(New York Jewish Week) — What happens when the country’s premier newspaper names a hole-in-the-wall kosher falafel joint as one of the 100 best restaurants in New York?
Hundreds of people show up every day, creating lines that occasionally snake out the door. News stations from across the globe ask for interviews, catering requests come in from all over the city and, of course, the falafel often sells out before closing time.
That’s what happened at Falafel Tanami, a tiny Israeli-owned falafel place just a few blocks off the Avenue M stop on the Q train in Midwood, Brooklyn. In April, the humble eatery at 1305 East 17th Street — featuring just three counter stools, a quiet soundtrack of Israeli religious pop and photos of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson adorning the walls — was included in the New York Times’ list of the 100 best restaurants in New York City, curated by the paper’s senior food critic, Pete Wells.
“It has been crazy, Baruch Hashem,” said Galit Tanami, using the Hebrew for “thank God.” She owns the store with her husband, Ronen. “Everybody is so excited for us.”
“The falafel are extraordinary,” Wells wrote in his review. “The thick cushions of pita, baked to order, may be better yet. It’s hard not to go wild with the salads and vegetables and garlic, all as fresh as if you were standing in a market in Tel Aviv.”
“Now everybody wants to try it,” Tanami said of her restaurant’s signature dish.
For the first few days after the Times dropped, the restaurant had to close two hours early — at 8 p.m. instead of the usual 10 p.m. — because it ran out of inventory. Since then, they have found a good rhythm to be able to stay open regular hours, Tanami said, but it’s still busy every day.
Then again, it’s not as if Falafel Tanami had been a secret. Owner Tanami said that the restaurant has been “very, very busy” since 2019, when New York Magazine’s Grub Street declared it the “Absolute Best Falafel in New York.” And it’s long been popular among Brooklyn’s kosher-keeping observant Jews: 770 Eastern Parkway, the global headquarters of the Chabad Lubavitch movement in Crown Heights, often orders Falafel Tamani catering. Yeshiva of Flatbush, the Modern Orthodox high school just three blocks away, does the same. Israelis, too, are known to drop in for a taste of home.
Galit Tanami had no prior experience in the culinary industry before she and her husband moved to Brooklyn and opened their restaurant in 2016. Previously, the couple had been living in Israel, where they raised their two teenage sons, but Ronen wanted to move the family back to New York, where he grew up. Galit followed Ronen’s lead, and she also embraced his grandmother’s falafel recipe — for decades, his family had operated Famous Pita, a popular falafel shop also in Midwood that closed in 2014.
After seven successful years of operating Falafel Tanami, Galit and Ronen Tanami still arrive at the restaurant every morning at 6 a.m. to hand make the falafel balls and chop the fresh salads, she said. “Nobody is allowed to touch the falafel except for us,” she said.
The New York Jewish Week popped by on Monday, which is typically a slow day, according to Tanami. And yet, a steady stream of customers trickled in — many on lunch break from Edward R. Murrow High School, a public school across the street with 4,000 students and nearly 500 teachers.
“I’ve been coming here every week almost since they first opened,” said Heshy Halpern, a chemistry teacher at Murrow who keeps kosher. He said he always orders a falafel pita with all the salads — the same economical order ($8!) Wells recommended in his review.
“It’s just the best,” he told the New York Jewish Week. “Everyone in Midwood knows they’re really good — Jewish, not Jewish, everyone.”
Along with Falafel Tanami, Wells named two Jewish delis — the Upper West Side’s Barney Greengrass and Flatiron’s S&P Lunch to his list. Other restaurants included in the top 100 were the Israeli-inspired Shukette and the Jewish-owned spots Mark’s Off Madison, Dirt Candy and Shopsin’s General Store.
As for Falafel Tanami, the boost in business generated by the Times’ list has given the owners an opportunity to think about growth — they may start selling frozen falafel for customers to fry at home, Tanami said, and they’re thinking about a possible second location. “Everybody wants to do business with us now,” Tanami said.
She added that they’re considering an expansion to Crown Heights — though that would have its challenges. “If I open something, I need to be there. I’m a perfectionist,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to go home.”
“We don’t need to rush this,” Tanami said, adding that her focus, for now, is sustaining their eatery though this busy period. “We are moving slowly and safely, Baruch Hashem.”