Five falafel sandwiches better than Subway’s

Another fast-food restaurant is dabbling in appealing to the vegetarian customer. After Chipotle announced it would unveil tofu Sofritas at area locations, Subway is introducing a new veggie offering that Washington hasn't previously had a chance to try: a falafel sandwich.

After testing three vegan sandwiches in the District last year -- including a "riblet" sammy -- the franchise settled on the sandwich it had tested in Chicago and Canada. Rather than using vegan meat, the sandwiches come with fried chickpea balls, with options to make the sandwich vegan. Compassion Over Killing is scouting out all the shops with the sandwich, which is $4.50 for a six-inch and $7 for a footlong and available for a limited time.


The falafel sandwich at Subway. (Lavanya Ramanathan/The Washington Post)

Just about anyone who freshly fries some chickpea batter could do better than what I picked up today from Subway's 14th and U location. I customized the falafel with spinach, olives and all the other Subway toppings, but after a quick zap in the oven, the trio of patties in the sandwich were bone dry. Attempting to make my sandwich vegan, I skipped the oily cucumber sauce that usually douses the dish, compounding the dryness. When I returned to my desk and looked it up, I discovered the flatbread pictured in the ads isn't vegan at all. (Instead, try the Italian, sourdough or nine-grain).

Compare this with the warm pockets stuffed with crisp, herbed chickpea balls at Amsterdam Falafelshop, or the chunky falafel you can pair with that addictive harissa at Cave Mezze Grill, which clearly marks which of its breads and toppings are vegan and vegetarian.

Here are five places you can get a far better falafel than Subway.

Amsterdam Falafelshop
This vegetarian late-night staple remains one of the city's most beloved carbohydrate bombs. The secret to its greatness, of course, is not simply the crunchy, hot-from-the-fryer patties, but Amsterdam's toppings bar, where a diner can individualize his or her pita with spicy green sauce, shredded beets, eggplant puree and a dozen other exotic offerings.

Fast Gourmet
The gas station eatery serves a standard falafel sandwich that isn't quite as heaping as Amsterdam's, but offers beets in addition to tomatoes, onions and cucumber. Order it with the shop's addictive eggplant fries (without the sauce if you're vegan).

Cava Mezze Grill
The five locally owned Cava Mezze Grill locations use Chipotle's fast-casual model to make your sandwich or bowl. But the best toppings (and the pita bread they're tucked into) are vegan, including that spicy harissa and tasty hummus.

V Falafel
Everything at V Falafel is vegetarian, and nearly everything vegan, including the giant falafel patty the shop serves up on a bun as the Falafel Burger. As with Amsterdam, you can add creamy sauces and crunchy veggies to your sandwich at a salad bar, but it's nice that V lists the non-vegan toppings separately.

Astor Mediterranean
A favorite stop for locals looking for meaty kufta, Astor also looks out for vegetarians, marking its menu to identify vegan and vegetarian dishes. The falafel sandwich here is loaded, but vegans will fare best with the falafel platter, which comes with Egyptian salad and hummus.

Also on the Going Out Guide

Vegans and vegetarians: Chipotle is testing vegan Sofritas on local menus

Lavanya Ramanathan is a features reporter for Style.
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Tim Carman · October 14, 2013