Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Guest Post | 53rd & 6th Halal Cart

Hello everyone -- it's Marcus here, again. Admittedly, Stefie's epic Alinea adventure is a hard act to follow in terms of writing reviews. And yet, Stefie managed to execute this feat elegantly to the tune of a 45-dollar truffle burger from B&B. How can I possibly top all this in a single review? What kind of foodie-venture could possibly be an appropriate and worthy follow-up, especially when you consider that Alinea was one of only two Chicago restaurants to recently acquire three out of three Michelin Stars?

The answer is painfully obvious: The 53rd and 6th Halal Cart, of course.

Whether you know it as the 53rd and 6th Halal Cart, or the Famous Halal Guys, or simply as "Chicken and Rice," it's all the same. A Halal cart by any other name would be just as addicting.

The cart operates on the southwest corner of 53rd and 6th here in Manhattan, and is open from about 7:30 p.m. to 4:00 a.m., which are strange but convenient hours for anyone coming home from work or looking for a late-night meal. Be aware that there IS a cart at the exact same place that is open during the daytime, and this is an entirely different, unrelated cart. But even if you arrive within the correct timeframe, there are many carts open on this intersection (and intersections nearby), making it confusing for the uninformed to know how to find this particular cart.

Luckily, an easy way to spot the cart for the geographically-challenged is to look for the long line of people. The line will be decently long before the cart even opens, but once the Halal Guys start serving platters, the line actually moves more quickly than you'd expect. Expect anywhere from a 15-30 minute wait on average, but you're looking at about an hour wait if the line is starting to reach the benches located down the street.

For about six dollars, you can get a rice platter with either chicken, lamb, or both. There will be a small side of lettuce and pita bread, to boot.

If you walk around to the right side of the cart, you'll find the bin containing sauces. Usually the distribution of sauces is a bit more even than what's depicted in the above picture, but you'll have access to white sauce, hot sauce, and barbecue sauce. The latter two sauces are both in reddish bottles and can be difficult to tell apart. The barbecue sauce bottle has a browner tint to it compared to the fire-engine red tint of the hot sauce bottle.

Stefie ordered the chicken and rice combo and layered it with a light dose of white sauce and barbecue sauce. The first thing you'll notice is that these platters are large. This Halal cart doesn't mess around. Unless you're already nearing a state of insatiable voracity by the time you get in line, it's going to be a challenge to take the whole platter down in one sitting, but if you share with a friend and split the cost, you're basically paying three dollars for a large meal... in Manhattan. Over here, three-dollar dinners are hard to come by.

I, on the other hand, decided to get the lamb and rice combo with a dash of hot sauce and a light mixing of white. The lamb is juicy and flavorful, whereas the chicken is relatively drier and blander, but the combination of rice and sauce makes the platter greater than the sum of its parts. The white sauce is especially good. It's not as heavy as the yogurt-like white sauces you'll get at other Halal carts, which makes it a bit easier to digest. It goes well with the hot sauce (not so much with the barbecue sauce, in my opinion), but you should not add too much of either unless you want an extremely greasy meal.

But to be more specific, you should probably go easy on the hot sauce. The first time I had visited this cart, I had a masochistic desire to push the spice levels into overdrive. Up until that point, I had been disappointed at the notion that nothing in NYC had provided me with anything I had considered "spicy." Vietnamese sandwiches at their maximum levels failed to stimulate. Habanero chicken always fell flat. Scorching-hot Chinatown soups barely earned as much as a yawn from me. I can tolerate a lot of spice. And so, in all my arrogance, I decided that there would be no harm in dousing my chicken and rice with a healthy ring of hot sauce.

Oh, dear, was that ever a bad idea. I have no clue what the Halal Guys put in that hot sauce, but the primary ingredient is clearly something that was forged in the ninth circle of Hell and then fused with the fury of a thousand suns. Don't try to be a hero with the hot sauce. There is no Elysium to be achieved, here -- only punishment for your hubris in the form of an unbearably hot, searing reminder: yes, it is possible to simulate the experience of drowning in magma. I vividly recall coughing uncontrollably as my eyes and nose began to produce enough liquid to keep a small country hydrated for weeks. Even after dousing the remainder of my dish in the white sauce, it just wasn't enough to offset the inferno that was ravaging my insides. If, by any chance, you find yourself in a similar predicament, there is an ice cream cart located a few seconds south at the same intersection. Dairy is your best weapon against spice. And let me tell you, though -- without going into too much detail -- that the onslaught does not quite end immediately. The spice will come back to haunt you the next day. There's no escaping the feeling of dread that accompanies the sensation of a fireball ready to erupt deep within your core. You've been warned.

Icarus flew too close to the sun. Oedipus tried to avoid his incestuous fate. Marcus thought he could handle the Halal Guys' hot sauce.

Findings: Overall, though, as long as you go easy on the sauces, you'll really enjoy what you find at this cart. The portions are very generous, and the price is relatively low. Between the choices of lamb and chicken and the three sauce variants, you're sure to find a combo that you'll love. The line is oftentimes long for a reason. Regardless, the wait is worth it. Check this place out when you get a chance -- but leave your ego at the door.

Price point: $6 for a chicken and rice platter.

--October 1, 2010

Famous Halal Guys / 53rd & 6th Halal Cart
corner of 53rd Street and 6th Avenue
New York, NY 10019
open daily from 7:30pm-4am

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