The yummiest thing from the Mid-east since Lost's Sayid.
By Jaweed Kaleem
On the streets of Jerusalem, Damascus, Beirut and other Middle Eastern cities, vendors hawk falafel, small fried balls of blended and marinated chickpeas topped with chopped vegetables and tangy tahini (roasted sesame paste) or hummus (seasoned chickpea puree).
In Miami, immigrants from Israel, Syria, Lebanon and other countries have opened a wide variety of markets and restaurants where falafel and its frequent companion shawarma (marinated lamb or beef with the same toppings) are sold. Crunchy falafel and savory shawarma are sandwiched in pita bread or arranged on plates with mezze -- "snacks" -- such as baba ghannouj (smoked eggplant dip), tabouli (parsley and bulgar wheat salad) or grape leaves stuffed with rice, tomatoes, chickpeas and spices.
Here are three favorite places to grab falafel and shawarma, whether you're on the go or in the mood for a casual, sit-down meal.Oriental Bakery
Just west of Brickell, this Middle Eastern grocery has been operated since the early 1970s by a Palestinian couple and their now-grown children. Fresh falafel and shawarma come wrapped in pita -- baked daily -- or on a plate with sides that include rice and chickpea curry. If you want to snack, try the fatayer (triangle-shaped pies stuffed with spinach, meat or ricotta). Munch on free lemon and garlic-flavored pita chips while you wait. Drinks include malt sodas (apple, blackberry, strawberry) and juices (cherry, carrot, tamarind).Oriental Bakery, 1760 SW Third Ave., Miami; falafel sandwich $4.50, platter $6.99; shawarma sandwich $5.50, platter $7.99; fatayer $1.99; baklava $1.50; malt sodas $2.99; juices $1.50.; 11 a.m.-7 p.m. daily; 305-854-0501Shawarma Mediterranean Grill
Choose from a selection of dishes inspired by the owner's native Lebanon: Falafel and beef shawarma sandwiches are wrapped tightly in thin pita with lettuce, pickles and tomatoes plus tahini. Pita wraps also can come with chicken, kafta (seasoned, grilled ground beef or chicken) and kibbe (seasoned, deep-fried ground beef with crushed wheat). Falafel and all meats except kibbe come on platters with two sides (choices include fries and salad). Drinks include cardamom-spiced Turkish coffee, apple malt soda and juices (peach, apple, lemon). The plentiful dessert options include namoura, a sweet semolina cake.Shawarma Mediterranean Grill, 11752 SW 88th St., Kendall; falafel sandwich $4.99, platter $7.99; meat sandwiches (shawarma, chicken, kafta) $5.99, platters $8.99; kibbe sandwich $4.49; namoura $1.50; Turkish coffee $1.50; malt soda $2.99; juice $2.99; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily; 305-596-3121Pita Hut Grill
At this Israeli-owned kosher restaurant in Miami Beach, a server takes your order from a menu of traditional Middle Eastern dishes plus soups, burgers and sushi. In addition to pita and platters, falafel and shawarma and other meats also come in laffa, a flat bread that's baked in a traditional clay oven. Beef and chicken shish kebab are on the menu, as well as Moroccan couscous with chunky vegetables. Drinks include mango, peace, guava and strawberry nectars, Turkish coffee and mint tea. No desserts are served.Pita Hut Grill, 530 41st St., Miami Beach; falafel pita $6.99, laffa or plate $8.99; chicken or beef shish kebab and shawarma pita $7.99, laffa $9.99; couscous with salad and side $14.99; nectars $2.50, Turkish coffee $2, mint tea $2; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday, closed Saturday; 305-531-6090
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A Falafel platter with a side of Pita bread from the Oriental Bakery & Grocery. Photo: Nissa Benjamin.