Long time readers know this about me: if there’s a new place to nosh, I’m on it; I’m there. More so if it’s a franchise of some foreign place I’ve only read about, say, on Serious Eats, Food 52, BuzzFeed, or Lucky Peach. In this case, I had to head for the Halal Guys to see what all the hubbub was about.
The Halal Guys started out as a dinky wee food cart in Manhattan in 1990 when its founders ran a hot dog cart on the southeast corner of 53rd St. and Sixth Avenue. Having been raised in the Middle Eastern / Mediterranean tradition of big, substantial meals, they figured that the lunch crowd probably found hot dogs unsatisfying for a midday meal. They ended up serving grilled chicken over rice with Mid-eastern sauces; the rest, as they say, is history.
I decided to start the meal with a classic: falafels. Php 99.00 gets you a four-piece serve that, if you’re peckish, can stand in as a light meal. These are hefty chickpea nuggets that are absolutely moreish: properly seasoned with just the right hint of earthy cumin to go with the nutty lentils that make up the mash. A splodge of white sauce – their spin on classic tzatziki – adds a tangy, garlicky touch.
Most people who have reviewed HG in this part of the world complained that the falafels they got were cold and stodgy. I think I was one of the lucky few who got a batch fresh out of the fryer as mine were hot, crisp on the outside, and creamy-chunky within.
I followed this up with a regular gyro platter (Php 299.00) – and found that I’d probably bitten off more than I could chew, so to speak, as the portion was massive. Here, gyro meat is shaved off the chunk revolving on a kitchen spit and scattered on top of a tasty, orange-hued rice pilaf along with fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and sliced pita.
I confess: I was disappointed. I wasn’t sure what meat had been used in the gyro; I mean, I wasn’t sure if it was lamb, beef, veal, or a combination thereof. While it was grilled nicely with a proper char that crisped the outside, the texture reminded me of commercial lunch meats or cold cuts. Also, one could only have one sauce on top; you’d have to pay extra for an additional dollop – not cool in light of the fact that the original HG carts let you have extra sauce for free. Still, the rice and fresh veg were very good and just needed sauce to make it a meat-free meal.
I am not going to let this misstep stop me from going back, though. I am seriously intrigued by the chicken on fries and the basbousa (semolina and almond cake) on the dessert menu. Likewise, maybe I’ll just opt for chicken or falafel on my platter next time.
The Halal Guys @ SM Fashion Hall: 5th Floor – SM Fashion Hall, SM Megamall, Ortigas Centre, Mandaluyong