Photo: Anne Wermiel
Much anguished ink has been spilled on the mall-ification of Harvard Square, as many quirky veteran restaurants have given way to unremarkable national chain outlets. But things aren’t all dire: some interesting, worthy venues have opened lately, from upscale gastropub Russell House Tavern to tiny bar-with-interesting-food Tory Row, with modest Indian, Korean, vegan, and other options on the way.
|Falafel Corner | 8 ½ Eliot Street, Cambridge | Monday–Saturday, 11 am–3 am, Sunday, 11 am–midnight.| 617.441.8888. |
Into this camp falls Falafel Corner, an Egyptian-owned shwarma-and-kebab joint that keeps some much-needed late hours and manages to trump the typical collegiate take-out mill with some real care in its food.
Given the paucity of quality, value-priced alternatives nearby, Falafel Corner could probably survive on the generous size of its pita wraps, salads, and plates. But its mostly Syrian/Lebanese dishes are fresh and flavorful, served with above-average tahini and a fiery house-made hot sauce reminiscent of Turkish ajvar. Vegetarian standouts include Egyptian-leaning foul medammas ($2.99/side; $4.25/wrap; $5.75/plate), which are stewed dried favas piquant with pomegranate and lemon; baba ghanouj ($2.99; $4.49; $5.75) with a lovely smoky quality; and tabouleh ($2.99; $4.49; $5.75) that is vibrant green to both eye and palate. Ironically, the namesake falafel ($2.99; $4.49; $5.75) of chickpeas and favas is underwhelming, its crisp, sesame-studded exterior giving way to a chalky, dull interior. But grilled-to-order kebabs are worth the wait, notably well-spiced ground-beef kafta ($5.45/wrap; $6.99/plate) and yogurt-marinated salmon ($6.45; $7.99). And the authentic shwarma — slabs of marinated chicken or lamb stacked and broiled on a vertical rotisserie, crisp outside and moist inside, sliced off into pieces — is phenomenal. The lamb ($5.45; $6.99) is especially good; its unusually large chunks show clear layers of different doneness: gorgeous, slightly chewy, beautifully flavored.
Beverage options are limited to sodas and juices ($1.25–$2) and good Turkish coffee or tea ($1.49), both strong and cardamom-flavored. The five dessert pastries ($1.49) are mostly phyllo-based, extremely sweet with honey, flavored with crushed nuts, and mainly distinguishable by texture: some more cakey, some more flaky. The odd split-level layout is awkward to navigate; you must hazard a staircase to order topside, wait on the landing, then take out or sit at one of 14 seats downstairs. But for budget-conscious students, discriminating vegetarians, or cabbies seeking a halal meal in the wee hours, Falafel Corner is a welcome haven, a hopeful sign of recovery in a neighborhood that can always use more soulful, independent restaurants.