Welcome back to Dining On A Dime a bi-weekly feature in which Lizbeth Scordo surveys LA's cheap eats—often obscure, ethnic, unsung restaurants—proving that dining on a dime is alive, well, and quite tasty in this here city. Where do you think she should go next? Drop us a line.
Just finding the oozing-with-confidence-sounding Top Falafel in North Hollywood feels like an accomplishment. The building number ends with a fraction and though the address is Coldwater Canyon, there’s no sign of the place during my first drive-by. Turns out you have to turn down a narrow driveway and swing around to the back of a building to find this tiny spot which faces a movie theater parking garage.
I’m not exactly welcomed with open arms when I walk in. It’s before noon and the restaurant’s lone employee clearly thought he’d have a bit more to watch the World Cup game that’s blaring from an old TV. After a minute or two of standing in silence, he finally has to address the elephant in the room (and, honestly, I usually try to avoid referring to myself as an elephant). I want to try the falafel, of course, but I’d like a bit of everything. As I scan the menu -- which consists of two rows of photographs hanging above the kitchen with laminated letters strung together to tout the usual array of Middle Eastern fare including hummus, grape leaves, shish kabob, pita wraps, and a gyro plate -- I’m not sure whether to get the veggie combo or the falafel platter. I ask what they both come with. “What do you want?,” he asks me back. “Um, falafel? Maybe baba ganoush?” And, with no response, he’s off; throwing falafel patties into the deep fryer, digging into the big refrigerator to pull out tomatoes, then chopping away behind the counter.
I take a seat at one of just a handful of tables and wait as a chorus of vuvuzelas blares from the TV. It’s a utilitarian space, for sure, with Formica tabletops, metal racks stacked with paper products and cardboard boxes, a glass refrigerator filled with sodas, and multiple signs declaring “no public restroom.” If you’re not taking the to-go route, I’d recommend the outdoor dining area, despite view of the parking lot, it’s still probably a nicer experience.
Toward the end of his prep, the cook calls out to me. Do I want onions? Peppers? Hot sauce? Tahini sauce on the side? I try using this opportunity to ask him a little about the place, the clientele, even just their hours, but don’t get much in the way of a response. Between making the food and watching the World Cup there isn’t room for much social conversation.
The Styrofoam container he hands me (I’m charged for the veggie platter) is chock full of hefty helpings of creamy hummus, and a wonderfully smoky baba ganoush with chunky pieces of eggplant flesh peeking out. And the freshly made falafel lives up to the restaurant’s name. It’s crispy and crunchy and, somehow, not at all greasy despite having just come out of the fryer. The ultra-thin pita is good enough, but you can probably skip the anemic lettuce and tomato salad and get your veggie fill with the pickled turnips, peppers, and pickles that also come with the platter.
Just before I leave, another customer comes in. He’s either heartbroken or hungover and immediately sits down at a two-top, lays his head on the table and closes his eyes. Just the quiet kind of customer Top Falafel’s World Cup-watching worker is looking for, I’m sure.
A la carte items: $0.75 to $5.99
Platters: $7.99 to $9.99