Back in 2009, a writer from the New York Times Diner’s Journal suggested that he was going to take some “white sauce” from a street meat cart to a lab and have it tested. The joke was that no one – even the guys plating up Halal gyros by the thousands – knew what was in those squeeze bottles.
He never did it.
Why? Because, he’s a New Yorker, and New Yorkers don’t have the time to take squeeze bottles of mysterious white sauce to men in white lab coats to be tested. It’s (probably) proven (somewhere) that New Yorkers are only allowed 14.8 minutes per day to eat lunch. Thus, in Manhattan, street meat is considered a fifth food group.
The appellation “street meat” might apply to hot dogs or hero sandwiches in other cities, but in the Big Apple, it applies definitively to Halal. Halal foods are those allowed under Islamic law, and eating Halal means you won’t be biting into pork braised in beer, but you will get a serious level of savory, cumin-dusted, long simmered or slow roasted finely shaved meats like chicken and lamb. The best plates come with a foundation layer of warm rice, a bit of fresh iceberg lettuce for crunch, and the entire pile is topped with that aforementioned, addictive white sauce and spicy red sauce optional.
While the white sauces differ from cart to cart and avenue to avenue, and while some may have a mayo base while others are yogurt, there’s a no question as to which is the best Halal cart in Manhattan. It’s the Halal Guys, located on the corner of 56th and 3rd Avenue, and it’s a beloved staple that locals vote No. 1 in the annual street-meat polls and reports.
Head there early or late to avoid lines that stretch around the block, but if you must go at high noon, no fear. Lines move rapidly thanks to the seasoned vets, shoveling the ingredients rapid-fire into tin baking pans, securing them with cardboard lids and then handing them over with beaming smiles. The Halal guys wear bright yellow hoodies, with the company slogan “We are different,” printed on the back.
Ask if Mustafa is working and shake his hand. He won’t have time to give you the lowdown on the history, and he won’t return your emails (or, at least he didn’t return mine), but that doesn’t matter at all. Take our word for it … a combination platter will be the best meal you can find in NYC for the mouthwatering price of six bucks. The genuine smile from Mustafa is free, as is extra white sauce.