For centuries, Middle Eastern cuisine has been hailed as some of the richest and healthiest the world over. The flavors are indisputably delicious, and the health benefits of ingredients such as fiber-rich chickpeas, eggplants, and an array of herbs and spices, which play a central role in many of the staple dishes from this part of the world, are reason enough to incorporate this sort of food into your daily diet.
A favorite among vegetarians, foods like hummus and falafel provide some of life’s greatest pleasures. So, how easy is it to get your Middle Eastern food fix all the way over here in Argentina? You wouldn’t be alone in thinking that Buenos Aires doesn’t seem like a particularly apt destination to find authentic flavors from the Middle East – we’re perched on the other side of the world, after all – but I hope that this article will demonstrate otherwise.
While there isn’t an abundance of places to find Middle Eastern food in Buenos Aires, compared with the choices available in several European capital cities, for instance, authentic and truly delicious Lebanese, Israeli, and Armenian restaurants in the big city allow us to find just that.
To prove this to you, I endeavored to find out exactly where one can find the best Middle Eastern options the city has to offer, by tasting and comparing varieties from one dish in particular: falafel. These crunchy little balls of herby-chickpea-happiness have always been a personal favorite of mine, and extensive research (lots and lots of eating) has allowed me to compile a list of the finest places to get your falafel on, all within the limits of Capital Federal.
Before we venture into the falafel food tour of Buenos Aires, however, I thought I’d dip into its history in order to illuminate your chickpea-paved path of the future (how poetic). So let’s begin with a quick introduction to the world of falafel, and why you need to welcome it into your life immediately, if you haven’t already.
Falafel is believed to have originated in Egypt by Coptic Christians over 1,000 years ago, although details of its exact origin have been historically contested. These Christians were forbidden from eating meat during certain holidays throughout the year, so they came up with this veggie alternative. (Thank God for the Coptic Christians, amirite?)
The word was originally derived from a Coptic phrase meaning “that which has lots of beans.” Unsurprisingly, falafels are indeed just that; originally, they were made from lots of fava beans, although at some point they were replaced with chickpeas.
Nowadays, the inside mixture typically includes chickpeas, onion, garlic, herbs and spices; it is then formed into balls and deep fried, like most of the best things in life. It can also be baked, but this is far less traditional.
Falafel became and still remains a hugely popular street food choice in the Middle East, and often forms part of a mezze appetizer plate. Israeli and Middle Eastern cuisine has since been introduced to the rest of the world, particularly owing to the wave of Jewish immigrants to multiple destinations across the world, including North America and Europe after the Second World War. Immigration became an important element for these flavors to arrive in Argentina, with the country being home to the third largest population of Armenians in the world and the largest Jewish population in all of Latin America.
But now, the delectable, deep-fried delicacy that is falafel is accessible to all of us, even way over here in South America. Yes, the Israeli national dish, the baguette to their France, the Yorkshire pudding to their England, is now up for grabs in your own country. Put down the steak and pick up a falafel-filled pita, you won’t regret it.
Eretz Cantina Israeli
When it comes to offering the best falafel in Buenos Aires, this Israeli restaurant, in my opinion, is second to none. While there was tough competition, especially between the top two restaurants (see below for reference), the genuine quality of the falafel as well as the non-pretentious approach of this restaurant charmed me like none other. The owners are a group of friends largely of Israeli descent, and I had the pleasure of chatting to one of the owners, Adiel, who answered a few of my many questions.
Eretz is most popular among the Jewish community here in Buenos Aires, but since opening its doors three years ago, they have seen an influx of porteños and tourists alike who are curious to try new flavors. The restaurant owners source their ingredients locally, although they do import some things from Israel; Adiel personally travels back once a year, filling his suitcase with delicacies from that part of the world, such as Turkish coffee.
The difference, he says, between Israeli cuisine and, say, Armenian, is that the falafels are deep-fried on the spot and served immediately, to ensure extra freshness and crispiness. At Eretz, the falafels are notably herb-y; Adiel explains that the mixture includes chickpeas, cumin, sesame seeds, abundant seasoning, and lots of cilantro and parsley, which you can definitely taste. Most noticeable about these particular falafel balls is the dark color of the outer coating, thanks to their perfect level of deep-frying, and the slightly nutty flavor given by the fried sesame seeds inside.
I ordered the lunchtime deal which includes little ensaladitas – sides of spicy carrots, cabbage salad, and chickpeas – as well as super-soft Israeli bread, a drink and, most importantly, a dish of countless falafel balls, hummus, typical salad, and even a few slices of slightly caramelized fried eggplant on top.
The stand-out, among this perfectly-cooked and presented dish, was undoubtedly the falafels themselves. Consistent and non-greasy, packed with a huge depth of flavor, these are the real deal. As Adiel himself says, the falafel produced at Eretz are “even better” than the many, many falafels he has tried in Israel in his lifetime. I believe him!
The entire meal was packed with flavor, and while there was lots of food (definitely a good idea to share with a friend), I left feeling that I had enjoyed a light, very healthy, non-greasy, and positively vegetarian feast.
Eretz Cantina Israeli | Malabia 1583 | Falafel as a main dish, AR $85 – Lunch deal, AR $220, ideal for sharing
Just when I thought the standard of Middle Eastern cuisine in the city couldn’t be topped, I decided to take a trip to Al Rawshe, a Lebanese restaurant opposite the Botanical Gardens which opened five years ago and is fronted by head chef Ali. Ali, after years of traveling throughout the world trying to make a living – he learned English, French, and Spanish, on top of his native Arabic along the way – arrived in Buenos Aires eight years ago and finally opened up the restaurant.
Ali says the food he makes now, and the overwhelming response from eager customers such as myself, makes all the years of 5 AM wake-ups and the struggle of trying to create and maintain a business in such an unstable economical climate worth it. The authentic Lebanese recipes come straight from his homeland, and the care with which he cooks, prepares, and presents each dish truly invites you to understand the love he feels for his cooking and the connection he has successfully maintained with his country, culture and birthplace.
The shared platter, a spread of exquisite and traditional flavors, included the knock-out falafel (of course), babaganoush, tomato bulgur wheat, and the creamiest and richest hummus that I’ve tried so far in the city. Along with these dishes came Arabic bread, which was still warm, some stuffed grape leaves, and some Lebanese cheese with black olives.
The quality of each dish was excellent, and the flavors married together so perfectly that by the end I was wiping up every last morsel of every dish with bread, and was actually sad to have finished the meal. The falafel were absolutely perfect, uniformly crispy on the outside and moist within, accompanied with tahini and hummus. A true 10/10. And once again, no meat involved, not even in the grape leaves as I am usually accustomed to.
Al Rawshe | Av. Santa Fe 3870 | Sharing platter, AR $240, falafel was an extra
Something of a celebrity on the Buenos Aires food scene, Sarkis is a traditional Armenian restaurant which was first opened by Sarkis Kabatián in December 1982. Ever since, locals and tourists alike have flocked here every day to get their hands on the fantastic, no-frills food seeped in flavor, tradition and years of expertise. The extensive menu features some classic Armenian dishes, one of which is, of course falafel (yay!). Said falafel was indeed very good; crispy, fresh and herby as it should be, served in abundance, on top of salad and smothered in a delicious tahini sauce.
The sole reason the falafel doesn’t win a higher spot is because I found the other dishes to be even better. The grape leaves, hummus, and pita (yes I tried it all) were on another level of delicious, and though the falafel were certainly top-notch, they didn’t steal the show as much as they did in the other two restaurants above. That said, an excellent restaurant providing huge portions and a seriously good Armenian food experience all for an excellent price.
Make sure you get to Sarkis early for your dinner (I’d recommend 7:40 PM, 20 minutes before they open) and put your name on the waiting list, as last-minute bookings are hard to make and the daily crowds will definitely try to beat you to it.
Sarkis | Thames 1101 | Large plate of falafel, AR $220
Veggie Medio Oriente
This small vegetarian eatery serves up pitas filled with falafel, as well as pots of hummus with pita and salads, all inspired by Middle Eastern flavors (as the name would have you guess).
The falafel was freshly fried and loaded into my pita (they squeezed an impressive number in there) along with salad, pickles, tahini and several other sauces including a spicy green one and an eggplant one which added a nice depth of flavor and even (shock) some genuine spiciness here in Buenos Aires.
The falafel, which was a rich yellow color on the inside, was more spicy than herby, filled with a mixture of crushed and whole chickpeas and good amounts of spices, such as cumin. The whole ensemble, rich in flavor and costing only AR $110, left me happy and full for the rest of the day. Maybe being veggie out here can be done after all. Go here for a fast, fresh and fully-satisfying lunch on your next walk through downtown, at a destination you’ll definitely want to return to.
Veggie Medio Oriente | Suipacha 532 | Falafel pita, AR$110
Good quality Arabic food; quick and easy meal, try the baklawa for dessert!
El Salvador 4999 | Plate of falafel, AR $85
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Cheap and cheerful, a tasty Middle Eastern meal that won’t break the bank. Order the plate with a little bit of everything on! Note that if you dine in, the restaurant does not serve alcohol.
Arce 488 | Plate of falafel, AR $85
A little slice of happy hipster heaven in Recoleta, Florentin is brought to you by the capos behind Camping. Its falafel is perfect for a grab-and-go snack while bopping around near the cemetery and Plaza Francia; on a sunny day take a seat and soak up the rays by having an impromptu picnic with friends.
Junín 1795 | Plate of falafel, AR $145