Amsterdam Falafelshop, one of the more popular grub huts in Adams Morgan for a while now, opened up a new location in Clarendon last month as part of a push to become a national franchise.
The Adams Morgan location – with the priciest menu item coming in at less than $6 – stands out as a happy medium in a dining landscape that includes hole-in-the-wall jumbo slice pizza spots and more expensive sit-down restaurants. Amsterdam Falafelshop has a similar competitive advantage in Clarendon, where there are probably fewer late-night dining options than Adams Morgan even though there are about as many moderately priced restaurants.
It’s inspired by the phenomena of falafel restaurants in Amsterdam and the simplest way to understand this restaurant is to compare it to a traditional burger and fry joint, except that it serves falafel balls in pita wraps instead of burger patties in buns. But there’s really more to it than that.
The décor of the restaurant is hip, laid back and compact – the franchisees aim to build each of the new restaurants in spaces that are less than 2,000 square feet. The red walls are adorned with retro and/or whimsical posters and illustrations and the tables are decorated with pictures of Amsterdam.
There is tongue-in-cheek signage all over the restaurant to teach the uninitiated how to eat, and be, there. The bathrooms, for example, feature images of famous paintings with the subjects holding falafels and signs with messages giving men and women tips on relieving themselves.
As far as dining goes, Amsterdam Falafelshop keeps it as simple as possible. You can either get regular or small falafel sandwiches in wheat or white pita wraps or regular or small falafel bowls. For a side, there are regular or small fries. And that’s it, as far as the main course goes.
The dining feature that really sets Amsterdam Falafelshop apart from other restaurants is the topping bar. There are about 20 toppings, including baba ghanoush, pickled cauliflower, carrots and celery and Turkish salad, to choose from, which can be a gift and a curse for diners.
The expansive topping bar allows diners to customize their falafel sandwiches and bowls, but the diverse topping choices also makes it somewhat easy to put together a concoction that doesn’t blend well together.
And if you order a sandwich, the topping bar is a free for all, but falafel bowls are weighed after you have your way with the toppings, so choose wisely.
There are also a bunch of sauce options – tahini, garlic cream, curried ketchup and peanut sauce – at Amsterdam Falafelshop that go well with either the falafel or the fries. And the store has a guide at the ready for diners with food allergies or other dietary restrictions.
The only real complaint about the Adams Morgan location – that it tends to get cramped during rushes – seems to have been solved at the Clarendon location. Although the local growth of Amsterdam Falafelshop hasn’t rivaled the rise of the Washington-area’s last popular export – Five Guys Burgers and Fries – the nationwide emergence of the little piece of Amsterdam in America very well could.
Amsterdam Falafelshop | 3042 Wilson Blvd. | Arlington | falafelshop.com