If you’ve ever strolled around Midtown Manhattan you’ve noticed the numerous food carts. There’s one on just about every corner. And some of the most recognizable – and most popular – are the ones known as The Halal Guys. They’re all over the city and have been around for more than three decades. I first encountered one of their carts at 53d Street and 6th Avenue in the early nineties.
The concept was started by three Egyptian men who sold hot dogs from the corner carts, mainly for Muslim taxi drivers who had few choices for a quick meal with food certified halal. To oversimplify it, halal is to Muslims what kosher is to Jews. The Koran specifies which foods are permissible (halal) and which are forbidden (haram). So a place that certified the food was halal and served around the clock (see: sleeps, city that never) made it very popular. It wasn’t unusual to see long lines snaking down the block with people waiting for the food, especially after The Halal Guys expanded beyond hot dogs and included other meats and rice platters.
Thanks to its popularity – and overall quality of its food – The Halal Guys started franchising a few years ago. You may recall that one opened in Waterford Lakes in 2017 but it was mainly just ok.
The good news is that that franchise has been taken over by Tahir Ansari and he’s opened another in Lake Mary, which I was invited to visit recently. The quality of the food was very good and the overall experience was enjoyable. It felt like being in New York, except that I was indoors and I was able to sit at a table instead of perching on the edge of an office building’s fountain.
Ansari’s nephew Johnny dished me up the basic combo platter, which includes the Halal Guys’ signature rice infused with ginger and saffron, tender pieces of grilled chicken, beef gyro meat, plus some salad greens, chopped green peppers, onions and kalamata olives. It all gets drizzled with The Halal Guys’ well-known white sauce (The Daily News actually ran an article when someone uncovered the ingredients of the “secret” sauce, which is essentially a soybean and canola oil-based mayonnaise with some vinegar, black pepper and a few other seasonings added). And with my blessing, Ansari squirted some hot sauce on, too.
It was a tremendous amount of food. And priced at $10.99 for the regular sized platter, a real bargain. The gryo meat, freshly cut from the rotating hunks with a special slicer, was my favorite. But I loved mixing it all together with the flavorful rice.
I also tried some of The Halal Guys hummus, which was wonderfully creamy. I used the fresh pita points that came with my platter to dip into it instead of the dried chips in a bag. Much better.
You order your food at the counter and it’s scooped up as you move down the line. Then you can find a place to sit in the spacious and bright dining area, which is decorated in the signature food cart’s red and yellow colors.
I ate while Frank Sinatra sang “New York, New York” in the background. The only thing missing from the authentic NYC experience was the smell of diesel.
The Halal Guys is at 7025 County Road 46A, Lake Mary (map), and 688 N. Alafaya Trail, Orlando (map). They are open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone numbers are 407-878-7647 (Lake Mary) and 407-271-8606 (Orlando).