In the beginning, there was Mamoun’s, the falafel restaurant of choice for generations of Yale students. Thirteen years later came Aladdin Crown Pizza. Two other options — The Original Falafel and Sahara — have appeared on the scene in the last two years.
Is Mamoun’s still the best choice? As the restaurant celebrates its 25th anniversary, scene decided to check it out.
In a two-day falafel adventure, we put the restaurants in head-to-head competition. Reporter Tom Sullivan ’06 and photographer Laura Warren ’06 visited Mamoun’s and three of its newer competitors in order to compare the food, the atmosphere, and the prices. At each restaurant, they ordered the basic falafel sandwich and a falafel ball.
The Original Falafel
The falafel sandwich at The Original Falafel was the most expensive but also the best. Fresh tomatoes and a large amount of tahini sauce nicely complimented the falafel inside the pita. The falafel ball was a little spicier than the others scene tried.
The decor was more like a Boston Market or similar upscale fast-food chain than anything Middle Eastern. You order at a counter, fast-food style, facing large hanging menus. There wasn’t much of anything you would call “ambiance.” Nevertheless, the restaurant looked fine and was clean.
Service took a little while, but the sandwich was in a black basket and the ball was attractively topped with tahini sauce.
“You never walk in here and find a falafel ready,” said Socrates Stavrou, the owner.
Mamoun’s Falafel Restaurant
Mamoun’s falafel sandwich was the second-best of those tried. It came served wrapped in a napkin in a special metal holder with the falafel ball on the side in a little cup. And it had lots of salad in the pita, which complemented the falafel inside.
However, the pita did not seem to contain as much falafel as the others, though this may vary from sandwich to sandwich. The falafel ball had a good taste but was too crunchy.
“The recipe’s been carried from generation to generation,” said Suleiman Chater, assistant manager of Mamoun’s.
In terms of decor, Mamoun’s beats the others hands down. Middle Eastern rugs line the walls, lamps dangle from the ceiling, and regional music plays in the background. Two swords cross under a picture of Mamoun over the counter. Unlike at The Original Falafel, a waitress takes orders.
The falafel sandwich served at Sahara was fine and contained more falafel than the other restaurants. But the salad contained too much onion for our taste.
Sahara does not serve an individual falafel ball, instead serving a platter with six balls, tahini sauce, and 2 pieces of pita bread. The falafel balls were very good, not too spicy or too crunchy.
Like Mamoun’s, the decor has a very Middle Eastern feel. There were hanging lamps, and the walls were thematically painted. There were even furs of unknown origin on the wall near the entrance.
As at The Original Falafel, the falafel sandwich came served in a basket.
Aladdin Crown Pizza
Aladdin Crown Pizza’s falafel was definitely the most unusual of the lot. Their pita contains a large quantity of cucumbers, tomatoes and parsley in a special salad mixture that the owner, Mohammad Abdulhak, said he used to use “back home.”
The cucumbers give it a very different taste and consistency, but ultimately it was not as good as the more traditional mixture served in the other restaurants. However, we encourage readers to give it a try and see which one they prefer. The falafel ball seemed to have a lighter taste than the others tested; like them, it was served with tahini sauce.
The restaurant’s decor was disappointing. The walls were covered in white tile and there were some paintings, but it seemed very bland. It was the most fast-food-like restaurant of the four reviewed; they took our orders at a counter.
The presentation was uneven. The sandwich was served wrapped in aluminum foil and placed in a bag, but the individual falafel was nicely presented on a plate.
And the winner is …
Overall, in terms of taste, the winner was The Original Falafel — despite the fact that as the newcomer on the block it is not exactly New Haven’s real “original.”
In terms of decor and price (if the extra dollar breaks your bank), Mamoun’s wins. It does the best job of looking like a restaurant instead of a fast-food place.
In the end, it all depends on what you are looking for in a falafel — taste, price, or cucumbers.