Sidewalk Royalty// 53rd and Sixth Ave Halal Cart

One should never overlook a street in Manhattan. Who knows what treasures you’ll find on any given street? In a quest to not miss a single sight or possible food experience, I sometimes ignore my map and let my feet do the walking (I got the blisters to prove it!). Going on my adventure to find the new food experience, I pass by hundreds upon hundreds of food carts. Some sell gyros, others pretzels, and some even sell Thai food! Having grown up with Korean street food, I knew the potential risks of getting really bad street food (2 weeks with the toilet, 1 shot in the bum, and 10 lbs lighter. True story.) But I also knew how GLORIOUS great street food could taste.

Most food carts in Manhattan appear the same to me. They all seem to have the same advertising on them and claim to flog the same ware. Of course, this is untrue. How can the food be the same when the chefs of the food carts are different. So which carts are the best? It goes without saying that I googled, yelped, and urban spooned it all (Ha. That’s exactly what she sai… er wrote..) I came across an old article (well… 3 years old) by New York magazine on theTop 20 Food Vendors

Though the Halal Chicken and Gyro cart on 53rd and sixth avenue was #17 on the list, I remembered hearing about it from someone at work.

“Go to the chicken and rice in the theater district. It’s so delicious. You’ll have to wait in line though so go on a nice day. Be careful they may be impostors. It’s the one with the really long line. You’ll know.”

But how does one know? From looking upon reviews after reviews, many fans argue which of the carts on 53rd and sixth is the real deal and which ones are impostors. Some fans are insistent upon the hours of the halal cart being from 7:30pm-4:00am whereas some fans state that the owner opens up shop for lunch time. The fans have even included a section on the impostors in the Wikipedia entry of this infamous cart.

A second cart resides across the street from the original cart, on the south-east corner of 6th Avenue and 53rd Street. In contrast with the original cart, this cart is open both during the daytime and at night (approximately noon to 5 am, with a cook switch at 7 pm). During the day, tomatoes are sometimes included with the salad. The cart also offers falafel and kofta from time to time. Contrary to some skeptics, that cart is run by the same owner.[4]

A third cart exists on the south-west corner of 53rd Street and 7th Avenue, and begins serving food at lunch time.[5]

A fourth cart has been recently added on the corner of 52nd and 6th. This cart was previously owned by a competitor but has now been taken over by the owners of the 53rd and 6th cart.

A different cart appears on the same location (the south-west corner of 53rd and 6th) during the daytime. It is not affiliated with the famous cart that appears at night, yet it seemingly attempts to confuse customers into believing that the carts are affiliated.

Another cart is outside Lehman College in the Bedford Park area of the Bronx (not affiliated with the original cart).

Ah, but I have found that this wikipedia entry alone is not enough in knowing which was the REAL MCCOY. Finding this halal cart became some sort of quest.  Food is no longer an experience. It has become a mission.

Backstory:

The word “halal” in Arabic means “lawful” and is applied to any food that is prepared in accordance with the laws of the Koran. Even though, I’m sure if it was illegal, people would still come from miles and wait in long lines to eat it.

Mr. Mohamed Abouelenein, the cart’s owner, had sold hot dogs before opening his famous cart in 1992. He claims that he is the first peddler of halal meats in New York. Mr. Abouelenein felt that there would be a market for such food because of New York’s rich demographics. “We figured out that most of the cabdrivers are Egyptian, Pakistani.” …“They suffered too much from no halal.” (NY Times)

 

After all that searching, all I had to do was read… lol.

Location:

I will be honest with you all. I have had the impostor platter. I hang my head in shame. They are cunningly deceitful and I blush to think that I happily ate the food thinking that I was eating the infamous platter. But it was a good experience and made the original platter that much greater.

So where do the impostors reside and where can you find the originators? Sadly, the same place. The original is on 53rd and Sixth Ave on the southwest corner. However, the original cart only comes to this corner from 7:30 p.m. to 4 a.m. Seeing how much business the food brought in, the impostor cart sits on the same corner  at lunch time.  People, only remembering the huge lines of people from the night before, wait at the impostor’s line during lunch believing they are consuming the same thing. So naive. This is especially upsetting because one of the original carts are actually open for lunch on the southeast corner of 53rd and Sixth Ave (also NW corner of 52nd and Sixth Ave and SW corner of 53rd and Seventh Ave). This block area where the carts reside is quite calmer and more open compared to the chaos found in Times Square. It is easily accessible to those who have taken in a show from the Broadway Theater (53rd and Broadway), a viewing at the MoMA or American Folk Art Museum (53rd between 6th and 5th Ave.), or a break from shopping down 5th Avenue.

Ambiance:

Sure it’s outside and cars are zooming by with cabbies yelling at each other but street food is best enjoyed outside… by the street. A few feet away from the stand there are benches to enjoy your food. Though it may not be a place to bring a date, it is great fun to people watch (The pigeons are annoying… but what can you do?) The benches are limited and  fill up fast so be prepared to walk a bit to find a place to eat your food or stand and enjoy it.  There is another set of benches on 53rd and Seventh ave. You can walk a few blocks to the corner of 50th and 6th Ave and take a seat near the fountain kitty corner from the Radio City Music Hall or walk (or perhaps take a taxi or subway) to 59th and Columbus Circle and enjoy your lunch at Central Park. Whatever you decide, this area of Manhattan will provide great scenery.

Oh. Dear. GOLLY. MISS. MOLLY.

The Food:

We went to the cart that resides on the southeast corner of 53rd and Sixth Ave. The menu is very simple. It is either a platter or sandwich wrap with a choice of gyro meat, chicken or both.   I opted for the chicken platter because the rice looked too good to pass up. I eagerly waited in line and watched my cart server work magic with the spatulas he was wielding. In typical New York fashion, he was speedy to place the hot chicken on a bed of rice and iceberg lettuce in a round tin. With his spatula he cut two pieces of pita and placed them on top.  The smell wafting from the grills made my stomach dance a jig and I almost didn’t hear what his partner asked.

“White sauce?”

“Huh?”

He points to a bottle with a smirk. Referred to as “crack sauce” from other frequenters of the cart, I knew that this was the thing that made this platter what it was. I nodded vigorously.

“Hot sauce?”

“HELLS YEAH!”

He gives me a handful of each sauce and wraps the food in a yellow plastic bag in one swoop. Magic.

Verdict? Of course the original couldn’t be beat! The chicken and rice was definitely seasoned way better at the original stand. Although, I would say that the chicken at the impostor’s stand was slightly more moist. But I would attribute it to the impostor having to always cook new batches faster than the original due to the long lines. Bastards. But what won me over were the sauces. Definitely the sauces. What was this mysterious white sauce? Of course, they wouldn’t disclose anything with me, but hey it was worth a shot. It’s like nothing I have ever tasted… perhaps a mix of yogurt and something else? Whatever is in it is quite subtle yet outwardly present. The hot sauce was fiery. (Even if you don’t like spicy, I would suggest adding 2-3 drops of this lovely sauce. The platter needs the kick) It was like a symphony of flavors. Without one element of the platter, it wouldn’t be the same. Mmmmm… delicious.

That Hot Sauce… It sends shivers down me spine!

So how can you spot the differences between the original and the fake? Here’s how:

1) Yellow Bags. The original cart wraps it all up in a yellow bag with their logo on it. Their motto “We are Different” is what you should be looking for.

2) T-shirts. It used to be that all you had to do was look for the yellow t-shirts but even the impostor sports them now. So you’ll have to look really closely. The original shirt says “The Best HALAL Delicious….Gyro and chicken…We Are Different…www.53rdand6th.com” in red text in a circular format with a bar going through the center of the graphic which reads, “6th Ave. & 53rd St.

3) The original does not serve tomatoes in their platter.

4) The original carts almost never pour the sauce on for you on platters. They will either put it on the side for you or have a few bottles of each respective sauce for you to put on yourself.

5) Remember the hours and locations for all the carts. Refer to the beginning of entry.

The Service:

It’s loud and chaotic. The mere fact that they can churn out food that quick gives them a thumbs up. The service is quick and a bit brusque but not without “what can I get for yous” or “thank yous”. My server smiled when I squeaked for the hot sauce.

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. I have visited the infamous cart on 53rd and 6th. I enjoyed it and crave it from time to time like a true New Yorker. :)

One more for the cheap seats in the back!~

As always my lovely friends, Eat On <3

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Comments

  • AsianMobBoss December 31, 2010 Reply

    Thank you all for your wonderful comments!

  • Alok July 14, 2011 Reply

    The white sauce is a mix of oil, vinegar, condensed milk, and some seasonings. The recipe is available online.

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