting of veggies, nuts, and seeds, requires quotation marks. Find it at Lifethyme, Organic Avenue, or One Lucky Duck (pictured), where it’s paired with bulgur-free cauliflower “tabbouleh.” $16; 125 1/2 E. 17th St., nr. Irving Pl.; 212-477-7151. Photo: Danny Kim

Rolled A hallmark of Lebanese joints like Wafa’s, Karam, and the Syrian-Lebanese Alfanoose (pictured), this approach rolls falafel up burrito style in a thin pita, which, when done well, makes for a wieldier construction, a superior filling-to-flatbread ration, and less tahini spillage on your shoes. $5.75; 8 Maiden Ln., nr. Broadway; 212-528-4669. Photo: Danny Kim

Laffalafel Address, date, or similar info here. A falafel sandwich rolled up in the thick, supple, chewy Iraqi flatbread called laffa, best baked on premises in a taboon oven as it is at Olympic Pita and its Flushing and Midwood Israeli-shawarma ilk. French fries inside the sandwich are optional. $9.50; 58 W. 38th St., nr. Sixth Ave.; 212-869-7482. Photo: Danny Kim

Egyptian Style It’s pretty generally agreed that falafel originated in Egypt, and that the first golden nuggets scooped from the fryolater were fashioned not from chickpeas but from dried broad, or fava, beans. At Kabab Café, Ali El Sayed follows tradition with fava fritters served in sandwich form ($5; takeout only) or as part of a mezze plate ($10). 25-12 Steinway St., Astoria; 718-728-9858. Photo: Danny Kim

French-chef-ified Daniel Boulud has tackled the burger, the hot dog, and now the falafel. His chickpea balls are fragrant with herbs, swiped with harissa yogurt, and artfully plated with baba ghannouj, verdant fresh-chickpea hummus, and sumac-speckled lavash crackers. $15 at Boulud Sud, 20 W. 64th St., nr. Broadway; 212-595-1313. Photo: Danny Kim

Offalafel wd-50’s not-safe-for-vegetarians “foie-lafel” is just as it sounds: molten balls of duck liver encased with dried chickpeas and fava beans and plated with kimchee tahini, a fairly classic tabbouleh, and grilled lavash mini-pitas. Available on the twelve-course tasting menu, $140, or à la carte, $17 ; 50 Clinton St., nr. Rivington St.; 212-477-2900. Photo: Danny Kim

Cheesy The challenge for Gabe Stulman’s Little Wisco think tank was to come up with a street-fair food that referenced the restaurant group’s Madison, Wisconsin, college-town roots. The brilliant solution spearheaded by Joseph Leonard chef James McDuffee: falafel with a gooey Cheddar filling tucked into a pita with salted cabbage and pickled turnips and seasoned with a squirt of Sriracha. $8 at the Feast of San Gennaro through September 25. Photo: Danny Kim

DIY The beauty of the self-serve fixings bar (seen in chains like Maoz) is that you can customize to your heart’s content; the downside is that you may come to the conclusion that the making of a well-balanced, structurally sound falafel sandwich is a job best left to the professionals. $5.25; several Manhattan locations. Photo: Danny Kim

Baked An abomination, you say? Not at Birdbath Bakery, where the patties are sautéed ten seconds for color and finished in the oven, then layered with cucumber, carrot, and watercress sauce on Orwasher’s multigrain. $8.50; 160 Prince St., nr. Thompson St.; 212-612-3066. Photo: Danny Kim

Flavored Purists might balk, but Taïm’s flavored balls do have Israeli precedents, including a controversial sweet-potato concoction. Herb green, red pepper, and harissa are constants, but the Taïm Mobile has run tomato-Thai-basil and Kalamata olive as specials. $6.25 a sandwich; 222 Waverly Pl., nr. Perry St.; 212-691-1287. Photo: Danny Kim

Shawafel A house-baked pita pocket bursting at the seams with chicken shawarma and baked falafel, and perhaps inspired by the great New York deli tradition of loony combo sandwiches. $6.95 at Chickpea; several Manhattan locations. Photo: Danny Kim

Taxonomy: A Falafel in Every Pita