The final frontier of fantastic falafel
Falafel and Shawarma Planet
Falafel and Shawarma Planet4220 Florin Rd.
Sacramento, CA 95823
Is Falafel and Shawarma Planet a fast food restaurant that wants to be a café, or a café that wants to be a fast food restaurant? Either way, this little Palestinian spot has a big heart and a lot to offer, but yields an uneven experience.
The branding and location says “fast food”—F&SP is tucked so unobtrusively next to the 99 Ranch Market that it practically seems a part of it—but the pace and the personalized service make it seem like a homey café. Dishes are artfully composed, carefully garnished. Some are served in dramatically sloping ceramic bowls, but only plastic utensils are available—a jarring contrast. The small dining room is dominated by a large soda machine and a TV tuned to The Food Network, sometimes with the sound on, which is very annoying; but this vibe was softened by the fact that each time I visited, I was offered samples of dishes I inquired about and once was even given a free piece of harissa cake. The rustic semolina dessert topped with pistachios was one I would have gladly paid for.
Falafel and Shawarma Planet is a study in contrasts, but the falafel is some of the best in the region ($4.99 for sandwich, $7.99 for a plate). The brown, crunchy exterior of the fresh-fried chickpea orbs conceals a steaming, bright-green interior. It’s served with an assortment of housemade pickles and a swipe of F&SP’s subtle, ultra-creamy hummus.
Other dishes, such as the foule ($4.99), a dish of warm fava beans, lemon and olive oil, exhibit a similar subtlety, which sometimes made me long for the strong, robust flavors of the late, great Maalouf’s Taste of Lebanon on Fulton Avenue that closed in 2015.
The chicken shawarma wrap ($6.79) at F&SP, wrapped in a thin, flour-tortilla-like bread, similarly suffered in comparison to the juicy, garlicky chicken pieces cradled in a pillowy pita exterior that made Maalouf’s shawarma so outstanding. The lamb in the lamb shawarma ($8.79) tasted gamey (a strong flavor I embrace) and had a pleasant interplay between crisp pickles and bracing raw onion, but the meat was fatty and gristly.
Better is the tender chicken taouk (kabob, $11.99), which I was warned would take 15 minutes due to being fresh-grilled to order, and which was worth the wait while I ignored Bobby Flay flaying all over the place. The lightly smoky, sumac-sprinkled chunks were heavenly, especially with a judicious application of garlicky mayo that was served on the side.
The baba ghanoush ($5.99) was also smoky, and chunkier than I usually expect this dish to be; the moutabal ($5.99), a creamy eggplant dish, had a texture that I usually associate with baba ghanoush. Both were excellent but served icy cold, a problem that also plagued the watery tabbouleh salad ($4.99).
Falafel and Shawarma Planet offers specials on weekends, including a warming yellow lentil soup one day I visited and a rich, silky eggplant-and-tomato dish on another, and is experimenting with buffets on certain nights as well. If the warmth of the customer service and the freely offered samples could be extended to the ambiance of the dining room and bring the cold salads up a degree or two, this planet would be worth weekly, lingering missions. As it currently stands, it’s best for a quick falafel before you blast off.