3 Tchernikovsky (near corner of Allenby)
Sun-Thur 11-16; Fri 11-14
By the looks of it, there is nothing special about Johnny Falafel. It looks like every other falafel stand in Israel and actually, one might assume that Johnny Falafel might not be as good as the other falafel places. As an Israeli who encounters at least ten different stands in a one mile radius, you expect to be presented with an extensive topping bar with an assortment ranging from taboule to eggplant.
Falafel Johnny offers no such thing, only a selection of Israeli salad, cabbage and pickles, which is added to your pita only by request. The only sides that Falafel Johnny has to boast about are tehina and harif (a sharp spice that pairs well with falafels). In fact, if it wasn’t for the line out the door, you might never think to stop and consider trying it. It’s when you take your first bite of Falafel Johnny that you realize why the owners have the courage to deny their customers of a salad bar. It’s like a fine cuisine chef that doesn’t put salt and pepper on the tables in their restaurant – they are making a statement and Jonnny Falafel wants you to know that their falafel is so good that you don’t need to mask the flavors with all those toppings and THEY ARE RIGHT! Hands down, there is no other falafel place in Tel Aviv that tastes better than Johnny Falafel.
It’s in their simplicity, fresh herbs, and perfect blend of seasonings that Johnny Falafel serves its sandwiches with nothing else to distract your taste buds. Each ball is perfectly fried with a light crunch on the outside and a soft, airy, and warm mouth full inside. No other falafel stand can compete with the flat, perfectly fried potato that accompanies the falafel. They slice their potatoes in big round pieces, coat them with a batter and throw them into a deep frier. It’s the only twist they have to this Middle Eastern staple, and what a brilliant twist it is, making this is simply splendid pairing. It is the unique french fries, or as Israeli’s call them “chips”, that keep the loyal customers coming back for more.
Like Sigal and Inbar, diners at Falafel Johnny for thirty years which we were lucky to run into one early Friday afternoon. Inbar and Sigal were born in Tel Aviv and have been eating Johnny’s Falafel since they were little kids. They attest that, for the last thirty years, Johnny Falafel has been consistently the best falafel they have ever tried. In fact, since Johnny senior opened this little falafel stand in 1955, very little has changed. The Little boys, Johnny Sr. sons, who were once running around the kitchen are now the owners and cooks of Johnny Falafel. One day they will hand over this Tel Aviv landmark to their own sons. Inbar and Sigal remember coming here as children and seeing Johnny Jr. and Dror with their father. “We grew up together, we constantly saw the street changing, Tel Aviv changing, but Falafel Johnny was always the same, it was always here and it’s always tasty,” explained Inbar. When Johnny Falafel opened there was not much else on that street whereas through the years stores and restaurants have come and gone and Johnny Falafel has lasted. “It’s the chips that we come for, I’ve never tasted chips like these anywhere else,” added Sigal. Although Inbar and Sigal moved out of Tel Aviv two years ago they come at least twice a month to visit their favorite falafel place and re-experience a piece of their past.
When we ask Dror why he likes owning Johnny Falafel he tells us that it was never a question to take over the restaurant when their father passed away and he realizes today that it’s what keeps him young. He has grown up with the restaurant,and he is constantly reminded of his childhood. Johnny Falafel is simultaneously a memory and a reality for so many people for such a long time. What do we love about this place? It is one of those historical landmarks that for 30 years of its existense has helped shaped Tel Aviv. Yet once you stop there and try it for yourself, you will never be able to forget the taste, the fresh falafel ball and the unique fries that just can’t be beat!
Photos by: Rachel Brender