The Bay Area finally has The Halal Guys!
2016 is a year for the books.
I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I have taken actual trips to New York City to go to the Halal Guys street cart. It’s almost always my first meal and it absolutely is always my last meal–like I take it to JFK and will eat it there before stepping in. If I could, I’d pack some in my suitcase to bring it home and freeze it for later.
On many, many past trips, I have stayed at the Hilton on Ave of the Americas, which is directly to the left of this photo, BECAUSE Halal Guys’ cart is right in front of that hotel. Have you any idea how much that makes my bowl of halal food when you factor in a stay at that specific Hilton? My crappy (but rather large) room runs some $400/night!
If that is not just outright pathetic, I don’t even know what is. But it’s really that good, and that addictive, and since my first time at this cart 10+ years ago, I just can’t go without it.
So when I heard they were coming to Southern California, I was ecstatic. I could take a plane there but I could also drive there, and the world was my oyster. And then I found out they’re opening in Berkeley-and a year later, I’m still waiting. I’ve gone down to Halal Guys Costa Mesa now twice and was >this< close to planning a NY trip just to get my fix.
You see, I’m not kidding when I say this is the BEST THING EVER. I’m not exaggerating when I say I love this more than anything else.
So when the San Jose store reached out to me to come and try it–that was, without a doubt, the fastest I have ever responded to any e-mail. They could have said, “Leave now,” and I’d have obeyed like a well-trained German Shepherd.
So, I”m sure some of you have not been to Halal Guys and therefore, you neither cared nor know that they had opened a store in SoCal.
But those of you who have been to that cart and have loved it–you will only have one question: does it taste like the cart’s combo platter?
Answer: YES. Tastes identical.
But I’ll explain to you new folks why you should care that they’ve opened here at home in the Bay Area.
All day long, they have a huge chunk of beef going on rotating on a skewer thingie–I don’t even know what that’s called–and not that I’ve ever seen cow meat look like that, but who cares?
They cut thin strips off of it and hand it to a guy on the griddle who then proceeds to chop it into little pieces while browning them. You look at it and you just know it’s going to be dry, but miraculously–it’s not.
How that’s possible, I”ll never understand.
On another griddle, someone else is cooking up chicken until it’s totally, overwhelmingly, ridiculously cooked through. This looks dry and it is dry, and logically, there is no explanation in my mind why it tastes so delicious–but it does.
At the San Jose Halal Guys, it’s almost like an assembly line–with one person in charge of a thing or two as your platter goes down the line until you reach the cashier.
They’re all new, so I noticed the owner from the Costa Mesa store and another man from the original NY Halal Guys were training them onsite. All of these guys were so friendly, sweet and actually appeared to be excited to be serving.
For this photo, my friend Ian ordered pickled jalapenos on top.
So — let me be clear: NO. No, you do not put anything on top except the sauce. No.
What do you order?
You walk in and order a combo platter–and that’s chicken and beef. If you don’t like beef, too bad. If you don’t like chicken, too bad. That is the only way to have it, as far as I’m concerned. You ask for extra sauce during your order and you just go down the line until you pay, and then you ask for extra sauce there, too–both white and red.
But let me also be clear about this: I have never had anything else at Halal Guys and I will most likely die not having tried anything else. If I had room for more, I’d order another combo platter. I don’t want no gyros, don’t want no falafel–just give me my combo platter.
You know how I’ve mentioned that for reasons unknown, the plain, over-sauced iceberg lettuce salad at House of Prime Rib is just phenomenal? Well, it’s the same story here except Halal Guys’ “salad” is not even that; it’s a handful of iceberg lettuce and some tomato chunks on top–that’s it, but heaven help me if that is not a delicious combo in this dish.
Keep your pita on the side, pour in extra sauces–and loosely mix the ingredients together. Between the warm meat, warm rice and cold lettuce and tomatoes, something magical happens and the sauce ties it all in together.
I do know what’s magical is the white sauce, or what I call “crack sauce.” I have never tried it but I don’t doubt I could just drink it out of the bottle.
In NYC, they have all those bottles beside the cart so I can pour to my heart’s content. In both Costa Mesa and San Jose, the store locations guard that sauce and there is no making soup out of your meal. When I stopped by, they were extremely generous with the sauce, coming by asking for more, but there were only four of us there and the store wasn’t open for business.
The minute they do, you can bet your bottom dollar nobody will have time to ask you anything. All the sauce is pre-packaged into packets–and I believe they do charge for extra sauces. My suggestion is to get one red hot sauce, if you can handle spicy, and two yellow white sauce packets. Believe me, you’ll want two of this.
One of the strangest things in the combo platter is the rice. I’ve been so fascinated with this rice that I’ve taken bites of it before doing anything to my plate, and it’s a bizarre rice. It seemingly lacks seasoning–like there’s nobody home–but there’s flavor. I can’t identify it and Lord knows why it goes atomic orange on you but there’s something in this rice that’s just wonderful.
And the pita?
You know, at home, if you gave me a few triangles of pita, I’d look at you like you’re crazy. But at Halal Guys, I am chomping down on the fluffy and soft pita bread like it’s my first time trying it.
Again, no idea why that’s so good, but a bite of that paired with the spicy, creamy rice and meat mix is just heavenly.
If I did this on my stove, I’d be eating dry bits of charcoal for dinner. Yet at Halal Guys, the meat is just sitting there waiting to be served with pita warming on top, but from the top of that pile to the bottom, it’s phenomenal.
I have no problem finishing a full bowl, and if I had one more sitting next to me, I could probably eat some of that, too. But it’s quite filling and a $9.99 bowl of this will keep your tummy full until dinner.
I’ve told you about the white sauce but the red sauce…let’s talk about the red sauce.
It’s like vinegar and FIRE in a packet. It’s nowhere near as sour/tart as Tabasco but it puts Tabasco’s heat to shame. I suspect it’s based on some type of ghost pepper blended with other peppers, because it actually has FLAVOR, not just heat. Between the spiciness of this and the delicious white sauce that’s yogurt-based, there’s just enough acid and tartness to make the fatty meat POP when you take a bit.
And then guess who comes into the store and creates this abomination? My response when I saw his plate was, “What’s wrong with you?” It just flowed out before I could stop it.
To be honest, it was my fault. He had too much urgent work to get done so he didn’t join me for the meal, and I was just eating with a friend of mine. I planned to get one more to take out to him on my way out. But he found a moment and came in, and I was so involved with my food that I just pointed out where to order and didn’t provide my usual warnings and threats.
And then he proceeded to pour an entire packet of red sauce on it. Ian and I just watched him and Ian asked, “ARE YOU SURE?” to which Mr. K confidently replies that he is.
I motion to Ian with one finger held up: give him one minute.
One minute later, as I knew would happen, he’s huffing and puffing, chugging soda, breaking out into a sweat and near panicked. I mean…I put on one packet of this sauce, and I blow 99.5% of the Asian population out of the water with the spiciness I can handle. Mr. K, on the other hand, is in the bottom 5% of the entire WHITE population and maybe bottom 1% of Asians!
I admit it — I laughed. He only ate 1/10 of his platter and went back out to the car, still huffing and puffing, and finished the remainder tonight, the night after we visited the San Jose Halal Guys. I got another one as takeout, and finished it tonight.
But really, olives and hummus? I already took him to the Costa Mesa one with me, so he knows there were no olives or hummus in that dish.
(That said, the hummus is actually quite good. If you want to get it, ask for it on the side for crying out loud.)
Everyone I encountered at the store were so friendly and attentive. Given that it was only media–keep that in mind and also, let me remind you again that the store was not open for business, so there was no line and no craziness.
Let me also warn you right now that come June 3 when they open, it will be MADNESS. At least I think so, though the San Francisco location has been delivering via the Caviar app, but let’s be honest: takeout is not the same as onsite. I heard through the grapevine that people stood in line for three hours to get Halal Guys in Costa Mesa when it first opened, and even when I went, a few months later–I had to wait for 20 minutes at FOUR O’CLOCK PM.
But it’s so worth it.
So when they open on June 3, gather up your friends and head to San Jose. If you wait together–and maybe have some beers in a cooler with ice in the trunk–time should go by nicely and at the end of that wait, you’ll get one of the finest meals in a bowl that you’ll ever taste.
There’s a reason even those of us who are local to New York will stand in line at that damn cart, rain or shine, snow or deadly heat, all to get a cheap bowl of food. While the San Jose store charges $9.99 for the combo compared to some $7.00 at the NY cart the last time I was there, it’s understandable as they have a storefront.
There’s limited seating in the restaurant, and you don’t really go here with the idea of eating in house. The entire meal is prepared in a way for you to take it and go; there is nary a real plate or glassware to be seen here.
Just take it, open it up in your car and chow down. That’s how you do The Halal Guys.
There’s a Berkeley store that will take another hundred years, but the San Francisco store in Union Square is not too far from opening, I’m told. And, good news, Las Vegas–you’re getting your own Halal Guys store soon!
The Halal Guys is located at the 81 Curtner Avenue, Suite 20, San Jose, CA inside The Plant shopping center–an enormous plaza. It’s right across from the Ike’s Sandwich Shop in the same mall, so if you see that, you’re golden.
Go and give it a try–and if this post made you try it, remember—no jalapenos, no olives and NO hummus in your COMBO PLATTER. There is no skipping out on anything and get the extra sauce. Let me know how you like it!
While you’re at it, feel free to bring me some, too.