The Middle Feast

Eat This Now: Falafel Pita at Zabak's

A Houston tradition since 2005 (and also since 1975).

By Katharine Shilcutt April 17, 2014

How has the amazing, praise-worthy falafel at Zabak's been around since 1975 if the Galleria-area restaurant itself has only been open since 2005? That's a question our restaurant critic, Robb Walsh, answered in a 2008 review of the Middle Eastern cafe:

In 1975, a Palestinian immigrant named George Zabak arrived in Houston. He and his wife Kay opened a sandwich shop on Hillcroft called Mama's Po'Boys, which became a favorite hangout for high school students and the local Middle Eastern community. The Zabaks were new to poor boys, but they knew a lot about falafels.

Their falafel sandwich became the city's favorite and has remained the standard by which others are judged to this day. George Zabak once delivered his famous sandwiches fresh every day to Whole Foods and health food stores all over town. After the death of his wife Kay, a grief-stricken George Zabak quietly closed Mama's Po'Boys.

In 2005 the seventysomething George Zabak and his daughter Sandra decided to resurrect the family business at the current Westheimer and Fountainview location. But before the doors opened, George passed away. Sandra, with the help of two of her brothers, opened the restaurant anyway. At the new location, Houston's first family of falafels has faithfully re-­created their father's awesome sandwich.

In the intervening decade, the Westheimer strip center that houses Zabak's has changed dramatically. A Pho Binh outpost has replaced the old, dreary pizza parlor that used to occupy one corner, which in turn had replaced an equally dreary Japanese buffet. A cheerful Mongolian Hot Pot moved into a long-vacant endcap on the other side of Zabak's. On the other side of Fountain View, a Tacos del Julio outpost has set up shop and MF Sushi—one of the city's youngest yet most celebrated sushi restaurants before it was lost to a fire in September—has begun to rebuild.

5901-G Westheimer Rd.

One thing that hasn't changed is Walsh's description of the falafel as "the standard by which others are judged." To date, I've not been able to find a restaurant, deli, bistro, or cafe whose falafel equals Zabak's (or the originals at Mama's). The Zabak family credits a secret recipe for the dark brown patties, which reveal an intense, spring green hue when you bite into them. That green is from copious amounts of parsley, blended together with chickpeas and a special spice blend. Though the patties are deep-fried, they're never greasy, and thanks to the parsley, still sport a refreshing vegetal flavor that's complimented by the tomatoes, onions, and lettuce tucked into each pita sandwich.

In true Texas style, the pita sandwiches are also given an ample dose of hot sauce (don't believe the menu when it says "a dash") that perks up the patties. It's helped along by a garlicky tahini sauce and tart sumac sprinkled on top of the whole affair. I like to tart mine up even more by adding some of Zabak's pickled vegetables to the mix, though the carrots and cauliflower are so good on their own I often find myself picking them out of the help-yourself jars of pickled veggies near the register, leaving the other assorted vegetables behind, to snack on while I wait for my food.

Sorry, Zabak family—I'm that person. I hope the fact that I've been preaching the Zabak's gospel for years slightly absolves me of that minor sin.


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