Tasting halal carts throughout NYC

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Along with bagels, pizza, and pastrami, the halal cart platter is a staple of New York City cuisine. Consisting of yellow or basmati rice topped with chicken, lamb, or falafel it’s a quick, inexpensive, accessible across all five boroughs, and filling meal on the go. However, not all halal platter fare is created equal, and since there are no best-of-the-best rankings out there, I set myself to find the best halal places in New York City.

For consistency, all halal platters were a chicken and lamb combo over rice, topped with white and hot sauces. If offered, orders were also topped with green chili chutney. The listings below show a combination of brick-and-mortar physical locations and portable carts. Listings are selected from existing rankings and well-acclaimed halal carts.

*Places are listed by radius distance from THHS from least to greatest. If a halal cart/store has multiple locations, the closest location is listed.

          1. Shah’s Halal Food (multiple locations reviewed – Kissena Blvd/Queens College (two carts), Briarwood, Elmhurst, Kew Gardens)

With many locations throughout the city, Shah’s is a common chain of halal carts mostly found in NYC’s outer boroughs. Despite the convenience of its locations in high foot traffic areas, there is a noticeable lack of consistency between carts. With the Queens College and Kew Gardens carts in particular, they tend to give a fraction of the portion that other Shah’s locations give elsewhere, with the food most times not reaching the lip of the aluminum platter. At other locations, there are larger portions of food offered, sometimes with a well-dressed salad with hummus at their brick-and-mortar locations. 

Regardless of the portion size, Shah’s fell short in their halal platters. The rice lacked fragrance and frequently clumps up at room temperature. The chicken was also dry at times and the gyro sometimes felt too overly processed despite having a nice crust. With the sauces, the white sauce tended to be a bit thin and didn’t impart its flavor onto the dish, and the green sauce was way too tart to enjoy. The BBQ sauce tended to be very sweet, overpowering the other elements of the platter. However, the hot sauce had a good spice and thickness, with the occasional pita soaking the sauces. With a price tag of $7 per platter (included with a drink), it is priced on the lower end. Nevertheless, Shah’s represents the epitome of a fast-food halal cart, falling short of standing for quality.

Rating: 4.5/10

        2. Halal Munchies (multiple locations, Kew Gardens [120-36 Queens Blvd, Queens, NY 11415] and Fresh Meadows [69-21 164th St, Fresh Meadows, NY 11365] locations reviewed)

With two locations in Fresh Meadows and Kew Gardens, Halal Munchies features a spin on the classic halal platter served with Israeli salad and a choice of fries or hummus. Although the portion of rice and meat is a bit smaller than most places, the salad and fries made for a larger portion that costs $9. Although the fries were a plus with a nice touch of the flavor from the green sauce, some aspects of the platter were lacking. The rice didn’t have a nice fragrance, sometimes emitting unusual sweet tones. Plus, the chicken was not as juicy as I expected, with the lamb lacking a crust. Additionally, the white sauce tends to lean on the thicker side, while the hot sauce was inundated by the creamy white sauce. However, the green sauce was a bright spot, with nice cilantro tones. For the salad, it felt a bit too watery, interfering with the taste of the rest of the platter. Even though it has a relatively low fee on delivery apps, Halal Munchies is marginally a step better than Shah’s with the fries or hummus.

Rating: 5/10

          3. MS Halal Food (corner of Junction and Queens Blvds, Rego Park)

Right across from Rego Center on Junction Blvd, MS Halal Food resembles the typical neighborhood halal cart. Containing a juicy, yet crispy chicken and lamb on top in a large portion, this halal platter includes slightly fragrant yellow rice with a salad dressed with cucumber and tomatoes. The sauces are comparably better, with a nice balanced white sauce and a moderately spiced hot sauce. My only critique though is that the platter needs a bit more sauce with a bit more fragrance on the yellow rice. Overall, this is a solid platter of halal food for $7 for chicken or lamb, or $8 for a combo of both.

Rating: 6/10

          4. Halal Boyz (183-20 Horace Harding Expy, Fresh Meadows, NY 11365)

One of the more popular halal places in the surrounding area is called Halal Boyz, located near the corner of Utopia Pkwy and Horace Harding Expy in Fresh Meadows. Like Halal Munchies, they add fries or hummus to the classic halal platter; the only difference is that they stuff the food into a smaller rectangular aluminum container, which is a plus as it allows the sauces to soak into the dish. The fragrance of the rice and the sweet green cilantro were also nice, with the chili sauce giving the dish a nice depth of flavor. However, their meats were a bit underwhelming; the chicken was a bit dry and stringy while the lamb felt too processed. Although their white sauce was at a looser consistency, it lacked flavor and didn’t really impact the dish as much as it should have. Still, this is definitely a step up compared to Halal Munchies in terms of quality, while at the same price ($9).

Rating: 5.5/10

          5. Sammy’s Halal Food (Jackson Heights, corner of Broadway & 73rd Ave)

In Jackson Heights, you can find Sammy’s Halal Food, one of the premier Queens halal carts in NYC. Located in a busy intersection, Sammy’s serves great halal platters 24/7. Although their halal plates tend to be a bit greasy, the flavors meld together nicely. One of the most fragrant that I had so far on this halal cart tour, the brown basmati rice takes on a nice fragrance, served with nice crispy lamb and tender chicken. Plus, the white sauce is on the thicker side but doesn’t overpower the dish itself. The hot and green sauces are spicier than those found in most carts, which is a definite plus. Even with the higher than usual price of $8 for chicken or lamb, or $9 for a combo, Sammy’s Halal Food really stood out on its own as a nice savory edition of halal platter fare.

Rating: 7/10

          6. Mahmoud’s Corner (corner of Steinway St. & 34th Ave, Astoria)

Going to Astoria, right in front of the Steinway Street subway station on the corner of Steinway and 34th Ave, comes a light blue food truck serving an enhanced version of the classic NYC halal platter: Mahmoud’s Corner. Along with the standard items included in NYC halal platters, Mahmoud’s Corner also adds fried eggplant and fries into an 8-inch aluminum platter. Even with the nicely seasoned chicken and lamb paired with a luscious white sauce, there were some shortcomings when it came to the short-grain yellow rice; the rice didn’t impart its flavor to the finished dish as well. Also, the meat was mostly fried and overly greasy, making $11 a bit too much for its portion.

Rating: 5.5/10

          7. King of Falafel & Shawarma (30-15 Broadway, Astoria, NY 11106) 

Under the N and W trains in Astoria, King of Falafel and Shawarma really stood out in their take on the NYC halal platter. Although they are well-known for their shawarma and falafel, their chicken over rice really differs from most halal carts seen. They offer two types of rice: short-grain yellow rice and light brown basmati rice. Although the yellow rice tasted more like rice pilaf, the basmati rice took on a good fragrance that wasn’t overwhelmed by their white sauce. Despite its $10.95 price tag, the huge portion of chicken was juicy and well-seasoned, served alongside a well-dressed salad containing olives and pickled vegetables on a bed of iceberg lettuce. Each platter is also served with a piece of their delicious falafel, packing a very flavorful crunch. My only other comment was to add more hot sauce — otherwise, the top-notch quality makes it a definite contender for their halal platters.

Rating: 7.5/10

          8. Royal Grill (corner of 6th Ave and 44th St, Midtown)

Jumping across the East River into Manhattan, we begin to compare the outer-borough Queens halal carts to those in the city. First up is Royal Grill on the corner of 44th Street and 6th Ave, winner of the 2018 Vendy Award. In a decently sized takeout container, they fill it up above the brim, loaded with a nice-sized portion of meat and rice. The yellow rice takes on a nice, delightful fragrance that isn’t overwhelmed by the sauces. Although the chicken is tender, as it incorporates a nice chicken tikka marinade and spice, the lamb falls a bit short, feeling a little bit bland and lacking a crust. In addition, the white sauce feels a bit too thick, despite nicely imparting its flavor to the overall dish. The hot sauce could’ve been a little bit spicier and I would’ve liked the green sauce to take on more flavor, as both were overwhelmed by the white sauce. This cart is on the pricier side, charging $8 for chicken over rice, $9 for lamb, and $10 dollars for a combo of both. Even with the shortcomings in the sauce and lamb, it was still a solid plate of halal cart fare.

Rating: 6.5/10

          9. Kwik Meal (6th Ave b/t 45th & 46th Sts, Midtown)

Just a couple blocks up Sixth Avenue is also another award-winning cart called Kwik Meal, and they put their own twist on the NYC halal platter. They utilize a plain, white, yet very fragrant basmati rice, unlike the light brown colored type found in many halal carts. They also serve a salad mixed with diced tomatoes, cucumbers, and red cabbage tossed with Italian-style dressing alongside juicy griddled chicken thighs. Furthermore, their white sauce tends to resemble tzatziki. Even though this take is a deviation from the usual fare, it seems that it more resembles a chicken fajita over rice than the usual halal chicken platter. In addition, their green sauce tends to be on the milder side, not really getting the spice that I envisioned. With the portions offered, even using a larger clear plastic container, the portion seems a bit smaller than most places. Although I commend  their innovative approach, it falls a bit short of what a halal cart platter should be.

Rating: 5/10

          10. Adel’s Famous Halal Food (corner of 6th Ave. & 50th St., Midtown)

Adel’s Famous Halal Food, which is diagonally across from Radio City Music Hall at Rockefeller Center, is one of the more widely praised halal carts located there. Even with their late weekday opening hours starting at 6 pm serving the late-night crowd (and at 2 pm on weekends), Adel’s really stands out in multiple ways. At Adel’s, they serve two types of rice, the usual yellow rice and their special “spicy” rice, both retaining their fragrance through the many sauces and meats. The romaine lettuce didn’t hold moisture, a definite plus when it came to being slathered in their sauces. The chicken was superb, with a well-seasoned, juicy, flavorful consistency. Their lamb gyro really stood out, shaved and then sautéed with onions and peppers as a boost. The white sauce has a nice balance between thick and thin, while not overwhelming the other sauces. Although the green sauce is on the milder side, it added a nice touch to the overall dish overall. The sauce really packs that kick that is necessary, with all three sauces taking on great coverage on the platter topped with soft pita. Overall, Adel’s represents what an NYC halal platter should be, even with their higher than usual price of $9, it would be an eye-opening experience for any tourist visiting New York City.

Rating: 8.5/10

        11. Halal Guys (multiple locations; original location at the corner of 6th Ave. and 53rd St, Midtown)

Finally, we come to the originator: The Halal Guys at their original cart on 53rd and 6th. Founded in 1990 as a way to serve taxi drivers on the go, it soon expanded to hundreds of locations around the world today. Although the Halal Guys would be the first interaction for many non-New Yorkers with NYC halal fare, its shortcomings are too large to overlook, even at its original location. Even with its presumed advertised quality, the meats are left to be desired. The beef gyro, although it retains many spices found in other gyros found in the city, was minced dry. The chicken was another downside; it was mostly stringy and dry with a noticeable lack of flavor. Plus, even though I was looking for the spicy notes in their turmeric rice, even that lacked flavor. All sauces are given in squeeze packets, with their BBQ sauce replaced by the mass-produced Kraft brand. Their white sauce fell down a steep cliff; what was used to be a nice drizzle on top of a platter has turned into a mayo-like concoction that is far distant from its native New York self. The only bright spot that I would praise at this point is their hot sauce, the spiciest of them all, but very thick and paste-like. Plus, their prices tend to be higher than usual, with a small costing $7 and a large costing $9, sometimes filled with half iceberg lettuce in the entire platter. Even with their expansion to the rest of America and the rest of the world, it felt that they expanded in quantity over quality, sacrificing the quality of their halal platters in their process and falling down in their rankings among other NYC halal carts.

Rating: 3.5/10

To conclude this halal cart tour, it’s time to rank the top three. Coming in third place is Sammy’s Halal Food in Jackson Heights, with their halal platters featuring nice quality meats accompanied by fragrant brown basmati rice and flavorful sauces. Up in second place is King of Falafel and Shawarma in Astoria, boasting a very generous portion of juicy chicken over rice served with a colorful, delicious salad. I will definitely look forward to their shawarma and I’ll be coming back for more. And coming in first is Adel’s Famous in Midtown, with their platters embodying what an NYC halal platter should be with a nice quality portion stuffed into an aluminum container too small to contain it all. All in all, the halal platter is undeniably a common NYC delicacy enjoyed by many — you can’t go wrong with these amazing options. 

Photos by Matthew Merino

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