What to Expect (and How to Order) at Christo’s Falafel

With the recent demise (though a positive one for the proprietors) of Far From Home Cafe, I’m looking for a new favorite food truck/cart in Center City to fill the void.  First up among the contenders: Christo’s Falafel cart.

To describe Christo’s as just a food cart or  falafel vendor does no justice to the entire experience.  Located on the northeast corner of 20th and Market, Christo’s is sometimes there and sometimes not there during weekday lunch.  Its proprietor, Gus, doesn’t exactly post on Twitter (if he knew what it was) what his appearance schedule is.  The first thing you’ll notice about the cart is the massive line that forms when it does show.  Actually, let me take that back.  The first observation you’ll have is the irresistable aroma from the charcoal grill billowing towards Market Street.  I’m not sure if it was intentional or not, but because the 20th and Market Street corridor is extremely windy, even on hot summer days, the cart’s placement on the corner is perfect for catching the downwind breeze towards Market Street pedestrians.  If it was, the guy is a genius.  On each of my visits, there would be passers-by who would ask the folks in line about the cart and what was being served.

The cart is also the most impeccably-decorated food cart in the city, replete with heads of garlic, flowers and other herbs.  Gus, who is often described as the Falafel Nazi, is also undeniably a character, though it is along the lines of unintentional comedy.  He often has his XM radio player tuned to the 80s station as he moves about quickly in his cart.  As he makes the food, he looks like he’s either humming along to the song or he’s just distorting his face from the effort he’s expending.    You start in on a conversation with him, and he’ll talk your ear off with his many opinions.  On one occasion on a summer day, as I reached the front of the line, he ducked down out of view.  When he emerged, he had a hat on his head.  That seemed odd enough, but then he explained and showed that  he placed some lettuce leaves under the hat to cool his head down.

There’s no menu at Christo’s.  There are no set prices.  In fact, you’re better off not starting any conversations with him, just nodding along with whatever he says, handing him $20 (just in case the food for the day costs $7, $8 or $12), taking the change and food (I don’t think he sells drinks) and walking away.

When you do sit down and open up the platter, it’s all worth it.  The two constants in every meal are the falafel balls and large pita, but Gus varies the remaing ingredients depending on whatever he feels like that day.  A recent outing featured charcoal grilled chicken, greens, corn on the cob, tomatoes, peppers and other toppings.  The falafel balls are fried and quite excellent, and the grilled chicken has that smoked flavor you don’t typically get in food carts.  All the vegetables are fresh as well.

The amount of food is also quite sizable.  You can either split it in half to make two seperate meals or try to eat it all in one serving.  A word of warning on the latter option: you will be full.  Another piece of advice: get there early to try to beat the rush.  Assuming he decided to show up that day.

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