Street-Meat-Palooza: A 13 Cart Chicken/Lamb Over Rice Showdown

Street Meat Palooza

Not all street meat is created equal.  It may seem, to the uninitiated, that many chicken and lamb over rice vendors are serving the same food, but the real cart aficionados know the truth.  Sure there are the stand out carts that everyone has heard of, but even amongst the no-name carts there are some huge differences. Different rice, different quality of meat, different veggies or salad, bread, no bread, different sauces, and most importantly, different spices.  Many of the vendors are from different countries, and usually that’s reflected in the way the food tastes.  It’s not until you put 13 plates of it side by side that you realize no two are alike. And that was my dream; to bring together different street meats from all over Midtown to one central location and have a massive taste off (yes, I have weird dreams.)

Last week, in Bryant Park, that dream came true.  20 Midtown Lunch’ers converged, tasted and rated 13 different plates of chicken and lamb over rice, from 13 different carts in Midtown.  Each lunch’er was instructed to bring two large orders of chicken and lamb over rice from their favorite cart (one topped with white sauce, one with white sauce and hot sauce.) We got the famous, “the best”, and not so well known carts, put them side by side and let them duke it out in a blind taste test.  With separate ratings for chicken, lamb, rice, white sauce, hot sauce, value, and overall taste, we proved conclusively that sometimes the ”hype” is warranted, and sometimes it’s not.  And as expected, with all of the judging done blind, a few unknown carts distinguished themselves with some surprisingly good scores. 

The results of the First Annual Street-Meat-Palooza, after the jump.

#13. Magdy’s Philly Cheesesteak Cart

Magdy's Philly Cheesesteak Cart
Philly Cheese Steak Cart Location: NE Corner of 46th St. & Park
Price: Chicken or Lamb over rice, $5; Double meat or mixed platter, $6

This cart is well known for its cheesesteak sandwiches, but their chicken and rice has some fans too. Unfortunately, someone had to come in last, and these guys get the honor. “Bland” was a word used by two different people, although it did get praise for the sauteed onions (which no doubt find their way onto steak and cheese subs.)

#12. Rafiqi’s Delicious Food


Location: Multiple in Midtown
Price: Chicken, $4.75; Lamb, $5; Combo with Vegetables $5.45

With more than one location in Midtown, and numerous around town you’d think this cart empire was doing something right. But blind taste tests don’t lie, and although one person called it their favorite, the scores were pretty low. Raw onion on the plate was popular, but the lamb was well done and crispy- a positive for some, negative for others. It may have also been done in by the “fat yellow rice.”

#11. Biriyani Cart

Briyani/Chapati Roll Cart
Chapati Roll/Biriyani Cart, Midtown NYCLocation: SW Corner of 46th & 6th Ave.
Price: Chicken, Lamb or Combo Platter all $5

This cart became famous when they added Chapati rolls to their cart, immediately after Kati Roll moved from the same block to 39th St. I can vouch for the delicious chapati rolls, but their chicken and rice wasn’t good enough to crack the top 10. Their use of basmati rice was popular, and not surprisingly there were some Indian spices detected (possibly cumin?), but overall it didn’t have as strong a flavor as some of the other carts, and some people were not down with their use of cabbage and green peppers.

#10. King Tut

King TutLocation: SW Corner of 50th & 6th Ave.
Price: Chicken, Lamb or Combo, $6

Vegetables seem to be what people remember most about this cart, as broccoli, peas, corn, string beans, and carrots make an appearance. The bright red color caused one person to compare it to tandoori, but others complained that the color didn’t match the flavor, and it was more sweet than spicy. Watery rice didn’t help matters either.

#9. SBS Indian Express

SBS Indian Express

Location:33rd St. btw. 7+8th Avenues
Price: Combo Plate; $5.50

Mediocre scores seemed to place this cart firmly in the center. Nobody loved it, but nobody hated it. Very high marks for the meat.

#8. Carnegie John’s

Carnegie John's
Carnegie John's, Midtown NYCLocation: NE Corner of 56th & 7th Ave.
Price: Chicken & Lamb Over Rice Combo, $7.50

Carnegie John’s is a Tony Dragonas disciple, although he’s more famous for his burger than for chicken or lamb over rice. A pretty popular cart, this is the perfect street meat for the squeamish. His chicken is cut in large chunks, from full chicken breasts- so out of all the Midtown carts, it seems the most like real chicken. Unfortunately, those large pieces can sometimes end up dry, and there are barely any spices. His white sauce is actually a thick tzatziki sauce (Greek yogurt) and was awarded the highest marks for white sauce on the day, but he lost points for his gyro meat, which were those pre cut oval slabs you get in Greek/American diners, and his rice which was slightly overcooked and watery. Two people called it their favorite, but in the end it wasn’t enough. And with a $7.50 price tag, people didn’t think it was a good value. If you go, stick with the chicken. Two people did call it their favorite, but only one other person put it in their Top 5.  (Probably the healthiest of all the street meats.)

#7. Halal Cart (aka Trini Pak)

Trini Pak
CHX & Rice Cart, 43rd & 6th Ave.Location:SE Corner of 43rd & 6th
Price: Small, $4; Medium, $5; Large $6 (Chicken, Lamb or Combo)

This is one of the more popular carts in Midtown, so I was slightly surprised that they didn’t score higher. Good scores for the meat, and a lot of complements on the curry flavor, but the low rice scores did them in. Numerous people commented on how spicy it was. One person called it their favorite, and three others put it into their Top 5.

#6. Halal Cart

Halal Cart on 40th & 7th Ave.

Location: SE Corner of 40th St. & 7th Ave.
Price: Small One Meat, $4; Large One Meat $5; Large Combo, $5.50

Out of nowhere, this no-name cart breaks the Top 5 with chunks of shredded chicken being the main draw. I didn’t think this cart was that great, but the numbers don’t lie. Two people made it their second favorite cart for the day, and two more put it in their Top 5.

#5. Kwik Meal

Kwik Meal
Day in the Life: Muhammed RahmanLocation: SW Corner of 45th & 6th Ave.
Price: Chicken, $6; Lamb, $7.50; Combo, $8

Shocker of the day is the fact that the famous Kwik Meal cart was beat out by a few no-name carts. Run by Muhammed Rahman (who famously used to work at the Russian Tea Room) this cart owes a lot of its popularity to the fact that they serve actual lamb, instead of gyro meat. Though, in a blind taste test, more people seem to prefer gyro meat, to the slightly tougher chunks of real lamb meat; and despite the high white sauce scores, Kwik Meal may have been doomed by their price tag. Very low marks for value. Two people ranked it #1.

#4. Halal Food

Halal Food on 50th & Park

Location:NE Corner of Park & 50th.
Price: Chicken, Lamb or Combo, $5

Another of the surprises, this cart earned high marks for its interesting spice mixture, and underlying sweetness which probably came from the addition of cinnamon or nutmeg. Decent marks for meat, and a high score for value, combined with the stand out flavor, put this no-name cart into the Top 5.

#3. Adham’s Halal Food

Adham's Halal Food

Location: 40th St. & Broadway
Price: Small Combo, $3.50; Large Combo, $4.50

Another surprise score from a less than famous cart, these guys have been toiling away anonymously on this corner for 5+ years. At under $5, it was considered pretty standard flavor wise, but got high marks for value. It’s super hot hot sauce got it some extra points, as did the meat.

#2. XPL Halal Food

XPL Halal Food
DSC09707 Location: SW Corner of 48th & Park, (there is a second location on the NW Corner of 48th & 3rd but I can’t guarantee it’s the same food.)
Price: Chicken, Lamb or Combo, $6

The biggest discovery of Street Meat Palooza was this little-known cart with two locations on the East side. The hands down winner of the Best Rice Award, voters not only loved the perfectly cooked basmati rice, but the distinct Indian flavors that made this dish of food stand out in the crowd. 7 people put this cart in their Top 5, with one person making it their #1, and 3 more making it their #2. Out of all these carts, I will be returning to this one first.

WINNER: 53rd & 6th Halal Chicken & Rice
53rd & 6th St. Halal
halalguys Location: SE Corner of 53rd & 6th from Noon to Midnight; 2nd Cart on SW Corner of 53rd & 6th at Night
Price: Chicken, Lamb or Combo, $5

Well, it just goes to show that some things are worthy of the hype. With 4 #1 votes, this cart ran away from the competition, winning best lamb, best chicken, hottest hot sauce and best overall score. In other words, the cart with the longest lines late at night, is the cart that came out on top. The high scores should also answer all the questions as to whether the daytime cart(on the SE corner) is as good as the nighttime cart (on the SW Corner). A good balance of spices, combined with a creamy, and delicious white sauce, this cart is also the only one that gave us bread, without asking. Consistently good, and hands down the winner of Street-Meat-Palooza.  Related Post: Debunking the Myths of the Most Famous Chicken and Rice Intersection of New York City

Awards Broken Down by Category:

Best Chicken: 53rd & 6th Halal Chicken & Rice
Best Lamb: Tie between 53rd & 6th Halal Chicken & Rice & XPL Halal Food
Best Rice: XPL Halal Food
Best Value: Adham’s Halal Food
Best White Sauce: Carnegie John’s
Best Hot Sauce: 53rd & 6th Halal Chicken & Rice

Special thanks to all the judges, who were comprised of Profiled Midtown Lunch’ers and food bloggers who work in and around Midtown. Thanks to the person who organized all the lunch’ers (you know who you are), plus Danny from Food in Mouth, Blondie and Brownie, Kayoko from Umamimart, Talida from Talida Bakes, and Erin & Hannah from Serious Eats: New York.

Feel free to use this list as a checklist, and put your thoughts in the comments. There are no losers on this list, just different degress of winning (I see the good in all street meat).  Just getting picked meant that somebody liked the cart… although admittedly the one thing our scoring didn’t account for was how you feel after eating at each cart. Surprisingly, after trying 13 different plates, I didn’t have any “issues”. I guess two years of hardcore Midtown Lunch’ing will do that to you.


  • This is the best blog post I have ever seen.

  • I visited one of my local favorites today to compare with the recent ‘gems’ identified in this article. The Halal cart on 41st and Madison (SW corner) does make a fine chicken/lamb combo. $5.00 and no line. Chicken has a very distinct curry taste. I like it a lot but if curry is not your thing, you may not love it. The lamb is mixed with onions, green peppers, and carrots. The rice is probably one of the best aspects of this cart – brown basmati with beans, truly awesome. Not as tasty as the XPL rice but definitely a differentiator. The sauces were not bad but unremarkable. I would strongly suggest that this cart be included in the next comparo.

  • WINNER: 53rd & 6th Halal Chicken & Rice

    i went there about 3:45 on fri. SE spot… I bought 3 chicken/lamb rice combos. He hit me for 18$ when I gave him a 20$. Do they raise the price from 5 for the combo outside of normal lunch hrs? I should have asked. NExt time I’ll always give exact. I had $15 in my pocket. Rafiqis would do something once in a while back (happened 2x when i put a stop to it) when their Chicken rice was 4.00 and the combo was 4.50… if you buy the $4 one meat, but hand them like a 20 or a 10, the cashier guy sometimes would try to give you back not 16.00 from a 20, but 15.50… making .50 cents off your ass. 2nd time this happened in front of me from what was then my usual rafiqi cart, I retracted my extended hand ASAP and his 2 quarters fell on his counter. Ha, he never played me again and I could see his face he knew his game was put to a stop.

  • I personally love the one on 39th and 7th (dunno if they were at 40th and moved down a block). But I found it by accident and saw the massive line of people and everytime I eat there, the locals sit down on these steps with the pigeons and eat. I like their rice (which they add beans to). Me being from California, I got programmed to eating beans and rice! Their white sauce is killer and I taste no mayo in it either (which is a good thing!)

  • One for consideration is on 41st between mad/5th. Mohamad has been our mainstay, infact, we have a silk screen picture of him and his cart with his son in the kitchen in our offices. I believe they would rank. Also, I’ve tried the #2 list spot several times and its definately worthy of its position. Last week, I was at the Hilton for a conference and had the opportunity to try #1 during lunch, yes is was delicious, but the portion was much smaller, maybe just an oversight, I had a buddy pick up for us. Having been to countless Halal vendors, as the folks in my office can attest to, I’d be pleased to participate in next years taste testing. Also, the comment on a different 13 carts, and picking the top three from each was an excellent idea.

  • I tried the Biriyani cart today and it was wonderful. A good balance of spices as well as the use of chutney which made the dish slightly sweet and spicy. I have gone to the 53rd street and 6th one many times after hours and enjoyed their street meat. I would say Biriyani cart gives you just the right amount of food whereas 53rd Street and 6th guys gives you a meal that can last for days.

  • I was drooling reading your blog. I am off to have me lunch.


  • I had the chicken & lamb from the XPL cart at 43/2 and its gone seriously down hill. :( The white sauce seemed to be watery ranch dressing and the meat was not as flavorful as it was the dozens times i partook in 2008. Caveat emptor …

  • XPL is good on 48& Park. I don’t even bother with the one on 43 & 2 anymore.

    Their rice is one of the tastiest around. It’s much better than the famous 53 & 6′s rice. However, I like the chicken/ lamb and hot sauce better at 53 & 6 though.

  • XPL is Best on 48& Park. I don’t even bother with the famous 53 & 6.
    There is no match for XPL all around. The rice is the best one. It’s much better than the famous 53 & 6’s rice.

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    I really think the 53rd and 6th Halal cart is the most overrated cart in the city. Shendy’s walks all over it and there are no lines to deal with.

    The Shendy’s chicken is more flavorful, the rice quality is better and more fragrant, it’s truly in another class compared to the slightly above average results at Halal Cart on 53rd and 6th.

  • Shendy’s walks all over it? Yea, clearly the 20+mins wait at 53rd/6th compared to the no wait at Shendy’s is a great indication.

    Shendy’s chicken is okay – plump chunks for sure. I still think the base of their plate is the white sauce and not the meat or rice. They cover the whole thing with so much white sauce like they’re insecure about their real flavors…or lack thereof. That’s just my take on it.

    I might give it more props if their lamb tasted better but it doesn’t. Add kofta to the menu and we might have something.

  • I thought the point of the SMP & SMP2 was to put these questions to rest.

    I’d pick a side, but that’d be pointless. This is like a “my dad can beat up your dad” argument now.

  • (kwik meal kicks the ass of shendy sitting on the halal guys’s shoulders).

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