For Real Deal Halal Chicago Street Food Hit Up Main Stop in Lombard
Growing up as a Muslim in Chicago, there was a local food experience I was never able to enjoy: eating at a Chicago street food restaurant. Sure, I had my fair share of deep dish and stuffed pizza, but I had never been to a place that served hot dogs, gyros, burgers and hand-cut fries for one simple reason: those joints were never Halal.
Until now. Main Stop, and old school Chicago street food joint in Lombard, IL is now 100% Halal. And it’s legit; it’s the same food that’s been served in that location for decades, without any ethnic tampering. Not only is it authentic, it’s good, alhamdulillah. Here’s why.
Main Stop’s History
Joints like Main Stop are so common in Chicagoland they actually outnumber all McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger Kings combined in the area. Like many others across the city, this place has been in Lombard for decades.
In 2012, the place went for sale and was bought by a Muslim. He changed the name to Mike’s Hot Dogs, threw pork out of the menu, and started to source Halal suppliers for his beef and chicken. A year later, the restaurant was for sale again.
That’s when current owner, Khan Hanjargalant bought the place. Khan came from Mongolia in the 90s when he opened up a coffee shop in San Francisco. Years later, he moved with his wife Puji and daughter Bulgan, and eventually bought Mike’s from the Muslim owner in 2013, changing its name back to Main Stop.
The family’s restaurant has grown a following of Halal eaters who come in for iconic real-deal Chicago street food just south of downtown Lombard on Main Street.
How Main Stop Became Halal
The most peculiar thing about Main Stop is that it’s still Halal despite being run non-Muslim owners. That’s because when the traditionally Buddhist Hanjargalant family bought the restaurant, they decided to continue sourcing Halal meat per the recommendation of the former Muslim owner who sold it to them.
“He said 20% of his customers were Muslim,” says their daughter, Bulgan, “so we continued getting Halal meat.”
What’s more, the restaurant is Halal certified. The Halal Advocates of America approached the store on their service of fully certifying restaurants. The Halal certifier’s Chicago chapter offered options of meat suppliers that fit the Halal standards of all Muslims and was even able to replace sauces that contained gelatin. The restaurant is now 100% Halal from top-to-bottom.
The place plans to stay open late until 1 am during Ramadan to accommodate its Muslim customers.
The Chicago street food served at Main Stop
At the hundreds of Chicago street food joints, the offerings are almost always the same. Here are some from Main Stop that stand out as authentic Chicago offerings.
Chicago-style Hot Dog
If you’re a Chicago Muslim but don’t know what this is, think harder. Deep within your brain are memories of drawings of the Chicago-style hot dog plastered all over the city. The style, known as “dragged through the garden,” is legendary for hot dog fans across the country. Somehow the combo of the juicy tomatoes, briney pickle, sharp onions, sweet relish, spicy mustard, and the defining topping, celery salt, work wonders on an all-beef hot dog. Main Stop serves this classic combo exactly the way it should be with a Fatima brand Halal hot dog in a poppyseed bun. If you’re a hot dog fan, this is one to try.
Hand-Cut French Fries
Hand-cut fries are fried not once, but twice. The first try cooks the potatoes through while the second crisps up their exteriors way more than a single fry could ever dream. Main Stop double fries their French fries in this classic Chicago style. If you get a fresh batch, you are in for a treat. Golden brown crispy exterior, pillowy soft interior, and full potato flavor all throughout. No “seasoning” or batter needed on these spuds. Just potatoes and salt. If you want something more, go for ketchup or cheese sauce.
Maxwell Street Polish
This is not a hot dog. It’s a Polish sausage, larger and more boldly seasoned than a typical dog, in a hot dog bun. Named after a street where the creating originated, the Maxwell Street Polish is known by its toppings: mustard and grilled onions. No ketchup. The Maxwell is the upgraded version of the everyday hot dog.
Unless Mike Ditka, Michael Jordan, or Kevin from Home Alone walk in to the building, it doesn’t get more Chicago than this. Don’t let looks deceive you. This bad boy is dipped in beef juices, making the whole thing extra juicy and extra flavorful. I like it topped with giardiniera, an Italian-American pickled relish that adds both flavor and heat to the sandwich. When you finish, you may find yourself randomly exclaiming that the Willis Tower should really be called the Sears Tower.
Chicago Halal joints overload their gyro sandwiches with hot sauce. As if gyros aren’t salty and spicy enough. And like a real gyro sandwich is prepared at Chicago street food joints, Main Stop’s comes with onions, tomatoes, and tzatziki sauce. No lettuce. Interestingly, Main Stop grills their pita bread to serve their gyro sandwich, offering a more charred flavor around the meat.
Philly Cheese Steak
This is a Philadelphia, thing, I know, but an interesting tidbit here. Main Stop actually serves what would be called a cheesesteak hoagie, since they serve this with lettuce and tomato. But that doesn’t take away from this at all. Their cheesesteak is excellent, with tender bits of beef, melty cheese, and fresh veggies, which is probably why the owners say this is one of their most popular orders. When my wife orders it, she tries to make it Philly style: no lettuce and tomato, just onions, cheese, and mayo, and extra meat. Either way, this sandwich is excellent.
Chicago street food joints aren’t known for their burgers. But almost every single one offers them. Plus, they’re great to have the option of a classic burger that’s Halal. At Main Stop, they don’t add ethnic seasonings to turn the burgers into kabobs, just beef and salt and your choice of toppings. If you’re adventurous, you can get something like their double gyro cheeseburger. Me? I like a bacon cheeseburger, the onions extra grilled and bacon extra crispy. Easily my preferred Halal burger in Chicagoland.
The menu expands even further including battered chicken wings and tenders, chicken nuggets for your kids and all sorts of variations of hot dogs, hamburgers and fries. Want chili or cheese sauce on your hot dog? At Main Stop, you can get both. Or maybe you want a grilled chicken sandwich, jalapeño poppers or some blast-from-the-past Bosco sticks. Main Stop has whatever fast food you’re in the mood for in a variety of ways to suit you best, in a restaurant that is 100% Halal top-to-bottom.
What other Halal restaurants can learn from Main Stop
There’s something impressive about Main Stop that other Halal fast food restaurants need to pay attention to: They have regular non-Muslim clientele, not just Muslim customers. Why? Because the place doesn’t force an ethnic twist on all their food just because it’s Halal. Sure they offer Kimchi Burgers on their menu. But the classic burger is still a classic burger.
American fast food is downright delicious and addictive all by itself. It doesn’t need ethnic flavor adjustments to sell. The owners serve Chicago street food the exact same way it has for decades.
The locals who are old time customers are eating the same food they always have been. Sure they may have noticed a new surge of Muslim customers in the past few years. But they don’t care; they continue to give their business for the same eating experience. Now that the restaurant is Halal certified, the owners also get a ton of Muslim customers, too. That is how you do a Halal restaurant right.
But the best thing about Main Stop? The excellent customer service from the wonderful Hanjargalant family. Every order they take is given with a smile from a family that knows how to please. While many Halal joints offer good food, very few of them get the service part down. They should come to Main Stop and take some notes. Along with authentic Chicago street food and both Muslim and non-Muslim customers you will probably find me there, hot dog and fries in hand.