World’s Best Falafel: Suburbs of Chicago or Egypt?

True Story. I spent two weeks traveling throughout Egypt and probably ate enough falafel to feed a small country (yeah, that’s a lot of falafel)! I found one place in Luxor, Egypt that had amazing falafel (read my future post on a place called Snack Time), but other than that, I thought most of the falafel throughout Egypt was either pretty good or just mediocre at best. What struck me as absolutely absurd was my constant comparison of Egypt’s falafel to one from back home in Chicago. Believe me, I was baffled that I kept thinking falafel from Skokie, Illinois was trumping what I was eating in Cairo. Can something coming out of a suburb of Chicago really beat out food from what’s probably its cultural origin??? In my humble vegetarian opinion, a resounding YES!!!!!

Pita Inn- Skokie, Illinois

Pita Inn- Skokie, Illinois

What I’m talking about is the local Chicagoland chain of Pita Inn (I tend to only visit the Skokie location out of convenience). I was first introduced to Pita Inn through my work colleagues at Solucient back in 2001 (can’t remember if it was my then boss Nancy or friend Susan, but I will give them both credit :)). Ever since then, I find that it is really hard to come across amazing falafel, even when in Egypt. Go figure! To me it just seems that some components of the sandwich are off; either the actual falafel balls lack flavor, or the tahini sauce is too runny or too thick or the toppings aren’t tasty. Pita Inn has mastered all of these plus a whole lot more.

Pita Inn's Falafel Sandwich

Pita Inn’s Falafel Sandwich

Let’s start with the falafel balls themselves. What I love is that they are not only well seasoned with Middle Eastern spices, but the texture is right. I find some falafel joints haven’t blended the lentils well enough so that the falafel is too chunky or they pulverize the crap out of the lentils making it really mushy. Sometimes the falafel can be dry and crumbly and feel like it gets caught in your throat. I give Pita Inn major props for getting not only the well-spiced, garlicky seasoning down perfectly but also having a great, moist texture.

Pita Inn

Pita Inn – Bake Their Pita Bread Daily!

The next thing that makes this sandwich amazing is the freshly baked pitas. These pitas are the real deal. They are soft and flavorful and just such a refreshing change to anything you buy at a grocery store. Those grocery store ones feel and taste like cardboard and once you’ve been spoiled with Pita Inn’s pitas, it’s hard to ever eat the grocery store ones again. And here is some top secret information: if you go to the Pita Inn in Skokie, a few doors down is where all the pitas are baked fresh daily and can be purchased to take home. Do it!!! You will totally thank me when you are enjoying the pitas with the amazing hummus you also bought to take home with you 😉

Pita Inn's Amazing Hummus

Pita Inn’s Amazing Hummus

The sandwich is formed when a pita is stuffed with a few mashed up falafel balls and some lettuce, tomato and tahini sauce (yogurt, garlic and sesame seeds). As I mentioned earlier, tahini sauce obviously varies by restaurant, but Pita Inn’s is fantastic and just the right consistency. The falafel sandwich is not served with hummus in it, but I always buy a small side and add it to my sandwich (and then take the rest home). Pita Inn’s hummus is some of the best I’ve ever had because they add spices and garlic to it which really gives it flavor. Otherwise it is usually super bland, which was also my experience with most of the hummus throughout Egypt.

Enjoying A Falafel Sandwich at Pita Inn

Enjoying A Falafel Sandwich at Pita Inn

So, if you find yourself getting the falafel  at Pita Inn, here is the real secret and key ingredient; their hot sauce. Be warned that it is SPICY so add in moderation. I don’t really know anything about this hot sauce other than it too is made fresh and not anything like Pace Picante out of a jar. Very flavorsome and a must have when enjoying a falafel. I tend to dribble a little extra tahini and hot sauce on my sandwich as I take each bite so I can get all the great flavors at once.

One last tidbit to round out the full meal is their great homemade mint iced tea. Super refreshing and not sweetened so it really complements all the great Middle Eastern flavors of the meal.

Alright, here is the takeaway from this story: Skokie=1 Cairo=0. You heard it here first!

8 thoughts on “World’s Best Falafel: Suburbs of Chicago or Egypt?

  1. Pola (@jettingaround)

    Well… what do I say to this? 🙂 It’s quite rare that a chain might be so appealing, as you say…I have been to Pita Inn before (in north suburbs too, but not Skokie) and have to admit that their food was very good indeed.

  2. Jashin

    I wholeheartedly agree with everything you’ve said here. I too have been to Cairo and thought Pita Inn was so much better. Nice blog, keep it up, and let me know when you want a guest post on Ranch! 🙂

    1. vegetariantourist Post author

      Thanks Jashin!! I will definitely take you up on the offer to guest blog about our favorite Ranch and French Fries! I think we need to do a little more market research though…ha ha:)

  3. MeowVazquez

    I live near the Bridgeview area, so I can get a falafel sandwich as long as I’m willing to walk 20 feet in any direction. I’m curious how Pita Inn stack up to our local favorites, like Fattoush, Al Bawadi, Nile Restaurant on 87th and Harlem or Pita Falafel drive thru. Anyone have any South Side favorites?

  4. Snakino

    Unfortunately you may have been misled into thinking Egypt is some kind of Mecca for falafel. Firstly, Alexandria notwithstanding, falafel is known in Egypt as Ta’miyya and consists of mashed favas as opposed to chickpeas. Secondly the general quality of Egypt’s street food is highly questionable, paling in comparison to the delicious morsels sold throughout the neighborhoods of the neighboring Levant. Try Amman, Beirut, Halab, or Damascus if you want a taste of original falafel. Cheers.

    1. vegetariantourist Post author

      Thanks for your comment! I am looking forward to trying the falafel in some of the other cities you mentioned (especially Amman and Beirut) and am sure those will meet the criteria of some of the world’s best falafel. I will keep you all posted:)

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