Finding quality Levantine-Mediterranean cuisine in Shanghai, particularly that of the Lebanese variety, can feel like a lost cause. Has the city merely accepted the Wagas standard, and eschewed all hope of moist-centered falafel with the outer layer’s deep fried and textured first bite? Thankfully not.
Those in the know, of course, have been visiting Eli Falafel at its nest in Jiashan Market for years, but Eli has opened its very own brick-and-mortar spot on Wulumuqi Zhong Lu, and judging by the midweek crowds at lunch time, the hungry city is already beating a path to its door. Run by Lebanese husband and wife team Wael and Mirna Accad, Eli Falafel, has established itself as the budget-friendly go-to for all your Mediterranean cravings, offering perhaps the city’s best falafel and an extensive menu full of individual and to-share options that satisfy both vegan and carnivorous appetites alike.
The barbecued aubergine and tahini baba ghanouge (RMB45) or the hummus (RMB40) are good places to start and will immediately taste like home, or your favorite restaurant back home. Served, as they should, with plenty of pita, either makes a nice sharable appetizer and familiar introduction to your meal.
You can also add dip-able olives, sliced carrots, cucumbers, and celery as a more vegetable-forward option. Labneh (RMB40) is also on tap, but the muhammara (RMB48), a dip consisting of roasted sweet red peppers mixed with olive oil, walnuts, and a light pomegranate syrup is a hidden gem.
Salads are also something Eli does well, and they have the familiar standbys including a fattoush and tabouleh salad (both RMB58). We tried the tabouleh, which was comprised of parsley, tomato, onion, spices, and a dash of bulgur wheat, and, though it seemed light on the titular ingredient, was lemony, refreshing, and tasty.
Couple any of these with an order of the organic chickpea and fava bean falafel (RMB45), and it’s a full—and filling—vegan lunch.
We also tried the cheese rkakat (RMB40), a flaky, spanakopita-like triangle filled with three types of cheese, which, although enjoyable, pales in comparison to the other starters and salads. Though the parsley, tomato, onion, and rice-filled grape leaves (RMB48), while perhaps an acquired taste for some is a slightly sweet, bitter delicacy.
Of course, Eli also does meat. If you start with a salad, your mind and body will forgive you the animalistic decadence of ripping apart a skewer with your teeth, or the more cultivated (and recommended) approach of dipping a forkful in the palliative and salt-balancing hummus, herb-topped yogurt, or one of our personal favorites, the garlic and olive oil paste. Really, these are the highlights. The mixed grill (RMB118), offers a nice mix of most of Eli’s meat options in one plate, including lamb, shish taouk (marinated chicken) and kafta (beef) kebabs. Though we think the mixed kebab plate (RMB118) of sheared beef and chicken outshines this. Washing it down with a dram of lightly salted spiced yogurt, the thick and sour Laban Ayran (RMB28).
There is little seating room in Eli—two tables, big enough for a total of eight people and a window-spanning counter. It's more for a quick bite, or grab-and-go. The atmosphere, given the lunch rush we witnessed can feel hectic, but the wait-times are short, and the service friendly and accommodating. If you do have time to sit, we strongly recommend trying one of the home-made ice creams on the menu, that is, if you ignore the baklava or the maamoul.
Our Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
What: Eli Falafel
Address: 294 Wulumuqi Zhong Lu (near Wuyuan Lu) 乌鲁木齐中路294号 (近五原路)
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