Early in the morning, with the simple slide of a rolling garage door, the urine-forward stench of Market Street’s hangover begins to dissipate. In its place are the aromatic spices and fried chickpeas billowing out a tiny falafel shop between Sixth and Seventh streets. The Flying Falafel is the size of a small storage unit, politely nestled between a cosmetology school and a smoke shop. In the rear of its shallow alcove, a tight kitchen stands equipped with a couple small ovens and fryers. In front of that, separating the operators from their guests, a cold station is full of colorful sauces and chopped veggies. Throw in a couple badasses who take to-go orders over headsets while simultaneously tossing free falafel to patient customers, and boom, that’s about it.
Flying Falafel’s Snacker pocket ($5.50) is a stretchy, warm pita pouch stuffed with cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, and hummus, all smothered in an assortment of tangy and spicy sauces. Among the crunchy fillings are about three layers of hot, homemade falafel balls (your choice of sesame or spicy). Wrapped in paper that unfolds into a small bag, this sandwich is by far one of the most satisfying street snacks in San Francisco. If you happen to be feeling especially well-heeled, you can double down for only $2 more and get the full-sized Flying Falafel pocket, basically an inflated pita balloon bursting with double the amount of delicious fixins’. If you’re lucky, the guys will even toss a few french fries in your pocket for free. The one downside is that these pockets don’t always travel well, and the only table here is outdoors.
Otherwise, the Flying Falafel has everything going for it, which is quite the achievement considering the menu is flesh-free. It may not be street tacos, it’s far from the Mission dog, and it didn’t come out of the Tamale Lady’s red cooler, but The Flying Falafel is as authentic as it gets, the kind of place that’s getting harder and harder to find.
The Flying Falafel, 1051 Market St., 415-964-1003 or flyingfalafel.com