We love this no-frills Lebanese-Syrian spot, not just for the tastiest, tidiest falafel sandwich in town, and not just for owner Mouhamad Shami's pride and commitment to keeping everything fresh. We love it for dishes you rarely find in other Middle Eastern joints, like a spicy vegetarian kibbeh stuffed with Swiss chard, mint, and parsley -- not to mention occasional specials courtesy of Mrs. Shami, like kafta bil-saniyeh (a casserole heaped with potatoes, tomatoes, and minced lamb) and a deftly spiced vegetarian moussaka.
No. 64, BEST LEBANESE: ALFANOOSE
Fast food as it's meant to be at this crowded Financial District golden oldie, now in a new location. Pitas are made fresh, the falafel and hummus are admired all over town, and the vegetarian kibbeh has a following all its own.
The line outside Alfanoose, a Syrian and Lebanese lunch counter that happens to make the best falafel in Manhattan, usually twists down the street--the counterman assembles the spicy, cumin-laced goodies at the deliberate pace of an oft-overlooked poet putting the finishing touches to his Nobel Prize acceptance speech--but the sandwich was in my hands so quickly that I forgot to ask for a schmear of garlicky hummus on the side.
Now Entertainment,The Bite Before Christmas
After braving the crowds at the South Street Seaport, this spot with the best falafel in town is a welcome escape. Every sandwich is made to order and topped with the freshest condiments. One favorite is mujadara, a mixture of rice, lentils and crispy onions that sounds too healthy to be this good. —Barbara Chernetz
The Underground Gourmet
Down in the Financial District, the Hunt for the Ultimate Falafel is Over
By Rob Patronite & Robin Raisfeld
Inspiration comes in many forms. Sometimes, it appears as a brilliant display of color and texture, an artist's distinctive vision come to life. At Alfanoose it comes wrapped in foil with a squirt of hot sauce.
This might sound excessive, but the fact is, falafel isn't the no-brainer nosh you (and the operators of all those mediocre street carts) might imagine. Most vendors hastily stuff a flimsy commercial pita pocket till it bursts at the seams before you even dig down deep enough through the assorted roughage to excavate a deep-fried chickpea ball. At Alfanoose, Lebanese co-owner Mouhamad Shami has his superior system down pat (and the repeat clientele to prove it, including Sullivan Street Bakery's Jim Lahey, who tipped us off): Each crispy falafel, seasoned with but not overpowered by fresh coriander, parsley, onion, garlic, cumin, and pepper, is expertly fried to order, then lined up in a neat row inside an especially thin and pliant pita, and makes all the difference. Shami gently smushes each ball and then adds sumac-dusted onion salad and pickled cucumbers, beets, and turnips as well as the standard lettuce, tomato, tahini, and optional but essential hot sauce. Then -- and this clinches it -- the entire production is meticulously rolled up like a burrito, so that all the harmonious components merge in every bite.
Alfanoose is also an excellent source for homemade hummus, foul medames, tabbouleh, baba ghannouj, and mujadara, that wonderful lentil pilaf that comes with either rice or bulghur wheat, both under a blitz of crispy fried onions. We're especially enamored of the vegetarian kibbeh, a bulghur-wheat-and-flour shell encasing a delicate center of chopped Swiss chard, spinach, sesame seeds, and mint, varnished with a lemony, garlicky hot-pepper paste (ask for extra). It's part of what makes Alfanoose, which means "magic lantern" in Arabic, a bright beacon in the barren culinary desert of the financial district.
Opening This WeekAlfanoose
Although his three-seat sliver of a Middle Eastern takeout joint, Alfanoose, suffered after 9/11, Mouhamad Shami stuck it out in the financial district until his landlord raised the rent and he was forced to close in March. Bad news for devotees of superb vegetarian kibbeh, juicy chicken shawarma, and the meticulously assembled falafel that won Shami an intensely loyal following. So loyal, in fact, that news of his plight prompted concerned customers to pitch in, directing Shami to the Downtown Alliance and ultimately helping him find a much bigger space just two blocks away. “Someone offered to finance a move uptown,” he says. “But the people downtown, they were so wonderful and so supportive after September 11, I felt it’s not fair to leave them.”
8 Maiden Lane (Chinatown/Lower Manhattan)between Liberty St. and Broadway 212-528-4669Middle EasternPrice Range: Inexpensive The three-stool Middle Eastern takeout joint has morphed into a 72-seat Middle Eastern restaurant just two blocks away from the original location. Co-owner Mouhamed Shami still makes the best—and neatest—falafel sandwich in town, meticulously rolled in an unusually thin and pliant pita, like a burrito, so that all the harmonious components merge in every bite. Also a great source for Middle Eastern appetizers and delicious lamb or vegetarian kibbeh.
Cheap EatsPita SandwichesSuper Middle Eastern Pita Pockets
Alfanoose, a low-key Lebanese-Syrian falafel joint near Wall Street that (uses the) technique of rolling (burrito-style) rather than stuffing fresh, tasty ingredients into a pliant pita. We love the everything-in-one-bite effect, which works equally well with falafel, shawarma, and Alfanoose's signature vegetarian kibbeh, an egg-shaped croquette of bulgur wheat filled with Swiss chard and chili peppers.
BEST OF NEW YORKOpen Wide:The Best Things Since Sliced Bread
Rainbow’s falafel is a soupcon spicier, but Alfanoose's is a rarity in the falafel trade: a tidy, structurally sound sandwich rolled like a burrito in pliant pita. Only one or two napkins required. ROB PATRONITE