Is The Halal Guys Really Halal and is it Worth the Hype?

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As The Halal Guys are opening restaurant versions of their legendary cart across the US and overseas, Muslims everywhere are asking two questions: is it really Halal? And is it worth all the hype?

With the Chicago location having opened up near me, I decided to find out.

Is it really Halal?

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[Photography: Saqib Shafi unless otherwise noted]

The Halal Guys have kindly published their suppliers and Halal certificates on their website. Based on this information we know all of the meat they serve is Halal certified.

However, it also shows that the beef is slaughtered in a way that all Islamic scholars consider as Halal and the chicken is slaughtered in a way that they differ on:

The gyros (hand-slaughtered, horizontal)

“Halal slaughter is done by a Muslim by hand, by making a swift horizontal cut to the neck while invoking the Tasmiyaah (Bismillah-Allah-hu-Akbar) without the use of Pre-Slaughter STUNNING. All animals certified Zabiha Halal are slaughtered and packed under the supervision of the (CFIA) Canadian Food Inspection Agency, as well as a Slaughterman approved by the Islamic Co-Op of America.” – Islamic Co-Op of America

The chicken (machine-slaughtered)

“The birds were slaughtered according to the Islamic Rites as follows: Tasmiah by a Muslim in person at the time of slaughtering which was done by means of a sharp, mechanical knife to result in thorough bleeding of the carcass before further cutting and processing.” – Halal Transactions of Omaha

Whether the chicken is okay for you depends on the opinion you follow, so check with your trusted imam or scholar to be sure.

Also, if you’re concerned about cross-contamination between the meats of different slaughtering methods, know that the Chicago location cooks their beef and chicken separately and takes requests to warm pita slices on the beef.

The original cart and other restaurant locations, however, cook the chicken and gyro on the same griddle they warm the pita on. Those concerned can contact The Halal Guys kindly requesting them to change suppliers to a hand-slaughtered Halal chicken that is accepted by all as Halal. Until then, there’s always the falafel. Topped with their famous white sauce and insanely hot red sauce, it’ll still be delicious.

Is it worth the hype?

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This is the real question.

The legendary cart has been operating in New York City for 25 years. It’s one of the top bucket list items for foodies, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The lines are long but the cart’s legend is pronounced all over the world.

But does it live up to the hype?

I hit up the Chicago location to try it out for myself. I ordered a gyro platter with a generous amount of white sauce and a touch of the spicy red sauce. How was it?

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It was good. Real good. In a, “I’m eating salty, fatty, meaty food,” kind of way. It’s crusty bits of gyro meat, pilaf-style orange colored rice, cool iceberg lettuce and cubed tomatoes to add crunch, a couple slices of warmed up pita bread. And it’s all covered in a ranch dressing-style mayo sauce with a touch of some serious heat from their famous red sauce. No wonder the original NYC cart blew Halal eaters’ minds in the 90s at a time when the idea of Halal fast food meant a Filet-O-Fish from McDonald’s.

That being said, the platter was a little basic, too. Almost underwhelming. After all, it was just meat, rice, vegetables, pita, and sauces. The same components that made it enjoyable also made it a little one-dimensional.

But you know what? That’s okay. It’s street cart food. As Kevin Pang of the Chicago Tribune nailed it in his review of The Halal Guys after it opened in Chicago, “there is nothing so mind-blowingly delicious that requires a daily fix,” likening the food to “Taco Bell if it upped its game,” which he says he means in a “positive connotation.”

But then Pang unleashes his inner food-lover and delivers some real talk about the good stuff.

“Yet, every component on a Halal Guys platter is engineered for high-sodium, high-fat, pleasure center arousal. Your brain can’t help but agree the food is worth another bite. Combined onto a plate, it’s a gloppy frontal assault of meat, sauce, rice and heat. It’s like taking the contents of a burrito and squeezing it out of its tortilla tube. Who doesn’t like that?”

And this is coming from a non-Halal-eating-only food writer for the Tribune. The man eats some of the best food throughout Chicago and still had praises for The Halal Guys’ offerings.

Still, The Halal Guys and its hype need to be placed in its proper position. The lines are long and maybe the food isn’t the most unique thing you’ve ever eaten. They’re 25 years old now, so numerous Halal restaurants across the US have offered their own versions of the original, like New York Eats near Dallas or Halal Food Cart in Baltimore, taking away from that which was once only legend.

And to top it with something more spicy than their red sauce, it’s pricey. My small platter was $7.99, and for a truly filling large you’re looking at $8.99 without adding fries, hummus, a drink, or taking tax into account. Plus, multiple customers have noted on social media how the portions are smaller than served at the original NYC cart.

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Still, I’m glad I went to go try it. Would I ever try it, again? Only If I’m in the area, am in a I-want-meat-and-rice-and-sauce kind mood, can find parking, and am without small children (there are no seats, only a stand to eat, and the place is smaller than the Jimmy John’s next door), and don’t mind putting down a bit of cash for some pretty simple food. A lot of conditions, but if for some reason they’re met, yeah I’ll go again.

Why you should really eat at The Halal Guys

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If there’s a real reason you should eat at The Halal Guys it’s to take a trip in culinary Halal history.

The Halal Guys are one of the trailblazers for Halal in America. They first opened up their New York street cart in 1990. This is years before Zabihah.com or Halal certified restaurants. They did something truly undone before.

Think about the concept of The Halal Guys in post-Islamophobic America. These guys openly called themselves Halal 11 years before 9/11. And they never changed their name in the very city it took place. Business only kept growing.

In a world where Islamophobia very much exists, it’s pretty amazing to see a place whose very name has the word Halal packed with 20-somethings in downtown Chicago just like the long lines at the carts in New York City.

Their example is one to take note of: offer quality service and you will prove Muslims have a lot to offer America. And this is just in our cuisine of Halal food. Imagine if Muslims offered the same level of ihsan (excellence) in social services and community improvement. Islam could benefit America like no other.

Perhaps it’s worth paying respects to The Halal Guys for this example by way of a platter topped with their deliciously addictive white sauce and a touch of that killer spicy red sauce that made them who they are today. To get a sense of what made history in the first place, y’know? Plus, you can always take home sauce packets for $0.55 each for your own homemade attempt.

Muhammed Abouelenein, Ahmed Elsaka, and Abdelbaset Elsayed, founders of The Halal Guys [Photo: The Halal Guys]

Muhammed Abouelenein, Ahmed Elsaka, and Abdelbaset Elsayed, founders of The Halal Guys [Photo: The Halal Guys]

Anything to pay respect to one of the legends of Halal in America.

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