Chinatown, the stretch of Spring Mountain Road between the Strip and Jones Boulevard best known for its Asian culinary diversity, has long since outgrown its moniker thanks to the abundance of great food from other Asian nations. It’s recently taken an even larger step toward diversity, however, with the August opening of the drag’s most buzzed-about new restaurant, a local incarnation of New York’s famed Halal Guys. The spot is interesting, however, not only because it offers something different, but also because of the amount of attention being generated by what’s essentially a fast-food chain.
WHAT IS HALAL?
Halal refers to food prepared in accordance with Islamic dietary laws. In fact, since Islam and Judaism share many of the same scriptures, to the casual observer, Halal food is virtually indistinguishable from kosher cooking. The very limited choices offered by the Halal Guys should be familiar to anyone who’s ever eaten in a Mediterranean restaurant.
There are just three main courses: grilled chicken, falafel and beef gyro (pronounced “YEAR-oh,” or possibly “HEAR-oh,” but never “JEE-row”). You can get either — or a combination of the two meats — as a platter or a sandwich. Platters come with rice, pita and a scoop each of lettuce and tomatoes generously described on the menu as a salad. The sandwiches have those same ingredients, minus the rice, wrapped in a whole pita. Both can be augmented with a secret white sauce or super-spicy red. The only other options are three side dishes: hummus, baba ganoush and crinkle-cut fries. And there is baklava for dessert.
BIG APPLE SUCCESS STORY
The Halal Guys are a sensation in New York City, where their food cart operation in Midtown now monopolizes entire blocks and people wait in ridiculous lines. So after 25 years in the Big Apple, it’s no surprise they’ve begun expanding. More than 200 franchises are now in the works, and Binh Tran, a multiple franchise owner for Las Vegas and Northern California, is already researching possible locations for a second Las Vegas spot. All of this hype brought huge crowds to the restaurant’s grand opening on August 12. At points, the entire strip mall parking lot was full, with the wait to getting inside stretching to 20 minutes or more. Owners set up tents outside to provide protection from the desert sun.
ROUGH START, BUT GETTING BETTER
Unfortunately, the opening weekend was plagued with problems. Air conditioning issues meant the interior wasn’t much of a refuge once the crowd made it through the door. The chicken was dry, the gyro was bland and the falafel was overcooked. Only the baklava—a novel and tasty treat even if the portion was rather small for $2.50—hinted that the place might be worth a return visit.
Things have improved somewhat with time. The gyro has more pep and the falafel is better prepared. The chicken, however, is still dry. If you go with the latter, use the white sauce, since more than a drop or two of the inferno-level red sauce will scorch your palate to the point where you can no longer taste. Among the sides, the hummus is better than what you’d find at a supermarket deli counter, but not quite restaurant quality. The fries are unremarkable. But sadly, the baba ganoush is so slimy and overly smoky that it’s basically inedible. Despite all of this, Halal Guys might still be worth a visit. The trick is to judge it by fast-food standards, which is easy enough, since the decor is reminiscent of a typical chain burger joint, and the prices are just as reasonable.
By those standards, the place offers a nice alternative to the typical McMeal. And it boasts one of the friendliest and most attentive fast-food staffs you’re likely to find anywhere. So if your choices are Wendy’s, Taco Bell and Halal Guys, this would be a hands-down winner. Unfortunately for the owners, Spring Mountain Road isn’t a desolate stretch of interstate; it’s a vital dining hub. And Halal Guys’ only contribution is to take it further outside its Chinatown reputation.
The Halal Guys
3755 Spring Mountain Rd., 725-696-3663, SpringMountainRdLasVegasNV.theHalalGuys.com.Open for lunch and dinner 10 a.m.-4 a.m. daily.
Dinner for two, $15-$30.
Not To Be Missed
- Falafel sandwich ($8)
- combo platter ($9-$10)
- and baklava ($2.50)
That White Sauce Tho
With a composition similar to mayo (oil, egg and vinegar, plus other stuff) the Halal Guys’ famous white sauce is a multifaceted condiment that can be used in various applications. So when you are in a pinch for something in which to dip, be sure to always have a yellow packet in the fridge– goes with pretty much everything. Here’s what else we’re slathering it on.
Well-done In-N-Out french fries: While it is true that the burger joint has its own packeted spread that goes great on crunchy fries, be adventurous and cross the fast-food streams with a few squirts of the good stuff.
Salad: Mayo and ranch dressing are kissing cousins, so itís only logical to try the Halal Guys’ white sauce on top of a bed of crisp lettuce and other veggies, such as tomato and carrot.
Buffalo chicken wings: Hey, it’s white and so is blue cheese dressing. Therefore, appealing to visual memory, the color tricks your palate into thinking that one tastes just like that other, more familiar dipping sauce. Only the Halal Guys’ sauce is obviously better. — Melinda Sheckells