That’s how a legend was born. In 1990, a simple hot dog cart run by a trio of Egyptian immigrants became the hottest lunch line in New York City. Twenty-five years later, they began licensing franchises and now boasts over two hundred locations worldwide. As the fastest growing fast casual chain in America, The Halal Guys has finally landed on Buford Highway with more locations expected to follow. Simply put, this is some of the most consistently excellent half-hour dining available in Atlanta.
It’s the same all over the world: a couple of tables in a fairly small but conveniently located space, that red and yellow color scheme, and a limited menu where everything is done with consistent quality and correctness. If you’ve eaten at any of the locations, you’ve eaten at them all, and you can literally order one of everything on the menu for just under $50. The staples are beef, chicken and falafel, and you put them in a pita wrap with lettuce and tomato or you put them over a bed of rice with lettuce, tomato and pita on the side.
Then you add one or more of their two excellent sauces: white and red. The white sauce is some kind of mystery mayo, more creamy than tangy. It’s not a tzatziki sauce. The red sauce is super spicy and made with red peppers. It’s not a harissa sauce and you’ll feel the burn all the way down your throat for an eye-watering adventure that is both delicious and slightly scary. If you’ve ever accepted some ludicrous hot wings dare, this red sauce will be your next big thing. Some locations outside of NYC, including ours, have a barbeque sauce that is more sweet than spicy.
For sides, you have four choices: fries, hummus, baba ganouj, and falafel. The fries are just fries, golden brown and not at all soggy. The hummus, which is made of ground chickpeas, has a nice garlic flavor. The baba ganouj, which is made of pureed eggplant, has a wonderfully smoky aftertaste. The falafel is crisp on the outside, bright green on the inside and not too dry or crumbly. You can top it all off with a baklava for dessert, jam packed with crushed nuts and dripping delicious honey everywhere, as messy as anything made with layers of filo dough should be.
Every meal I’ve ever had at The Halal Guys, no matter what city, it’s been ready in less than four minutes. They’ve got strong procedures in place and everything moves along in an orderly manner without making customers feel like they are part of a cattle call managed by robots. You can be in and out with a full belly in a half hour. If a half hour is too much, carry it out in five minutes. Or if you absolutely cannot forsake the comfort of your own couch, several online delivery services will pick it up for you, so just check your local preferred apps. The wrappings are unpretentious, unbranded foil for the sandwiches and the platters come in those generic rounds made of foil with clear plastic tops. The wrapping isn’t microwave safe, but hey, their food is also super delicious when served cold is you’re saving any for later.
Do I need to state what “halal” means? Have you heard of “kosher”? These words refer to foods it is acceptable to eat if you’re following Islamic or Jewish law. The acceptability is based upon certain techniques used during animal slaughter. It has no bearing upon the taste of the meat, so feel free to be as oblivious to the meaning as ever. However, I’m happy to point out that although the Buford Highway corridor has long been Atlanta’s go-to for diverse foods, it has been lacking in offerings suitable to practicing Muslims. Yes, The Halal Guys is an exceedingly trendy place to grab a bite, but it also welcomes more families to the table.
The Halal Guys is located at 4929 Buford Highway in Chamblee. For more information, visit thehalalguys.com.
Megan Volpert is the author or editor of over a dozen books on popular culture, including two Lambda Literary Award finalists and an American Library Association honoree.
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