Falafel Taco, which opened quietly this week at 28 Greenwich Avenue, is unique in many ways, not the least because it marks the entry of a new mom-and-pop business to downtown.
Jonathan Langsam and Rosie Hernandez, who initially met at JFK Airport where they both worked – have been married 12 years. Their dream was to open a restaurant together, and in 2018 they opened Falafel Taco by the train station in Pleasantville, NY.
With success came the desire to expand to a second location, and they were delighted to learn that the 650 sq ft space formerly occupied by Subway was available.
Beyond being a family affair, the eatery is also the marriage of Israeli and Mexican cuisine, with a result truly greater than the sum of its parts. The menu is intriguing, with many items having a backstory.
Ma Bett’s Old Clothes Taco, for example, is a corn tortilla filled with slow-cooked shredded brisket, zhoug mayo, roasted tomato salsa, cilantro and red onions. The popular dish, named for Langsam’s grandmother, was named Best Taco in Best of Westchester in 2019.
“Old clothes is really ‘Ropa Vieja,'” Langsam explained. “In the Spanish tradition, when you cook the meat so long, it just falls apart – like old clothes. After 12 hours of cooking you don’t have to do much work to pull it apart.”
Langsam, who grew up in Whitestone, Queens, said his wife Rosie grew up in Mexico.
“We’re so happy to be here,” he said, gesturing to Greenwich Avenue.
Langsam said that while the menu is extensive, falafel devotees make up for 40% of sales.
“Falafel – whether it’s in a bowl, on a sandwich, in a Laffa bread, corn tortilla or on top of a salad.”
Falafel is eaten throughout the Middle East, but has become popular in North America, particularly among vegetarians and vegans.
“I grew up eating falafel at Mamoun’s on MacDougal Street in Manhattan, by NYU,” Langsam recalled. “This was in the 1980s and they stayed open until 6:00am. It was probably one of the only places you could get falafel in Manhattan at that time. Even at 4:00am there was a line out the door.”
Langsam shared the back story of Falafel Taco’s menu, a fusion of Israeli and Mexican cuisine.
When his children were younger they were vegan for a time, but the grocery store options were limited. He would come home from JFK to make dinner and scarcity became the mother of invention.
“I started making falafel at home and had a great time doing it,” he said. He came up with falafel creations including fresh bread, homemade tahini, latkes and guacamole.
“My wife is Mexican and we had always dreamed about opening our own restaurant. It was going to be either falafel or tacos – not both.”
“While we were talking about it, her daughter Andrea said, ‘Why don’t you mash it up and call it ‘Falafel Taco?'” he recalled, adding that he and Rosie were briefly speechless.
“But then it just made sense – falafel and taco – you know what you’re getting,” he added.
While the menu can be overwhelming, Langsam said of the unique Mex-Raeli blend: “It’s healthy food that’s fast, good for you, and fresh. I give people plenty of options.”
“There’s vegan. There’s tons of gluten free – just ask. There is always a vegan soup of the day,” he continued.
“The word taco really means sandwich that you hold in your hand,” he said.
But Langsam’s tacos may not be what people expect.
“I have customers here and in Pleasantville who want to know why I don’t make a hard shell taco with ground beef and cheddar cheese. The answer is that you can’t get that in Mexico, so why should I have it here?”
“Even though we’re a fusion, my wife is not going to serve that here,” he said. “The meat that we do serve is braised in the oven for 12 hours.”
“Everything is made here, with some exceptions,” he said. For example, when ordering a falafel taco, there is a choice of Israeli Pita, Soft Corn Tortilla or Laffa bread.
The Laffa bread is made in Brooklyn. “It’s like a fluffy burrito,” he said.
“The nixtamalized corn tortillas are from Yonkers – not from a factory, but by a small local company.”
Beyond “tacos” there are soups, salads and appetizers. Specialties include empanadas, quesadillas, and bowls.
“If you come in here, you can have fried food,” he said. “The chicken schnitzel taco, for example is made from hand cut chicken, breaded with our own breading with matzah meal and zatar, fried and served with french fries. Everything goes inside the pita with Israeli salad and tahini.”
“Even though it’s fried, you’re still eating something that’s fresh and healthy,” he explained. “Even the chicken fingers are the same hand cut chicken. I don’t buy pre-made chicken fingers.”
“But you can also have a salad,” he said. “And there are plenty of vegan options.”
Also, there is a breakfast menu, ranging from avocado toast on a grilled pita, to breakfast burros, to Shakshouka, which is two eggs poached in a tomato sauce with onions and peppers, topped with cilantro, jalepeno and queso fresco, served with pita.
Then there are the desserts: Babka, rugelach, chocolate babka, baklava, and cinnamon babka all come from Israel and happen to be vegan.
For such a small space, the menu is expansive, but different customers hone in on different items.
Here in Greenwich, Langsam said men come in at lunch hour and see the brisket and get excited.
Commercial realtor Diane Roth from Allied, who worked with Langsam and Hernandez, said she was excited that Falafel Taco had opened.
“Falafel Taco is a much needed home run for the top of the Avenue. I can’t wait to try their vegan and gluten-free items.”
Falafel Taco has limited seating. Most of the business is for delivery or takeout. They work with Grub-Hub, Door-Dash and UberEats. Or call in your order for pick-up: (203) 485-0088.
28 Greenwich Avenue
Greenwich, CT 06830
30 Wheeler Ave
Pleasantville, NY 10570