I must admit that I have a bit of bias towards Saad’s, which is a large part of the reason I am addressing it first. I have to get it out of the way to ensure total objectivity, as I have a history with Saad’s, and reviewing their falafel during/after the rest of the series would only unfairly skew my reviews.
It all started senior year of college. Though I attended Haverford College in the suburbs, my excursions into Philadelphia were generally artificial: some trendy new band playing at the Electric Factory, a walk around Rittenhouse perhaps. But during winter break of my senior year, I stayed with a friend who was living in West Philadelphia. It was during my first experience living in any large city that I was first introduced to Saad’s Halal. All it took was that first sandwich to turn me into a regular, and in the two weeks that I stayed in the city I made friends with Saad, and had my first “usual”: falafel sandwich on whole wheat with hummus and hot sauce.
Personally, I call the Saad’s sandwich “The Torpedo,” and one look at the picture should explain it. It is the densest falafel sandwich I have ever encountered, experiences in Palestine included. They pack the sandwich with pickles, tabouleh, hummus, tomatoes, tahini sauce, etc, and is one of the only establishments I have ever frequented which allow you to have it Palestinian/Lebanese-style: french fries inside the sandwich. It comes rolled up in a flat pita, and at the price of $4.50 a sandwich, you can’t really compete with the amount of food you receive. The falafel is spiced to perfection with coriander, cumin, and a little bite from some jalapeño. After you are finished eating, you will feel filled to capacity. I’ve heard “pregnant” used to describe the feeling…
The sandwich isn’t perfect though, and if there is one area that is lacking, it is the falafel itself. The restaurant is extremely popular and much of the falafel is made that morning, so when you order the sandwich the falafel balls are distinctly lacking in the “crisp” that is so integral to the experience. If you are lucky in your timing, and arrive right after the lunchtime rush when the restaurant is out of all their morning stock, they will fry up your falafel fresh and the experience is pure euphoria.
The sandwich also undergoes an end-game collapse, in which the last 3-4 bites are messy, soaked in tahini sauce, and difficult to eat with your hands without looking like you are a newborn baby. Though this situation is mitigated with the addition of fries to the equation: the starch soaks up all the errant sauces. All in all, you can’t beat the Saad’s sandwich, a classic of west Philly.
Later this week I will venture from my immediate geography, cross the Schuylkill and head south to Al-Zaytouna on 9th and Christian.