Miami's Top Five Falafel Sandwiches

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I have a dream in which I travel to the Middle East, gather all of the troubled tribes together, calmly ascend a modest soap box, and say unto the people: "People. Sit down. Relax. Have some falafel, some pita bread, a little hummus and tahini, maybe a Coca-Cola. You all enjoy that, right?" And of course they all do, and in my dream, they pass around the falafel balls, pita bread, accompanying dips and bowls of diced tomato and cucumber. And they help one another assemble falafel sandwiches and forget the centuries of animosity, hatred, violence and death. Until someone says, "Is this Yasmin's falafel? Shlomo's is a lot better." And then all hell breaks loose.

So if I were to try to reenact this scene in real life, I'd take along falafel from these 5 places in Miami. They're politically neutral, and inarguably delicious.

5. Bocadillo Clandestino
This is admittedly the dark horse of the group. Or perhaps the dark bicycle would be a better way of putting it, as this secretive South Beach sandwich delivery service brings one sandwich per day to your office or home -- by bike. So to sample this excellent and distinctive falafel, you have to be in South Beach (anywhere will do, including on the Beach itself), call or text in to the Bocadillo team (Anita Bonita, Black Mamba, and Italian Stallion), hope to dear God that the sandwich du jour is the Light Load: Light and crispy falafel balls in fluffy pita bread with fresh, ripe avocado, radish slices, alfalfa sprouts, roasted garlic hummus, and tahini dressing. If this is the sandwich of the day, you'll just have to fork over $10 in cash to the delivery person. If not, you can still get a great sandwich and just try your luck again another day. A falafel this good is worth a little gambling.

4. Oriental Bakery & Grocery Co.
Certainly nobody has been making falafel for longer than the Palestinian family that owns Oriental Bakery; they started up in 1954. Nice part about Oriental, other than the falafel which we will soon get to, is that it's a market stocked with all manner of Middle Eastern ingredients, supplies, and household items -- you can nab some olives from Persia or from Palestine or from Peru. After perusing the aisles, head to the cafeteria section in the back of the shop and enjoy a sandwich with sesame-seed-flecked falafels, the smoothest hummus around, a splash of tahini, the obligatory salad, all fluffed into a Syrian pita or laffa bread that gets baked on premise. Nobody's falafel sandwich comes in a better bread than Oriental's. It won our Best Pita Bread in 2000, and Best Falafel in 2001 and in 2008.

3. Elie's Cafe
Elie's is almost as clandestine as Bocadillo Clandestino. It's been tucked into the second level of the Galeria Internacional mall since 2007. Elie, from Morocco, opened the place a floor below in 2006, and then made his way up. Once you arrive you will not be taken in by the beauty of the atmosphere -- there is none. Just about 40 chairs arranged willy-nilly on a tile flour, a counter with kitchen behind it, and a display cooler of sodas and other soft drinks. But damn if Elie doesn't make the most fantastic falafel: crisp on the outside, tender within, and nestled with hunks of ripe tomatoes and cucumbers in a heated pita bread (or on baguette, but what's that about?). Tahini is generously drizzled on top, and the result is an unbeatable sandwich for $5.95. Value-wise, this is number one.

2. Pita Loca
Folks craving falafel have been heading to this South Beach location for the past 15 years. The chick pea spheres are spiked with more cumin and spice than the usual, lending them a distinctive flavor. Regular diced tomatoes, cucumbers, hummus and tahini are offered, but so is a whole salad bar of freshly prepared items -- just point and the counterman will plunk what you want into the sandwich. Not to brag, but we've been known to walk out of Pita Loca with sandwiches that weigh as much as -- well, let's just say that for $6.99 we're getting a deal. Pita Loca won our Best Falafel in 2005.

1. Pita Hut Israeli Restaurant & Grill
Serving sensational falafel since 1997, and winner of our Best Falafel 2007, this little "hut" has grown over the years into a full-fledged family Kosher restaurant (with kosher sushi, too). The food is great, but...we still usually order the falafel. It's an ideal version, meaning everything is done just right. The falafel balls are light and golden-brown. The pita bread is always warmed.The sauces and garnishes are fresh (and constantly rotated due to a consistently brisk business), the combined flavor that of a textbook falafel. The price is $7.99, the experience is unbeatable (the ambiance here is nicer than at the competition).

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