We tried the iconic New York chicken-and-rice chain that’s expanding across the country — here’s what it’s like

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

  • The Halal Guys is a New York City-based chicken, gyro, and rice chain that’s quickly expanding nationally.
  • Mediterranean food is becoming increasingly popular in the US, with chains like Cava and Noon finding success in cities all over.
  • We visited one of its locations and found its good, cheap meals to be a tremendous deal.

New York City is home to so many iconic cultural institutions, it’s difficult to count them all: Central Park, Seinfeld, the Statue of Liberty, the charmingly disintegrating subway system – the list goes on.

But one revered New York icon is something a little unexpected: The Halal Guys. What started as a hot dog cart on the streets of Midtown Manhattan in 1990 has exploded into a hugely popular nationwide chicken-and-rice chain.

And The Halal Guys is striking while the iron is hot, setting its eyes on further franchising and expansion as America’s taste buds become more interested in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. Despite having started as a business to feed late-night Muslim cab drivers at the end of their shifts in NYC, Halal Guys executives now say that roughly 95% of the chain’s customers don’t even follow halal diets, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The chain has 61 US locations – plus a handful more internationally – scattered fairly liberally from coast to coast. But as it aims to further saturate America, one wonders: does it have what it takes to make it in Milwaukee as well as in Miami, in Sioux City as well as in San Francisco? We visited the chain to find out.


There are a handful of locations in New York City. We swung by the brick-and-mortar spot on 14th Street.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The inside is a no-frills, cafeteria-style atmosphere. Frankly, having seen a thousand iterations of “fast-casual chic” — raw wood, Edison bulbs, and industrial metal — it’s a refreshingly simple vibe. One often forgets what authenticity feels like.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The walls have line drawings of New Yorkers at work and play, and the tables and chairs are unfussy red metal affairs.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The menu is equally simple. For a main meal, you can choose between a pita sandwich or a platter with a salad and rice, with the choice of chicken, beef gyro, falafel, or a combo of chicken and gyro. The platters come in a small for $7.99 and a large size for $8.99; the sandwich goes for $6.49.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The ordering is extremely quick and easy, and the preparation is boiled down to an art form; my combo platter and chicken pita were ready in under a minute.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The sandwich is completely stuffed with chicken, lettuce, tomato, and the chain’s famous “white sauce,” as well as the hot red sauce.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

For just over $6, this is a hugely impressive deal. It’s incredibly filling, and the chicken is tender and delicious. This bodes extremely well for the platter.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The platter consists of the meat of your choice — in this case, beef and chicken — with a generous heap of yellow rice, lettuce, tomatoes, some pita slices, and white and red sauce if requested. This is the small size — and it’s enormous.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The rice is richly spiced and seasoned — it’s yellow rice at its cheapest and finest. The chicken is just as good as the sandwich, and the beef is superb. It’s salty and slow-roasted, leaving it tender and with a hint of char.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The diced tomatoes and lettuce are standard fare — nothing fancy or special to them, but they’re a necessity to add a bit of brightness to the rich and savory rice and meat.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Plus, when the hot red sauce comes into play … you could use some cooling tomato. The pita slices also help alleviate the scorching heat, especially when dipped in some of the tzatziki-esque white sauce.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

It’s pretty clear how one food cart become so popular in Midtown Manhattan. It’s a simple, fast, and delicious lunch that’s incredibly cheap and consistent.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

A small platter costs $7.99, and it’s immensely filling. I was barely able to finish it — I can’t imagine how much food the large could be.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

With over 60 locations nationwide, The Halal Guys have clearly already struck a cord in metropolitan markets. But can it succeed in other places as well?

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

My gut says yes. The food is simple, flavorful, and cheap, and the chain has an easily approachable, no-frills vibe. There may not be food carts on every street corner of the country, but America has plenty of shopping centers and commercial strips ripe for the chain to settle into.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider