BEST FALAFEL - 2005
www.pitaloca.8m.com Perhaps to no great surprise, Jews and Arabs argue about falafel. Palestinians charge that Israelis have stolen the fried chickpea fritter, a traditional Arab food, and passed it off as "Israel's National Snack." Jews claim that it's a biblical food, generically Middle Eastern. While we know for sure that falafel has been popular in Israel since at least 1958 -- when the hit song "And We Have Falafel" included the lyric: "It used to be when a Jew came to Israel he kissed the ground and gave thanks/Now as soon as he gets off the plane he has a falafel" -- the dish in fact originated in Egypt, by Arabs, and was first made with fava beans. Israel's most notable contribution to its evolution has been to cram novel accompaniments, like shredded beets or French fries, into the pita bread. Which brings us to Pita Loca in South Beach, an Israeli joint, where the falafels are filled with warm spice and crunch, and the salad bar becomes a smorgasbord of eminently crammable comestibles. It's $5.50 for a regular sandwich, but pay the extra buck and get it on the larger, fluffier lafa bread. After the requisite splash of nutty tahini sauce, point to the items in the salad bar you want stuffed into your sandwich and a nice man behind the counter will oblige -- pickles, coleslaw, tabouleh, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, hot peppers. Keep pointing until the man starts looking a little less nice, which means you're pushing it. Thank you, Arabs, for the falafel; thank you, Jews, for the accompaniments. And they think the pita is loca?