Casa de Falafel, a Best of Phoenix Top 100 restaurant, has opened its own storefront in a strip mall at 4920 West Thunderbird Road in Glendale. The Iraqi-owned restaurant was located inside a Shell gas station at 67th Avenue and West Cactus Road in Peoria until June, when it moved to its new location.
“I didn’t feel like our food was getting enough attention,” says Ali Shakir, the cook and co-owner. “People didn’t believe there could be good food inside a gas station.”
The new restaurant is spotless, and radiates Middle Eastern warmth and hospitality. On a recent afternoon, Ali’s wife, Maeda, welcomed guests in their native Arabic while Ali handed out complimentary samples of falafel. Customers placed their orders and picked them up at the same counter. The menu includes sandwiches, plates and sides, and a few vegan options. First-time visitors can try samples of falafel and four appetizers: hummus, baba ghanoush, yogurt with cucumber and garlic, and eggplant salad.
(We spotted a beef burger on the menu, but come on now, you’ve got to be a bit more adventurous than that when you go to a Middle Eastern restaurant!)
The service is quick and the portions are generous. Each entrée comes with a small cup of vegan yellow lentil soup. Texture is front and center here. Creamy and comforting, the soup wraps you up like a shawl, perfect for a cool day in Phoenix (which is about 70 degrees?).
Shakir is proud of his food, and you can taste the care he takes in preparing every bite. The donut-shaped falafel is a dream: crispy on the outside, sesame seeds popping in every bite, and soft on the inside. The eggplant salad has a bite from the red peppers that pairs nicely with the sweetness of caramelized onions, and the umami undertones of the eggplant. Much like eggplant caponata, this salad gets tastier with time. Try the leftovers a day later and experience an explosion of flavors.
Another popular dish is the beef shawarma sandwich. Tenderized meat, marinated for 24 hours in Casa de Falafel’s spice mix, is layered with tomato, parsley, onions, and pickles, and slathered with tahini. The sandwich has the slightest hint of cloves, and you can add mild or spicy sauce to kick up the flavor a notch. It pairs impeccably with the accompanying cup of soup.
Shakir says the lentil soup has been such a hit with diners that he’s now selling the dry mix at the restaurant. A plan to sell the dry mix wholesale to other stores is currently in the works, he says.
Casa De Falafel
4930 West Thunderbird Road, Unit 119, Glendale
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday; Closed on Sunday.