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Review: The Halal Guys Come to California

A little over a year ago, Dunkin' Donuts opened their first Los Angeles shop in recent history (apparently, LA did have a few DDs kicking around in the 90s, but they all closed before Y2K), and crowds of New England expats queued up to get a little taste from home.  Lines extended down the block from their first Santa Monica store and didn't really let up for weeks.  This month, history is set to repeat itself down in Orange County, in a strip mall in Costa Mesa.

The Halal Guys, the famous street carts on multiple corners of 53rd Street & 6th Avenue in Manhattan, has descended upon Southern California.  Fransmart, the company behind the franchising of Five Guys across the country, partnered with The Halal Guys in NYC to bring their street food to storefronts in Chicago, LA/OC, and worldwide.  The franchisee here in SoCal is Halal or Nothing, LLC., headed by entrepreneur Thomas Pham.   A second location in Long Beach will hopefully be open by the end of this year.

The grand opening of the first Halal Guys on the West Coast was Friday, October 2nd, and lines were reported to have reached 4 hours long!  According to the restaurant's Instagram, the restaurant closed the queue at 7 PM to make sure they could serve everyone before the restaurant closed at 11 PM.  They had to do the same thing on Saturday.  Well, waiting in a long line for "Chicken & Rice" (as the carts are sometimes referred to by New Yorkers) is certainly part of the experience back in Manhattan, but is the food worth all this attention?

Halal Classic (Chicken & Gyro) Platter

While I've only eaten at the original Halal Guys in NYC a handful of times, certainly not enough to accurately compare the verisimilitude of the food from Costa Mesa, each component, from the crumbly yet juicy gyro meat, to the highlighter-orange rice, to the tasty white sauce and fiery red sauce, seemed to hold up to memory.  Only difference I noted was that the tomatoes were a little tastier, and the lettuce less limp, than I recalled from the cart.  Gotta love California produce!

Gyro Platter

The menu still consists of chicken or gyro for the protein choice, with with falafel as a vegetarian option, served with the aforementioned rice, lettuce, tomato, and pita bread.  But The Halal Guys franchisees also serves fries, hummus, and baba ghanouj as sides.  The proteins are available as a platter or as a sandwich; I'd recommend the former--you can use the wedges of pita to make your own mini-sandwiches.  And they do serve dessert, in the form of baklava.

Falafel Platter

My preferred protein is the gyro, but the chicken is good too.  The surprise hit was the falafel, which I found to be crisp on the outside, light on the inside, and very tasty!  The rice is a little dry, but it goes well with the white sauce, which you should request a copious amount be applied to your order.  But unless you know what you're doing, DO NOT let them dole out the hot sauce, as a little goes a long way!  Instead ask for it on the side, and they'll give you individual packets.  You'll only need a bit.  It is really spicy!

Gyro with Hot Sauce

Back to last year and Dunkin' Donuts... I was standing in line one day during those early weeks when a car drove by and a passenger rolled down his window and yelled, "It's only donuts!" at the crowd.  As for The Halal Guys, it's really not just "chicken and rice" but something that's been uniquely NYC, until now.

Chicken and Rice

If you're a New Yorker hankering for a taste of home, or a past visitor to the Big Apple that got hooked on the stuff, or just curious what the hype is all about, bite the bullet and go.  It's probably worth experiencing the excitement mixed with impatience of a big crowd of people lining up like they were at Disneyland at least once.

Fantastic Falafels

After, if you're like me, you'll be waiting for the hype to die down so you don't have to deal with the lines, because you're dying to go back!  As the late, great Yogi Berra said, "Nobody goes there anymore.  It's too crowded."  Let's hope that's not the case for too long.

A Slice of Baklava

The first The Halal Guys in California is at 3033 Bristol Street in Costa Mesa and is open 11 AM to 11 PM daily. Platters are $8/$9 for Small/Regular, and sandwiches are $7.  Expect to wait 1-2 hours, or longer, for the foreseeable future.  The store has been limiting orders to two entrees per person, so plan accordingly.

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