The Upper East Side Has a New Must-Try Vegan Restaurant, Tamam
We’ll be honest: After months of eating almost exclusively home-cooked meals, you really start to miss the simple luxury that is fresh bread. That is why, on a recent Friday night, I found myself supremely excited to order from the Upper East Side’s new vegan falafel eatery, Tamam, at 1108 Lexington Avenue between 77th and 78th streets. They had me from the get-go with pita—that doesn’t come in a plastic pouch with a twist tie.
If you’re plant-based on the UES, you might as well start calling the nabe “Little Vegan-Ville.” Tamam joins a stellar lineup of options from standbys like Candle Cafe on Third Avenue between 74th and 75th streets (its famous sister restaurant a few blocks uptown, Candle 79, recently closed) and newcomers like Beyond Sushi’s latest outpost on Third Avenue between 80th and 81st streets.
Opened by Simon Oren (of restaurants including 5 Napkin Burger, Barbounia, Nice Matin, and Marseille) and Tuvia Feldman (of the Upper West Side’s Mediterranean bistro, Bustan NYC), Tamam is a 100% vegan spot, now offering takeout and small-radius delivery through GrubHub, Seamless, and DoorDash, with delivery zones expanding soon. For when the time comes, the 500-square-foot space also has 12 stools for indoor dining. The restaurant’s arrival brings Oren full circle, as his first foray into being a restaurateur was operating a falafel pushcart called "The Energy of the Middle East" upon his arrival to New York in 1979.
The name, Tamam, which is Arabic and Hebrew slang for “thumbs up,” definitely elicits that kind of response for all sampling its tasty—and affordable—fare and Oren clearly hasn’t lost his edge in the falafel-verse. The short menu has several standouts.
First, the Eggplant “Sabich” Plate ($11.50) is a must, with the crispy eggplant savory and crunchy, and the perfect complement to a drizzle of amba sauce, a piquant condiment made of pickled mangoes and spices. Served on a bed of quinoa with a side of Israeli salad or cabbage salad with delectable hummus—extra creamy and mild—and warm chickpeas, along with freshly baked fluffy pita, the generous portions mean you may just have late-night leftovers to anticipate.
You’ll also want to sink your teeth into the Cauliflower “Shawarma” Sandwich ($9.50), stuffed with roasted cauliflower, a choice of Israeli or cabbage salad, and pickles (watch out for the hot yellow pepper if you don’t like heat) and served with your choice of sauces like amba, tahini, and zhug, a herbaceous Yemeni hot sauce. The cauliflower’s texture is soft and easy to eat, which comes in handy considering the sandwich is about the size of your face. While I gorged on this, my dad and resident non-vegan food critic enjoyed the Eggplant “Sabich” Sandwich ($9.50), brimming with more of that irresistible crispy eggplant, tahini, warm chickpeas, a choice of Israeli or cabbage salad, and whatever sauces you desire.
Thankfully, we both somehow managed to save room for the falafel, crunchy and robustly seasoned, to dip in more of that silky tahini and can’t-put-down amba. Sitting on my couch, just South of a food coma, I tore off one more bite of the pita, so good it almost tastes like your Israeli grandma was working in the back, and so glad we finally decided to take the night off from quarantine cooking.
Tamam is located at 1108 Lexington Avenue between east 77th and 78th streets; 212-639-1818; tamamfalafel.com.