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Is This the Best Falafel in San Diego?

Falafel Heights’ Palestinian-style chickpea balls win over even the most skeptical members of our staff
Falafael Heights in North Park featuring Egyptian and Lebanese style cuisine
Courtesy of Yelp

Stop us if you’ve heard the Happy Half Hour cast claim a particular food item was the “best in San Diego” before (to be fair, San Diego Magazine devotes an entire issue to the topic). If we assign superlatives, we tend to stand behind them, so buckle up for the following: We’ve found the best falafel in San Diego. Hands down, bar none, et cetera. 

Falafel Heights lives in a small storefront on 30th, near Lincoln, in North Park. Formerly kind of decrepit due to many closures (Toronado, Streetcar Merchants, and others) despite the nighttime buzz afforded by eternally packed karaoke bar Redwing and its street taco–slinging neighbor Brother’s Mexican Restaurant, this block is about to veritably pop off. Falafel Heights opened last fall and high-end dive Happy Medium (by Fernside, SDCM, and former CH Projects barkeeps Christian Siglin and Eric Johnson) launched last week. CH’s new Persian spot is currently under construction, and Saigon Coffee is just across the street, as are Second Chance Brewing and other businesses. 

Owner and founder Lialie Ibrahim opened Falafel Heights after years of hosting pop-ups. In some ways, the storefront is a testament to the power of peer pressure—people have been goading her into sharing her exceptionally snackable chickpea balls for ages. 

See, falafel comes in many forms. There’s Egyptian falafel, which is large, almost bready. Baked Lebanese falafel fits in the palm of your hand. Ibrahim’s falafel—quarter-sized balls deep-fried and offered street-style, as she experienced near her former home on Palestine’s West Bank, —is meant to be popped as finger food. Loaded on fries, served in a wrap or bowl, or eaten solo, they’re addictive, especially when drizzled with one of her many sauces, including a hard-to-find Iraqi mango amba.

Ibrahim is originally from the Bay Area, where her Palestinian parents settled after immigrating to the United States. She taught kids and tried her hand at journalism, doing mostly radio work, before moving to San Diego. Here, she got into the local running scene, started making falafel for pals with her family’s recipes, and even helped her good friends (part of her running club) start a little old kombucha brand, which would eventually become Boochcraft.

Falafel Heights grand opening in North Park San Diego featuring Egyptian and Lebanese style cuisine and their mascot
Courtesy of Falafel Heights

“Upon moving to San Diego, I wanted to taste falafel the way I fell in love with it as street food in the West Bank,” Ibrahim says. “I grew up eating falafel made from scratch, which involves soaking the beans overnight. [Then they’re blended] with fresh ingredients and cooked upon request.” She follows the same procedure at Falafel Heights, laying down fresh, hot, delicious, and plentiful bites. She’s even got a mascot, Phil, a walking, talking falafel wrap.

When we weren’t stuffing our faces with chickpeas, we also talked about the news, all of which concerns North Park. The aforementioned Happy Medium finally opened, and Bivouac Adventure Lodge launched last week in a huge yurt-like space next to the original cidery. Trust’s Brad Wise will bring a French brasserie to 30th and University next year. On March 13, Black Radish will host a five-course menu with wine pairings from Napa’s El Molino and Memento Mori, and Jersey Mikes and Belching Beaver both have new North Park locations.

By Jackie Bryant

Jackie is San Diego Magazine's content strategist. Prior to that, she was its managing editor. Before her SDM career, she was a long-time freelance journalist covering cannabis, food/restaurants, travel, labor, wine, spirits, arts & culture, design, and other topics. Her work has been selected twice for Best American Travel Writing, and she has won a variety of national and local awards for her writing and reporting.

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