Slideshow SLIDESHOW: Eating Everything on the Salad Bar at Maoz Vegetarian

[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

We're huge fans of Maoz Vegetarian, the falafel chain that started two decades ago in Amsterdam. Sure, the falafel itself is great (we named them top falafel in Union Square a couple years ago). Crisp, grease-free, tender, herbaceous, and generous. Their pita is always fresh, pliant, and flavorful (try the whole wheat), and their standard toppings—hummus, sliced avocado, boiled eggs, and fried eggplant—are all top-notch, but you want to know the real reason we go there? The all-you-can-pile-in salad bar.

In the imaginary court of salad bars where perhaps your high school cafeteria is the average pleb, the bar at Whole Foods is a cousin of the duke, and the Roy Rogers Fixin's bar is the court jester, Maoz's enviable salad bar reigns as Grand-High-Supreme-Dictator-For-Life. The best part? It's self-serve and their only policy is that you can only take as much as you can fit inside your sandwich or salad bowl.

Given that they're one of the tastiest, healthiest, and most bang-for-your-buck fast food chains around, it's a wonder they haven't expanded even faster than they have been.

With careful planning, that's a lot of salad. There are several approaches you can take. You could, for instance, forgo the pricier extra toppings (the avocado, hummus, eggs, and fried eggplant) to leave space for your salad. You could ask for fewer falafel balls or no lettuce. There's also the divide-and-conquer approach: split your pita extra-wide before starting at the salad, beginning with loose, easy-to-tumble-out-of-your-pita salads like the chickpeas or beets, and finishing off with the larger, firmer salads, along with a squirt of sauce to act as a glue to keep your creation together.

Sometimes I like to keep it simple, opting just for a few pickles (both the cukes and the awesome israeli pickled baby eggplant), some onions, and a dribble of the cilantro-based hot sauce. Other times, I can't help myself and go for the everything-including-the-kitchen-sink approach, making discrete piles of every topping in my pita.

I like to order the half-pita, which comes with half a split pita, three balls of falafel, and salad. For under five bucks, once I get through with the salad bar, I can have a sandwich big enough for at least a whole meal. I usually can't finish.

Check out the slideshow for a more detailed look at the salad bar >>

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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