Cheap Eats

Haifa to Hallandale: Falafel Benny's Got the Best Balls

Through Falafel Benny's narrow, squat entrance was a room of mostly men yelling at each other in thick Israeli accents.

"How is the falafel?" owner Benny Regev gregariously bellowed at customers halfway through their lunch. He tried to buy some of his regulars' meals. Some accepted, and others slammed a few bills down on the counter and walked out.

The falafel is pretty damned good. Benny's specialty is the light, fluffy, chickpea fritters with a fragrant punch. A little smaller than a Ping-Pong ball, a hot one is usually given to first-timers, whom the staff can spot by how long they pore over the menu.

They're also healthy, argues Regev; you just have to know what you're doing when you make them.

"If it's fried at the right temperature, it doesn't absorb the oil," he whispered.

Besides the crispy, fluffy falafel, it's the fixings that make this place special. There's a choice of three kinds of cabbage, tzatziki, hummus, tabbouleh, tomato salad, marinated eggplant, cilantro, and a variety of diced vegetables. They're all packed inside a thick pita. You're told to sit, eat, and pay once you've finished.

Benny, whose likeness with thick, bushy eyebrows is sketched all over the restaurant, took over the space about two years ago, where a run-of-the-mill Pita Grill once stood. Most of the recipes are Benny's. A couple come from Ema (the Hebrew word for mother). Falafel, he said, has been a lifelong obsession, even though the shop also offers shwarma, schnitzel, and young chicken packed into pitas.

"When I was 16 years old, I used to skip school, work, take them money I made and buy falafel," he said.

He also quietly told us that even Arabs come into his store for a meal, though we didn't see any on a weekday visit.

"I have people over here who come in and say 'kif imeh,'" he said, "which in English means like home."

Is it possible the Israeli conflict could be settled by the unassuming falafel?

For more follow Zach on Twitter @ZachIsWeird.

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Zachary Fagenson is the restaurant critic for Miami New Times, and proud to report a cholesterol level of 172.
Contact: Zachary Fagenson