Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Diamond in the Rough: Falafel King

Follow to the King!
I love walking around Downtown Crossing. It has the charm of a a great metropolis that has been nailed by a nuclear bomb, where the whole of the population of the city basically just strolls around the circumference of the huge crater, pretending that nothing happened... nothing to see here. Seriously, at any given moment in Downtown Crossing, you'll see four crack heads, a handful of teenagers trying to get someone to buy them cigarettes from the Seven Eleven, a drunk pregnant woman smoking a bong, a gaggle of Scientologists doing some recruiting, and something even more random... like a professional tuba player with a monkey. Oh, and then you'll see a family of four on vacation from Ohio who have just come from a lovely stroll on the Public Gardens and are on their way to the Aquarium, but somehow must have taken a wrong turn somewhere along the Freedom Trail and have emerged deep in the very bowels of HELL!!!!
Falafel King location:
Enter building, and walk to
the back of the floor
Just kidding, Downtown Crossing isn't that bad, but it is colorful to be sure. There used to be beautiful department stores, like Filenes and Jordan Marsh, a number of book stores, the amazing Diamond building, and of course theaters and restaurants for all the lawyers, politicians, businessmen and ladies who lunch to enjoy. Some are still there, but many are long gone. And yes, we do have an actual crater smack in the middle of the neighborhood, which no real estate company seems to want to touch with a ten foot pole. Amidst the wreckage, there are a few places with cheap eats that have become strong holds in this bizarre and endearing neighborhood. The places with food so good, that all manner of person seeks out their wares for lunch, and they make a place like Downtown Crossing not so scary, but more special. One of these places is Falafel King.
The Falafel King Counter
Locating Falafel King is a bit of an adventure. Aside from its address smack in the middle of Downtown Crossing, you'll have to scan the different signs above eye level on Winter Street before you actually find the building that the eatery is located in. A couple tips, the Falafel King sign is second from the bottom on a series of stacked signs on the left side of the street when walking toward the Commons. Also, if you see a Chinese takeout restaurant in this same building, then you are in the right place. You'll have to enter through the door located to the left of the Chinese takeout restaurant's entrance. Even after successfully locating the building, you might be inclined to turn around. You'll see a sort of cell phone store, and another restaurant advertisement, but just pass by all that you see and walk toward the back of the building. You'll catch glimpse of a long snaking, but fast moving, line at the back, and this is the line for the King.
Complimentary gift of falafel
for loyal customers and new friends
Part of the experience of getting take out from the King is a) knowing your order, because that line moves fast and b) getting a free falafel from the man initiating the construction of orders at the beginning of the food counter. I still delight in the welcome of "hello my friend, what can I get for you" and an out stretched arm offering a single crunchy chickpea nugget with a little quick smear of tangy, earthy hummus. But what to order? Well, if you're extra hungry, you could a special combo roll up with falafel and chicken or shawarma. But I don't know. I think if this is your virgin run to a place renowned for having great falafel, then damn it, just go with the falafel... the falafel roll up in this case. You'll place your order, devour your complimentary snack, take five steps down the food counter line, pay a total of $5.88, and in all of about a minute and a half, you have a wonderful sandwich, compactly packaged to travel well, and are on your way to the office to enjoy a feast of Boston's best falafel. 
Layers of crunchy falafel, hummus, pickles
lettuce and tomatoes
The substantial sandwich is rolled in a combination of paper and foil so that as you peel away wrapping you reveal just enough sandwich to access a hearty bite, and simultaneously prevent the rest of the meal from crumbling into lost lunch oblivion. The packaging has the added reward of actually unraveling flavor by flavor that the King has tightly rolled into a powdery, soft, and spongy fresh pita bread. The falafel, deep fried in vegetable oil, is exceptionally crunchy on the outside, and packed with spices to compliment those toothsome bits of chickpea throughout the inside of the nugget. As you bite into the sandwich, you have a very good chance of enjoying the flavors of both that falafel and the tangy, lemony and nutty hummus that you had previewed at the Falafel King counter. You might also come upon a piece of one of the sour pickles that they layer lovingly into the sandwich. Then there is a bit of iceberg lettuce and chunks of juicy tomato, not to mention the spice and zip of garlic and parsley throughout every bite of the sandwich. It's perfect harmony of Middle Eastern flavors, not to mention an interesting combination of textures that keep the mouth interested. Though the sandwich is roughly the size of a thermos, it's damn near impossible to stop chomping down on the seemingly infinite supply of deliciousness, and before you know it, yes, m'dear, you've eaten the whole thing.
Clearly, this is one of my favorite sandwiches in Boston, and yet another example of how this city does inexpensive food really well. I will continue to enjoy the Twilight Zone atmosphere of Downtown Crossing every time I feel the need to fulfill my falafel desires. Hell, if I keep following the call long enough, maybe Downtown Crossing will change and reclaim some of its former glory. That's all well and fine, so long as Falafel King keeps on doing what it does best. Here's to you, the King that has stolen my heart.

Falafel King
48 Winter Street
Boston, MA 02108
(617) 338-8355

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