For a city that isn't particularly known for it's Middle Eastern cuisine, falafel balls seem to be falling out of the sky on Washington street lately.
Mamoun's Falafel is the fourth new establishment of its kind that has opened in the Mile Square since October. With Ibby's Falafel slated to open next month, one block up from Mamoun's, falafel mania shows no sign of slowing down.
Then again, Mamoun's isn't just another falafel joint. It's the falafel joint. When Mamoun's opened its first location in Greenwich Village in 1971, it was the first restaurant specializing in the falafel to open in New York City and one of the first Middle Eastern restaurants in the United States. The Hoboken location (on Washington between Fifth and Sixth Streets) opened on March 29 and is the fourth Mamoun's (there are two shops in Manhattan and one in New Haven.)
"We've always had an interest in opening a location in Hoboken," said Hussam Chater, son of founder Mamoun Chater. "Rent was a little too high, but when the market settled down and economic conditions improved, the time was finally right."
Before I get to reviewing the food at Mamoun's, I should start by saying that I am not a stranger to the restaurant. In 1997, I lived with a friend in New Haven for a month while I looked for an apartment in New York. My friend took me to the local Mamoun's where I delighted in my first ever falafel sandwich. I ate countless more during my time in town because they were delicious and they were cheap. Once I was a New York City resident, I frequented the Manhattan locations whenever possible.
Time passed and I hadn't been to a Mamoun's in a few years, so walking into the Hoboken location today was a bit like walking into a time warp. This location is noticeably bigger than the others, but aside from that, the vibe and the food is pretty much the way I remember it: friendly, no-nonsense, satisfying.
Before I start talking about quality (of which there is plenty to discuss), let's talk bang for your buck. I spent $10 total, including tip, and got a falafel sandwich, lentil soup, a piece of baklava and a can of diet coke. It was an astounding amount of food for a ridiculously cheap price. The falafel sandwich by itself (only $2.50) would have been enough to fill me up for most of the day.
Let's cut to the chase: Mamoun's falafel sandwich is hands-down the best falafel sandwich I've ever had - and I've had quite a few from various establishments across the country since that first one in 1997. The falafel balls are perfectly constructed - crunchy, fresh and delicious - and they are housed in a compact, toasty pita bread pocket. Each sandwich is adorned with lettuce (but not too much) and large pieces of fresh tomato. The tahini is creamy and subtle and unique in a way I can't quite put my finger on. Mamoun's signature hot sauce, which is set out in enormous bottles that true hot sauce lovers will really appreciate, is also some of the best I've ever tasted and is a must-add to your sandwich. If you heart spicy, this hot sauce will make your day, if not your year.
Finally, Mamoun's falafel sandwich does all of this without being greasy.
While the falafel sandwich is clearly the star at Mamoun's, the other items I sampled were also quite good. The lentil soup ($3.00) was peppery and thick with deep currents of flavor. The baklava ($1.50) provided a perfect, sweet foil to the soup and falafel's more savory elements.
Bottom line: No matter how many more falafel joints open up on Washington Street, Hoboken should consider itself lucky to have a Mamoun's Falafel in town.
Let it be noted that there has a fair amount of talk, and some might even say controversy about the coming of Ibby's Falafel, which is reportedly owned and run by a nephew of Mamoun Chater.
Hussam Chater set the record straight.
"Yes, Ibby's is owned by a nephew of my father's," Hussam Chater confirmed. "But there is no business affiliation whatsover between Mamoun's and Ibby's. The brands are completely separate."
Chater elaborated that he and his three older brothers Kinan Chater, Galal Chater and Nedal Chater oversee all aspects of the Mamoun's business now that their father has retired.
"We are really happy to be in Hoboken," said Chater. "It's been a blessing so far."
"My father started this business forty years ago," he continued. "We don't have any gimmicks, we just worry about the food."
Mamoun's Falafel Restaurant is located at 502 Washington Street. It is open from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday through Wednesday and 10 a.m. to 5 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.