It's no trivial thing to spot Falafel Tazah, the tiniest of the all identical-looking storefronts with the same generic orange lettering in its Redwood Shores mini-mall. You're deep in the heart of yacht clubs, tech campuses, and quiet residential streets here, close to 101 but far from any real "downtown" (San Carlos would be considered closest). But this shoebox-sized space is now home to the Peninsula's premier falafel -- and I'd even dare to say it would be the leading falafel in San Francisco if Falafel Tazah were located in the city.
Once you find Falafel Tazah, the next challenge is to convince yourself not to go the schwarma route. Those rotating spits of glimmering chicken, lamb, and beef crowned with an onion or tomato on top are hard to ignore. There's nothing wrong with getting the meats but focus should be on Tazah's namesake: those exceptional falafel balls. (You can always order a $2 kebab side later.)
And while the falafel can be crammed into a wrap, the vegetarian combo plate ($8.50) is the ideal vehicle for it.
Tazah's falafel achieves the perfect crisp surface from the fryer without a hint of grease. Inside remains moist and tender, reminding me more of freshly baked sourdough in texture rather than the starchy, dry fate that too many falafel balls suffer from. These are hefty sized falafel that are perky and full of energy.They also truly taste strongly of chickpeas. Falafel often is like crab cakes where fried filler gets in the way of the central ingredients. There is no mistaking that chickpeas are at the heart of these falafel.
A dash of tahini (yogurt) sauce coats part of the trio of falafel balls. For spice lovers, there's a fiery sauce that seems like a mix of Tabasco and tahini.
It's borderline overwhelming though to figure what to take a bit of next. The intensely parsley-laden tabbouleh with refreshing diced cucumbers in one corner? The pool of creamy, olive oil touched hummus in another? The salad of sliced pickles that operate as the de-facto palate cleanser amidst this flurry of activity?
More often than not, my attention drifted toward the baba ghanoush. Here the eggplant dip reminded me of the vegetable fresh off the grill at a summer barbeque, then squashed into a chunky state somewhere between purée and chutney. For the meal's ultimate bite, cover a falafel ball in the baba ghanoush. It's swoon-worthy.
Of course the Peninsula is full of similar falafel purveyors with similar vegetarian combo plates. The big extra credit addition here is a trio of dolmas that pack a shocking amount of spice punch from the likes of dill, mint, cinnamon, and sumac.
My only slight critique would be that the pita bread seemed stale, presenting a crackery type bread instead of plush pillows of dough.
The café has been in operation since the fall, opened by the former owner of the Redwood City restaurant Tarboosh. Staff inside the bright, busy kitchen has a palpable charm that seems like they know you don't know until you try it how good their falafel is. It's the type of place where you're always referred to as "boss." If I were a designer at EA Sports across the street, I'd certainly be a weekly regular.
This isn't fast food by any means, though there are no tables inside and the food is served in a takeout container. You'll have to wait both because of the crowd and the effort needed to put together the plates and wraps by the one or two cooks. Judging by the constant stream of customers at lunchtime, Falafel Tazah is already on the radar of many local workers.
This is falafel that needs to be on the entire Peninsula's radar.
256 Redwood Shores Parkway, Redwood Shores; (650) 622-9983.