Restaurant Review: Operation Falafel & Just Falafel
Searching for that little nugget of fried goodness we refer to as Falafel in a vast city like Dubai is not easy. After combing through (and eliminating) most of the Lebanese eateries in Dubai I’ve succumb to two falafel spots both conveniently located within a 1 mile radius of my house. While these two spots are extremely different, my taste buds have come to love them both for different reasons. They are Operation Falafel and Just Falafel and before you pass judgment on my taste in the popular vegan street food snack, let me explain.
Operation Falafel: Operation Falafel is the closest I’ve gotten to Jordanian falafel which, call me bias, boasts the best falafel in the Arab world – a large statement that I stand by. The casual eatery opened at JBR’s The Beach not even one year ago and has me mesmerized with its modern decor meets old world flavors. Operation Falafel offers traditional mezza like foul, manaeesh, fatat humus, iijeh (classic Arabic omelette) and magdous (pickled eggplant stuffed with walnuts, red pepper, garlic etc.) prepared the way your grandmother would prepare them. So authentic in fact that they serve their food in the traditional Arabic style bowls, which every Arab family probably still has stacked in their cabinets somewhere, and silver tin platters.
True to its name though, this place is all about the Falafel and their approach is classic, serving falafel in the most traditional Middle Eastern ways. Not so true to their motto, Because Street Food is for Everyone, Operation Falafel does not scream street food to me. Rather it reminds me of my grandparent’s kitchen, a place to savor familiar flavors in a casual yet chic atmosphere.
EAT: The Stuffed Falafel Platter is my weakness and guilty pleasure. The platter comes with four jumbo-sized croquets of falafel stuffed with caramelized onions, sumac and pine nuts served atop pita bread and alongside a generous portion of humus with olives, pickles and pickled turnips as well. The texture is perfect, crispy on the outside and mushy on the inside, an impressive little fritter. Dare I mention the platter only cost 19 AED, grandma would be proud.
Just Falafel: With over 50 branches in over 18 countries, it seems the franchise is trying to conquer the world. But before you write off the homegrown franchise as the McDonald’s of the Falafel world, try their new and improved menu. Impressive for different reasons, Just Falafel is true to the fried nuggets street food roots so much that they’ve redesigned their entire menu to cater to street food convenience.
Their menu is as diverse as the city of Dubai offering up Emirati and Italian wraps, Shawerma, croquettes, quinoa tabbouleh and even a falafel egg bun for breakfast. Their mix-n-match style menu allows diners to select a type of bread/bowl, protein, veggies and sauce, diversifying falafel as we know it. With the graffiti on the walls and plethora of locations, Just Falafel has mastered the street food vibe. Not so true to their name on the other hand, the introduction of exotic flavor combinations, such as the Mexicana and Masala Indian sandwiches, alongside a slew of chicken and beef options shows that Just Falafel is not just about falafel.
EAT: Just Falafel wins me over with its baked falafel, their updated menu has enhanced the recipe for the baked nugget. Its crispy and light (and apparently they have started adding Chia Seeds to it), I like to order it in a bowl over lettuce and chargrilled veggies with roast tomato sauce. Add to that a side of Roasted Red Pepper Humus and Baked Sweet Potato fries and you’ve got yourself a guilt free, reinvented 3-course Arabic meal for only 39 AED, yes please.