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…

street-meat-3

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.

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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

3. Little Morocco
Location: NE Corner of 39th & 7th Ave.
Price: $5
Last Year’s Rank: N/A

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

15. 100% Halal & Healthy

Location: NW Corner of 55th & Park Ave.
Price: $6
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

4. Kebab Express
Location: SE Corner of 55th & 6th
Price: $5.50
Last Year’s Rank: N/A

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

10 Uncle Gussy's

Location: NE Corner of 51st & Park
Price: $5
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

11. Trini Paki Boys
Location: SE Corner of 43rd and 6th
Price: $6
Last Year’s Rank: 9th

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

6. Famous Falafel & Gyro
Location: 52nd & 7th Ave.
Price: $6
Last Year’s Rank: N/A

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

5. SW 56th & 6th
Location: SW Corner of 56th & 6th
Price: $5
Last Year’s Rank: N/A

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

12. Mr. Khan's
Location: NE Corner of 45th & 6th Ave.
Price: $5.50
Last Year’s Rank: 12th

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

13. Fahima Halal
Location: SW Corner of 45th & 6th Ave.
Price: $7
Last Year’s Rank: N/A

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)

8. XPL on 48th and Park
Location: SW Corner of 48th & Park NW corner of 48th and 3rd
Price: $5
Last Year’s Rank: 5th

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)

9. Famous Halal Guys on 52nd (fmr. Shendy's
Location: NW Corner of 52nd & 6th Ave.
Price: $6
Last Year’s Rank: 2nd

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

2. LA Baguette
Location: SE Corner of 40th & Broadway
Price: $5
Last Year’s Rank: N/A

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)

14. XPL on 52nd & Park

Location: SW Corner of 52nd & 3rd Ave.
Price: $5
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

7. Imposter Cart
Location: SW Corner of 53rd St. and 6th Ave.
Price: $5
Last Year’s Rank: 6th

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

1. Kwik Gourmet
Location: 47th & Park
Price: $7.50
Last Year’s Rank: N/A (Although Kwik Meal cart came in 1st)

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…

Related:
Street Meat Palooza 2: Our New York City Chicken/Lamb Over Rice Showdown Crowns A New Champion
Street-Meat-Palooza: A 13 Cart Chicken/Lamb Over Rice Showdown

68 Comments

  • man i need to get over to the imposters cart…

  • Yes!! I seem to recall my little known cart from SMP1 also scored high! Woot!

  • Best post ever.

  • What? Kwik Meal again? Finally the results are out. :P

    At least the XPL near me finished high!

  • finally, the results!

  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    Wow! Great write-up a lot of work. Proves that Zach you are still the man! We love you and miss you.

  • Heading to La Baguette now. Great recommendation, Mamacita!

  • I have potentially frightening news.. Kwik Gourmet is my local cart and I went yesterday and they were MIA. Any idea if its temporary or if they moved?

    • It’s back today… they went for re-inspection yesterday and passed (thank god!) Can you imagine if the winner of SMP3 had been shut down for lack of permits on the day the results were released?

      • great news. wish they had one of the placard guys on the street alerting us. i got scared. Looking forward to my combo over rice, extra hot sauce today.

  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    Seems unfair to compare “real” lamb to the “gyro” lamb. If you’re spending 50% more, it had damn well be better.

    • Well, the prices were written on each container so people could factor that into their score.

      • User has not uploaded an avatar

        I guess my issue is just that it’s a different food. The judges can’t really assess “value” anyway, since portion size is part of the equation (unless everyone eyeballs the portion sizes before eating).

    • Gyro meat and real lamb are both called “lamb” by the vendors. We need to distinguish because some people (like me) enjoy real lamb, but gyro meat, not so much.

  • Woo! Better showing for Mr. Khan’s! My local! Woo!

    I have to try LA Baguette though, it’s close enough.

  • Zach, I brought #6 from 48th and 3rd, not 48th and park.

    • Well, there it is. Street Meat Palooza 3 has it’s 1st official controversy… sad that the original XPL truck on 48th and Park was not represented.

  • I feel horrible that Little Morocco had an off-day. I’d say of the 25 times I’ve ordered form the cart, I’ve only had 1 or 2 sub-par lunches. Today’s extra was corn. There always seems to be something. I do think that LM’s Chicken is better than their Lamb, but having tried 12 of the 15 carts here, I do think that on a regular basis, LM should be top 5.

    • They seem to never have extras at night anywmore though. I think their plate is okay at best and unique with the harissa!

      Without the extras though, not really a must have for me. Sad to hear that they didn’t come through for lunch either.

      • I only have lunch there and you seem to get more extras the later you have lunch. More at 2:00 than at noon.

      • When I first started going, I got extras in the evening. I really enjoyed it for dinner!!
        Not anymore though as I haven’t seen any beans or fries at night so I don’t bother going there at night. I might go during late lunch another time though. I’ve only eaten it for lunch like once. Other times were mainly dinner. Haha.

      • I’ve only ever gone to Little Morocco for dinner and they’ve never given me extras, but I still like it.

        My office is moving to that neighborhood later this summer, so I’ll finally, *finally* get to try it for lunch. BTW, how is their kofta kebab? When I try to order that at night, they’re always out.

  • Seems like uncle gussy’s was too Greek for some. I guess the charcoal grilled chicken wasn’t enough to win any points (it is bland compared to the other stuff). should have asked for a squirt of lemon.

    not to take away from the “official rankings” but this is just a snapshot of what these carts offer. plus i think a couple of people may have fudged their orders a bit. one of the entrees was laced with bbq sauce. and another laced with green sauce. ??

  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    I’m calling BS on the winner.

    The street meat world is divided between people who like real chunks of lamb and people who like the classic halal style.

    Kwik Gourmet and Fahima are one of only few vendors that serves actual chunks of lambs. They were each others only competition. If you like chunks chances are you are ranking Kwik Gourmet tops (Fahima is awful imo.)

    In contrast, Impostor Halal had to compete against more than 10 other similar-styled vendors. Competition way more intense and Impostor Halal likely got less number 1s as a result. Impostor Halal is the winner in my book.

  • Here’s some more info for those who care…

    12 out of the 15 carts got at least one first place vote, and the winner only got 5. It goes without saying that in matters of street meat personal preferences play a huge role. The beauty of the Palooza is that you get to see all 15 next to each other and decide what looks best to you. Crowning a “winner” is just the icing on the cake…

    The funny thing is in past years people couldn’t understand why Jamaican Dutchy or chicken biriyani from the Biriyani cart couldn’t be entered in the Palooza. Now people are saying we should narrow it down even more so that carts that use real lamb shouldn’t be compared with carts that use gyro.

    • Oh, and btw… I’d eat Little Morocco (the 15th place cart) over a bunch of the other competitors- so I guess I call BS too!

      :-)

      • User has not uploaded an avatar

        I bow my head in shame.

        I just really dislike chunks of lamb and yogurt sauce in my street meat!

      • Next year please ask me to deliver the LM food to SMP4. I don’t even need to be a judge. I always get all the extras and I know how devastated he will be when he reads this.

      • I don’t think it’s fair for Kopper to go. Does the cart already knows you are part of ML? It’s Little Morroco’s fault if they drop the ball at ANY given time. Zach wants fairness to all Midtown Lunchers and customers.

        How would you feel if you’re new to the site, saw this huge plate with tons of meat and fixins at SMP4, go to the cart AFTER SEEING THAT and end up getting less – MUCH less than expected? You’ve ruined ML’s credibility then.

        If Little Morroco wants to win, then they know they have to do. Bring their A game at ALL TIMES to everybody!!

      • Fair enough. You’re probably right. I’m just bummed that he knew he had to bring his A game and instead of a real garbage plate he just upped the quantities of chicken and lamb which probably weren’t recognized by the judges.

  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    One criteria that I use to judge street meat is my wife. When I come home and she tells me that I reek for 2-3 days straight, I try to avoid those those carts. It must be how my body processes something in the food.

    Rafiqi’s made me reek the 2 or 3 times that I tried them over the years, so I avoid them. I have to mention that I tried Kwik Gourmet for the first time a few weeks ago and while it was tasty, I my wife told me that I reeked for 3 days.

    That being said, I think that you need to include Rafiqi’s again for next year even though they are a bunch of thugs and I won’t every buy from them again. Their sign now says that they have more flavor, so maybe they changed their sauce or seasonings.

  • thanks everyone for the write up… i tried that imposter cart about a year back when I had my own street meat palooza at work. It was HORRID. Maybe I’ll have to go back and try this new one.

    Also – I say this every year, but I really really really think that the package matters. All the street meats need to come in similar packaging to be truly a blind taste test. I have a sneaking suspicion imposter cart got such high ratings b/c it now comes in a round package.

  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    In defense of Kebab Express, you guys need to try it with the green sauce. And FYI – you always get falafel and french fries with the chicken and rice.

    Great write up. I think I’m getting Imposter today unless the line is crazy and then I may have to go to one of the Famous Halal Guys.

  • Mamcita, were you one of the judges?

    If so – and I’d have this same issue myself – how did you handle the white sauce that seems to pretty much be a required component of this dish, given that it is comprised (as I understand it) primarily of mayonnaise in most cases? Yes, I know some places do a yogurt-based sauce, but wouldnt you have to have sampled every one of the 15, some of which had to have a mayo-based sauce, in order to participate as a judge?

    (this isn’t an attack, not at all, more curiousity on my part. I too hate mayo.)

    • er, Mamacita.

    • I hate mayo, true, but I can deal with it if it’s masked in other flavors. I’ve long said that I am in denial when it comes to most street meat white sauce. Surprisingly, some are better then others. Say, the famous halal guys, I think they add dill or something tangy. Generally the gyro meat & hot sauce has such a strong flavor that the white sauce is just a side note.

      • Also worth noting: Even though the containers look like a hot bukkake mess, once you mix it up with all that meat, rice & salad underneath it’s really not that much.

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