Friday, June 19, 2015

Best Falafel in Haifa

During the past six years together, my mother learned the art of doing advance research from my father. She grew to appreciate the wealth of information available on the internet that would provide great insight before making decisions such as items to purchase or companies to hire. Of course, my father does most of his research around traveling and eating.

Review sites such as Yelp! are better known in the United States, but it's hardly effective when you travel frequently with a passport. So for international research on restaurants, we rely on TripAdvisor.

Now, to be honest, Israel is not really known for its restaurants. Before overly sensitive people start getting all riled up, let's just agree that there are no Michelin starred restaurants in Israel (as of this post anyway), but they do have some great street food as we wrote about last year.

So when, out of curiosity, we looked up "Restaurants in Haifa" on TripAdvisor, it wasn't too surprising when a falafel stand came up as #1.

Ha Ezkenim is literally a hole in the wall in the Arabic section of downtown Haifa, near where the weekend street bazaars are held. Though she lived here for 14 years, my mother had never heard of it. But that's not surprising given how many falafel places there were everywhere. Most were pretty similar, so you'd never venture out of your way to go to a specific one.

So the other day, they decided to venture out to Ha Ezkenim for a late lunch. Located on 18 Wadi Street, it wasn't that hard to find, but you had to know what you were looking for. Thankfully TripAdvisor has photos and my mother reads Hebrew.

Inside the small take out joint, you would find a counter and several stools set up alongside the wall with some of the friendliest falafel men you'd ever meet.

As soon as we walked in, we were welcomed. It was clear that we weren't locals, but they did a great job of catering to foreigners (and building up their TripAdvisor presence). Smart business! Along the side, you'll see them making the juicy falafel balls. They gave us one with tahini sauce to sample, similar to how Katz' Deli gives you a piece of brisket to taste before you buy.

I can't read Hebrew, but this is the Ha Ezkenim menu. Currently, the exchange rate is 3.5 New Israeli Shekels for every 1 US Dollar, so you can see you're not breaking the bank here. My father went with the full pita while my mother went for the half. While the half looks bigger in this photo, rest assured, that's just how the camera was angled.

After you choose your size (basically half pita or full pita), you can add your choice of cabbage, cucumber/tomato salad or pickles, plus a heavy dosing of tahini sauce. Ha Ezkenim speaks English very well, so no need to be worried if you're not fluent in Hebrew or Arabic.

And then you can help yourself to additional sides (hot peppers and olives) or add some hot chili oil for some heat. My parents eventually found some seats along the bar as the guests finished and left their stools. My father ate his pita in under 5 minutes.

My mother admitted that these Ha Ezkenim falafels were indeed especially delicious. Both the juicy falafel balls and the tasty tahini sauce weren't like the other places in town. TripAdvisor had steered us correctly!

Should we ever decide to try something different, the #5 ranked restaurant in Haifa is also a falafel stand. And it's literally across the street, Michelle Falafel. This competitive dynamic is very much like the Israeli version of McDonald's and Burger King.

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