As college looms near for me, my family and I have visited a few colleges on the east coast. With all great colleges comes a great campus, and on great campuses, great food is found. For the next couple of weeks, I will highlight some of the best restaurants I have tried on these campuses, making sure to find locations that are easily accessible and fit into the price range of a college student. Today I am going to feature a small local spot in the heart of Princeton Downtown. Located on one of the busier streets (Olive St) in an otherwise quiet downtown, Mamoun’s Falafel is a hot spot you definitely should try when on the east coast. With its warm lighting and humorous logo, the looks lures you in, and the food seals the deal. At Mamouns, they have a simple choice of wraps or bowls that come with three possible proteins, falafel, lamb and chicken.
The dish I tried at Mamouns was lamb shawarma with seasoned rice. The components of the dish were obviously the lamb and rice, but they were accompanied by olives, pickles, tahini sauce and a pita on the side. This combination of ingredients, although relatively unsurprising, perfectly complemented each other. The olives and pickles added a crunch alongside their acidic hit, while the tender lamb with various spices, and the flavor bomb of a seasoned rice acted as the base of the dish, providing spice, salt and textural contrasts. Topping that all off with a drizzling of tahini and a fresh hot pita made this an overall satisfying delicious meal. Let’s start with the lamb. Before this day, I always thought shawarma was good. It’s evenly and slow cooked tender meat with a crisp from the direct exposure to heat. In Mamoun’s, this all came true, but truer than I could have ever expected. The lamb was incredibly well seasoned with a mix of spices that were not overbearing, but instead highlighted the unique flavor of lamb. The texture was incredibly hot and tender with the aforementioned crisp, almost like it was somehow fried. The rice was also incredible in its flavor complexion. There’s not much to say about it other than how it had wonderful warm spices and cooked so it was quite soft. One thing I had wished for the rice was that it could have had a crunchy crust like a socarrat in paella or tahdig in persian cuisine. Finally, the unique thing about this plate was the tahini. Tahini is normally used as a base for hummus, babaganouj and various other medditarena sauces, but at Mamouns, they showcased the tahini as its own sauce. Tahini is made from ground toasted sesame, giving it a nutty and creamy taste. Having it on its own drizzled on top was the icing on the cake, or I guess you could say drizzling on the bowl.
A couple of other places you should try out are Mistral and Olives Bakery. Mistral presents a more high end menu that highlights signature flavors around the world. Their pork schnitzel is one of the best I have had in the US, and their asian brussel sprouts were a unique take on a generally bland vegetable. On the other hand, Olives is a smaller deli/grocery store with a variety of options ranging from sandwiches to salads to pastas. The only dish we tried there was the cubano, but the blend of the of sweetness from the ham and briny acidity of the pickles made it a perfect summer day sandwich. Another great recommendation for Asian cuisines is Lan Ramen, a cute little shop located in the heart of Princeton, serving out great noodle soups and delicious Xiao Long Bao (Soup Dumplings).