Street Meat Palooza 3: Crowning The Best Chicken And Lamb Over Rice Cart in Midtown
If you have any dramatic music, now is the time to throw it on…
2 years ago, a group of trailblazing Midtown Lunch’ers converged on Bryant Park with 13 plates of chicken and lamb over rice with white sauce and hot sauce from 13 different Midtown vendors. The goal? Crown a street meat champion of Midtown Manhattan, the undisputed chicken and lamb over rice capital of the world. If you’ve ever been to New York City, you can’t help but notice the street meat. A mix of Middle Eastern tradition, with cabbie induced street vendor ingenuity, it’s a lunch you won’t find in any other city in the world. The captivating smell will draw you in, and the taste doesn’t disappoint. And while street meat neophytes will make the mistake of thinking that most carts serve pretty much the same dish, eating 15 different plates of street side by side instantly destroys that notion.
In 2008, The Famous Halal Guys’ daytime cart (parked on the SE Corner of 53rd and 6th) took home the inaugural Street Meat Palooza crown- silencing critics who have called the ultra popular cart bland and overrated. A year later, the equally popular Kwik Meal cart (on 45th and 6th) had its revenge at Street Meat Palooza 2. This year, both champions were retired in order to give somebody else a chance to shine- and 3 weeks ago 40 Midtown Lunch’ers converged on Bryant Park for a blind taste test of 15 different plates of chicken and lamb over rice with white sauce and hot sauce- all nominated by you.
The ballots were then sent to an accounting firm (not true) to be meticulously tallied and analyzed (that part is true) and the results are in…
15. Little Morocco
That’s right… kicking things off with a big shocker. My favorite new cart from the past year, and it comes in last place. It’s not entirely without controversy though. One of the best parts about the Little Morocco cart is that they usually add all sorts of random stuff. French fries. Falafel. Beans. It’s a total garbage plate of epic proportions. And yet on this day, there were no add ons. Clearly they couldn’t have picked a worse day to skimp… some of the eaters had good things to say about their always delicious harissa hot sauce- but it wasn’t enough to save them from being on the bottom. Read more about Little Morocco here>>
14. 100% Halal & Healthy
Location: NW Corner of 55th & Park Ave.
Last Year’s Rank: 10th
It’s official… Midtown Lunchers don’t like vegetables in their street meat! Ok, so that’s not entirely true. Some judges liked the veggies, and a few others liked the large chunks of gyro, and char-grilled chicken. But it was one of the few carts that nobody singled out as a favorite- so it ended up in second to last place. (Although in a Greek Salad w/ Grilled Chicken Palooza it would easily be the champ!) Read more about 100% Halal & Healthy here>>
13. Kebab Express
Back in January Lunch’er Matt put Kebab Express on the map, earning it a guaranteed spot in SMP3. They’re known more for their kebabs than their street meat, but the judges seemed to like the falafel and french fries that somehow found their way onto the plate. Sadly, it couldn’t save a plate that most judges felt was pretty mediocre flavor wise. Read more about Kebab Express here>>
12. Uncle Gussy’s
Location: NE Corner of 51st & Park
Last Year’s Rank: N/A
Uncle Gussy’s cart has its fans, but sadly the judges were not down with the “bland rice” and flavorless meats. It did have two judges call it the best, but that wasn’t enough to pull them into the top 10.
11. Trini Paki Boys
Long considered one of the best street meat carts in Midtown, the Trini Paki Boys have never fared well in Street Meat Palooza. The first year they came in 7th, but it’s been a steady slide down since for them, falling two spots each year since. The curry flavor the dish gets from its Pakistani roots was completely polarizing, with half the panel loving it and half the panel hating it (along with the “mushy” rice.) Maybe it’s time for them to retire from competition, but they’ll always have a place in my heart as one of the best (and Ruth Reichl agrees.) Read more about the Trini Paki Boys cart here>>
10. Famous Falafel & Gyros
This newcomer came out of nowhere to have a fairly respectable showing. A number of the judges praised the flavor of the vegetable rice, but the real clincher for those who were fans was the jalapenos.
9. Halal Food
When Miss Softee declared that this was her favorite street meat cart in Midtown, we knew they had to be included in SMP3. (Granted she usually gets the gyro in pita, but whatever.) The keyword to this cart was salty. Across the board everyone agreed that it was really salty… but disagreed over whether it was or wasn’t too salty. I guess if you like the salt, you’ll want to check this cart out.
8. Mr. Khan’s
After last year’s SMP2 debacle (anybody like cardboard in their street meat?) Mr. Khan’s bounced back with an 8th place showing. Ironically some people found the texture to be a little off, and some also found this one to be a bit heavy on the salt, but the orange rice got a ton of complements.
7. Fahima Halal
If this plate looks similar to last year’s winner (Kwik Meal) there’s a good reason. Fahima Halal is run by a brother of Kwik Meal owner Muhammad Rahman. He originally worked on the Kwik Meal carts, before leaving to start Fahima… which he now parks right next to Kwik Meal (on 45th and 6th.) Family feud aside, clearly he learned a few things from working for his brother. The real lamb, and yogurt based white sauce was good enough to score 7th place- but eaten side by side you can tell it’s not as good as the original. Read more about Fahima Halal here>>
6. XPL (48th)
XPL was the surprise break out hit of the very first Street Meat Palooza, coming out of obscurity to score 2nd place. Since then they’ve dropped from year to year but 6th place is still respectable, and their street meat is still damn good. The chick peas were a new twist that everybody seemed to like, and their rice always gets high praise… but the interesting curry flavor turned off as many people as it excited UPDATE: Well, that explains the chick peas! Apparently this plate of food wasn’t from the XPL truck on 48th and Park, but the cart on 48th and 3rd. Read more about XPL here>>
5. Famous Halal Guys (fmr. Shendy’s)
Shendy’s came in 2nd place last year, but since then they were bought out by The Famous Halal Guys and are now serving the same exact food you get on 53rd and 6th (good yellow rice, super hot hot sauce, and very finely chopped meats.) The famous cart on the SE corner of 53rd and 6th won the very first Street Meat Palooza, so they were retired from competing this year- but their new cart held its own, coming in 5th. Read more about the Famous 53rd & 6th Ave. vendors here>>
4. LA Baguette
Every year somebody comes out of nowhere to score higher than you would expect… the first year it was XPL. Last year it was the Steak Truck. And this year, that distinction goes to La Baguette. Our Happy Hour Correspondent Mamacita discovered this truck at the end of last year, and the judges have validated her impeccable taste in street meat. Read more about La Baguette here>>
3. XPL (52nd)
Location: SW Corner of 52nd & 3rd Ave.
Last Year’s Rank: N/A
We’ve always wondered if the XPL cart on 3rd Ave. was exactly the same as the XPL on Park, and it looks like the answer is no. They got similar overall scores, but twice as many people put this plate in their top 5 as the XPL on Park. One thing that is consistent? Everybody loves the curry flavored rice. Read more about XPL here>>
2. “Imposter” Halal Cart
So maybe I spoke too soon when I called La Baguette the shocker of Street Meat Palooza 3! For those who still haven’t gotten the memo, The Famous Halal Guys Cart with the super long lines doesn’t park on the SW corner of 53rd and 6th until after 7pm. During the day, an unaffiliated cart parks in that spot and has taken it upon themselves to completely emulate the Famous Halal Guys… and not just their clothes and packaging, but their flavor too. When I first tried this cart 3 years ago, there were noticeable differences between the daytime and nighttime carts. Now? Not so much. And even though word is out that the daytime cart is an “imposter”, a number of Midtown Lunchers have always claimed the imposer is better than the original. A 2nd place finish in SMP3 goes a long way to giving credibility to that theory…
1. Kwik Gourmet
Proving that last year was no fluke, Kwik Gourmet (the Kwik Meal offshoot that parks on 47th and Park) is the big winner of Street Meat Palooza 3. Kwik Meal was excluded from participating because they won last year, but this proves that maybe all the Kwik Meal carts *are* created equal. Just like last year, judges were all about the yogurt based white sauce, the green hot sauce, and of course the real chunks of lamb (as opposed to the gyro meat you get at most carts in Midtown.) It was a super close race between first and second, but Kwik Gourmet had the most first place votes out of any cart- putting them over the top.
So, there it is. Did your favorite not make the big dance? Let us know in the comments, because we’re only 364 days away from Street Meat Palooza 4, when a new plate of chicken and lamb over rice will be crowned Street Meat Champion of Midtown.
A quick thank you… to all of the Midtown Lunch’ers who nominated the carts, picked up the food, and judged the competition. Sampling 15 plates of street meat is a lot harder than you would think, and we’re thankful they all sacrificed their bodies for the cause. Also, thanks to all the vendors for doing what they do. None of them knew this competition was going on, and May 3rd was a pretty rainy day. And yet none of the nominated vendors failed to show up to work. These old school vendors work harder than you can imagine, most of them for shockingly little money, putting out cheap and delicious lunch every day. Their hard work directly paved the way for the street vending renaissance that is happening all over the country, and we should never forget it.
Why are you still reading this? It’s lunchtime! And I’ll bet I can guess what you’re in the mood for…