What to try at The Halal Guys, serving luscious platters and that famous sauce
MANILA, Philippines – Twenty-five years ago, there was not a huge street food scene to speak about in New York City. Hotdog vendors dotted the streets, but barely any decent and filling meal could be found, particularly for immigrant cab drivers practicing Islam, who needed halal (food that is permissible to eat according to Islamic law) food.
On the corner of West 53rd and 6th Avenue in Manhattan, three Egyptian business partners – Mohamed Abouelenein, Ahmed Elsaka, and Abdelbaset Elsayed – intervened with a food cart. Past twilight until early dawn, they hawked lamb and chicken – over rice or wrapped in pita bread – prepared halal.
The rest is history, as it later became a phenomenon and a New Yorker’s staple with queues reeling around the block. Yuppies, clubbers, and tourists gladly waited for hours to grab a coveted platter smothered with a legendary but enigmatic white sauce.
Today, they are known as The Halal Guys, once a nameless and humble food cart, now poised to become a fast food empire serving tasty and savory Middle Eastern-meets-American grub.
This October 13, Tuesday, their Manila outpost is set to open at the hip and swanky SM Mega Food Hall.
The experience won’t be the same as eating their fare on the bustling streets of New York, but The Halal Guys will be a welcome addition to the city’s burgeoning food scene. Possibly, that storied white sauce of theirs might singlehandedly do the trick of capturing foodies’ hearts.
Here’s a sneak peek at their famous dishes, plus other things to try, before they open to the public:
The Halal Guys’ platters are its claim to fame. Spiced and grilled chicken, gyro (beef), falafel, or a combination of two – plus pita, tomato and lettuce – is heaped on top of yellow and fragrant jasmine rice.
For most New Yorkers though, it’s the white sauce that seals the deal. The New York Times columnist Ligaya Mishan described it as “tangy yet mellow, creamy yet deceptively light, with vague and probably spurious allusions to ranch dressing and tzatziki, a strong implication of garlic and lemon, and maybe even (wild card) tahini.”
Basically, it’s one of those heavily guarded secret sauces (for starters, founder Mohamed Abouelenein tells The New York Times that there’s mayo in it). Many foodies and similar food carts have tried to hack theirs, but no one can reach its stature.
Liberally douse your platter with this ultra-special sauce (additional, P25), or the almost equally stellar red sauce (additional, P15) if you want a fiery kick.
Order a New York Size platter if you feel like you can scarf down the rice with a mound of toppings.
- Falafel over Rice. Small – P 199; Small with Drink – P 229; New York Size – P 299; New York Size with Drink – P 329
- Chicken over Rice. Small – P 239; Small with Drink – P 269; Regular – P 339; Regular with Drink – P 369; New York Size with Drink – P 499
- Gyro Over Rice. Small – P 269; Small with Drink – P 299; Regular – P 369; Regular with Drink – P 399; New York Size – P 469; New York Size with Drink – P 499
- Chicken and Falafel Combo over Rice. Small – P 239; Small with Drink – P 269; Regular – P 339; Regular with Drink – P 369
- Gyro and Falafel/Gyro & Chicken Combo over Rice. Small – P 269; Small with Drink – P 299; Regular – P 369; Regular with Drink – P 399; New York Size – P 469; New York Size with Drink – P 499
This pita wrap, often called gyro or shawarma (depending on the area of origin – Greece or the Middle East), is a classic in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine.
Just like the platter, choose your stuffing: chicken, gyro (beef), or falafel. Again, drench the inside of your sandwich with the white sauce for maximum pleasure.
- Falafel Sandwich. Small – P 175; Small with Drink – P 199; New York Size – P 249; New York Size with Drink – P 279
- Chicken Sandwich. Small – P 199; Small with Drink – P 229; New York Size – P 349; New York Size with Drink – P 379
- Gyro Sandwich. Small – P 225; Small with Drink – P 249; New York Size – P 369; New York Size with Drink – P 399
You might request for your pita bread to be extra toasted or crispy, but they sadly don’t allow it, as their standards dictate that the bread should only be soft and firm.
They offer side dishes such as a salad (P 80) and french fries (P 90), as well as desserts like brownies and food for the gods (both P 65). However, these were unavailable at the media preview.
While they also offer warm whole pita bread as an add-on (P50), they unfortunately don’t have Tahini (sesame paste) or hummus (mashed chickpea spread) to dip it in, unlike the U.S. branches.
They also don’t have the Middle Eastern desserts in the U.S. menu like the baklava, a flaky and sweet phyllo pastry filled with chopped nuts.
The Halal Guys’ Manila outpost is the first branch outside of the United States, where there are currently 5 food carts and 2 restaurants in New York City and 3 stores in Chicago and California.
To celebrate The Halal Guys Manila’s opening day, the first 100 customers get a chicken and gyro combo platter with a drink.
Have you been to New York and tried The Halal Guys? Do you think the Manila branch can live up to the hype? Share with us your experience in the comments below. This will surely help your fellow foodies out. – Rappler.com
All photos by Paolo Abad/Rappler
The Halal Guys is located at Mega Food Hall, 5L SM Mega Fashion Hall, SM Megamall, EDSA corner J. Vargas Avenue, Mandaluyong City.
Paolo Abad is a film/television editor and motion graphic designer. He is also a self-confessed concert junkie. Follow his Instagram for live music @outoftunephoto