The prospect of Greenwich Village’s best falafel enticed more than 120 hungry New Yorkers onto the cold streets late last month.

A “falafel crawl,” — which hit five kosher and non-kosher establishments in close proximity — was the latest adventure of NYC Food crawls, a group that began last October, with a dumpling crawl around Chinatown.

“I want to explore foods that are cheap, precious and portable,” said Mara Sorkin, who organizes the crawls. The Jewish 28-year-old had “been wanting to have the dumpling crawl for a long time,” but when none of her friends would join her, she posted the event on the Nonsense list for happenings around NYC and was shocked when 60 people showed up to try dumplings.

Today, the NYC Food Crawl Facebook group has more than 800 members.

Sorkin has since led a crawl of samosas in Murray Hill in November and hot chocolate in SoHo and the West Village in December. “What I’ve been trying to do is pick foods that are seasonally appropriate in a dense area,” she said, noting that attendees wouldn’t want to walk far in the cold weather.

So the “hot dog of the Middle East” as Sorkin called it, was a perfect choice for the Jan. 20 event. Sorkin selected locations that were close together in the East Village, eliminating some that were too far away, like Taim, or that closed early, like Rainbow Falafel. The options were numerous, since restaurants selling the Israeli fast-food staple are popping up all over New York City, both in small storefronts and in chains like Maoz, Chickpea and Olympic Pita. At a growing number of restaurants, such as Hummus Kitchen and Hummus Place, falafel’s partner in garbanzo-inspired cuisine has begun to claim the the center stage.

Turnout was high for the falafel-tasting adventure, as attendees divided into teams and followed one of four paths around the village — so as not to overwhelm the often small restaurants — stopping at Pita Joe’s, Murray’s Falafel and Grill, Tahini, Maoz and Mamoun’s. Sorkin contacted each stop on the crawl in advance, letting them know about the event and negotiating for a discount for the group — ranging from 25 cents to $1 — if they presented their NYC food crawl map. Murray’s was the only glatt kosher establishment on the crawl; Maoz Vegetarian (which has four locations in Manhattan) is certified by Rabbi Israel Mayer Steinberg.

Not all the participants visited every stop, with some quitting after they were full and others avoiding locations they deemed too expensive or far away. The next day, participants were asked to respond to a survey on the food crawl’s blog, answering questions about the different locations along the trip.
“Maoz’s falafel had a nice spicy and crunchy taste to it,” said one commenter, but the winner of the night was Mamoun’s, collecting 30 percent of the votes for taste and 36 percent for value. Another reviewer said that Tahini had the best pita bread, while Maoz offered the best salad bar. Pita Joe came in last place for taste, with one respondent stating “their falafel wasn’t spicy and was less crunchy.”