Street Meat Palooza 4: A New Champion Has Been Crowned

Two weeks ago today, 30+ brave Midtown Lunch’ers gathered in Bryant Park with 34 plates of chicken and lamb over rice with white sauce and hot sauce from 17 different carts and food trucks. The goal? Crown the street meat champion of Midtown.  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. And last year Kwik Gourmet showed that they will play second fiddle to nobody. This year, all three champs were retired in order to give somebody else a chance to shine.


Algorithms were developed, votes were counted, numbers have been crunched and now it’s time to reveal the results…

17. Mr. Khan’s Best Food

04_Mr Kahn's

Location: NE Corner of 45th & 6th Ave.
Price: $6
Last Year’s Rank: 8th

Two years ago Mr Khan’s was shredded in SMP2 when a piece cardboard was discovered in their plate of street meat. Last year they bounced back, but this year they find themselves in dead last again.  ”Disgusting” and “yuck” were both used to describe the “mushy rice” that tasted like street meat from a “school cafeteria”. And nobody seemed to agree on whether or not finding broccoli in your street meat is a good thing or a bad thing.

16. Kabab Express

11_Kabab Express

Location: SE Corner of 55th & 6th Ave.
Price: $5
Last Year’s Rank: 13

This cart was back in the news recently when Omar from Little Morocco popped up to help them out for a bit.  Sadly, by the time SMP4 happened Omar was already gone and they couldn’t improve on last year’s poor performance.  French fries were a plus, but some complained that they were soggy.  Keyword overall = bland.

15. Tazy Halal Food

05_Tazy Halal

Location: 44th btw. 2+3rd Ave. North Side of the Street
Price: $5
Last Year’s Rank: N/A

Last month Donny discovered this cart, and thought it could be a dark horse for SMP4, so we threw them in there.  There were a few fans of its cinnamon flavor and all the add ons (french fries, falafel, onions and possibly cabbage?), but it wasn’t enough to get them out of the bottom third.

14. King Tut

09_King Tut

Location: NW Corner of 52nd & Lex
Price: $5
Last Year’s Rank: N/A

Not sure if this cart is related to the King Tut who came in 10th in the very first Street Meat Palooza, but the platters look pretty similar, and so does the outcome.  There were a few fans of the “buttery” flavor, but most people complained that the hot sauce was too tame.

13. Times Halal

08_Times Halal

Location: NE Corner of 40th Street & 8th Ave.
Price: $5
Last Year’s Rank: N/A

This is the first Palooza for this cart, which took its name from the business it’s parked in front of.  One judge called it their favorite, but most people called it mediocre.

12. XPL Halal Food


Location: NW Corner of 48th & Park
Price: $5
Last Year’s Rank: 3

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride…  3 years ago this truck scored 2nd place in the very first Street Meat Palooza.  It was the out of nowhere surprise we were hoping to find when we started doing this.  Since then they’ve hovered around the top, but this year saw them drop to 12th!  There were a few positive comments about the interesting spices and the delicious basmati rice, but overall it didn’t have the same impact it once did.

11. Gyro Press

15_Gyro Press

Location: 40th btw. Mad+5th
Price: $5
Last Year’s Rank: N/A

Some people liked the chickpeas and red bell peppers in this plate of street meat, and there was more than one comment about the random fennel flavor.  But it wasn’t enough to crack the top 10 for this new SMP entry.

10. Faith’s Halal Food

14_Faith's Halal Food

Location: 33rd btw. 7+8th
Price: $5
Last Year’s Rank: N/A

If you don’t like peppers and onions you’ll probably want to skip this cart, which just edged out Gyro Press in the voting to crack the Top 10.  Interestingly enough, they might use the same orange rice as the Famous Halal Guys, but that’s where the comparisons end with this street meat.

9. Rafiqi’s


Location: NE Corner of Park & 52nd
Price: $6
Last Year’s Rank: N/A

After a two year absence, Rafiqi’s returned to SMP hoping to improve on their 12th place finish the very first year. They won the prize for most toppings, sporting chick peas, black beans, corn and even black olives which turned out to be wildly controversial.  Half the judges said yay, half said nay.  What does that add up to?   Middle of the pack.

8. Trini Paki Boys

17_Trini Paki

Location: SE Corner of 43rd & 6th Ave.
Price: $6
Last Year’s Rank: 11th

This long time favorite was finally nominated for a Vendy Award this year, but they still can’t seem to the break the code of Street Meat Palooza.  With Pakistani spices and a Trinidadian hot sauce the flavor is unique, making this street meat a love it or hate it situation.

7. Halal Cart


Location: 66 W 35th, between 5th and 6th
Price: $5
Last Year’s Rank: N/A

Ultraclay discovered this cart back in June, notable for their technique of adding the white sauce and hot sauce to the meat while it’s still cooking on the grill.  Clearly it makes a difference, because these guys placed a very respectable 7th in their very first Palooza.  A number of the judges noted that the yellow rice in particular was a real stand out.

6. Famous Halal Guys Cart on 52nd

01_Famous Halal Guys on 52nd

Location: NW Corner of 52nd & 6th Ave.
Price: $6
Last Year’s Rank: 5

The Famous Halal Guys cart on the SW corner of 53rd & 6th won the very first Street Meat Palooza, leaving their other cart (on 52nd & 6th) to carry the banner year after year in Street Meat Palooza.  Their orange rice is some of the best you can get on the streets of Midtown, and the hot sauce is without a doubt the hottest- but amazingly enough, for the second year in a row they were beaten out by…

5. New York’s Best Halal Food

02_Imposter Halal Cart

Location: NW Corner of 53rd & 6th
Price: $6
Last Year’s Rank: 2nd

Aka “The Imposter Cart”.  These are the guys who park on the SW Corner of 53rd & 6th during the day, but are replaced by the Famous Halal Cart at night.  So in order to capitalize on the popularity of the famous cart they’ve created a pretty spot on imitation.  And imitation that (clearly) some people find better than the original!

4. Fahima Halal

13_Fahima Halal

Location: 45th & 6th
Price: $8
Last Year’s Rank: 7th

Speaking of copy cats, with Kwik Meal and Kwik Gourmet ineligible to compete because of their victories in SMPs 2 & 3, Fahima Halal filled in.  The owner of Fahima is the brother of Muhammed Rahman- owner of the Kwik Meal Carts- and as you can tell just from looking at the plate of food he learned everything he knows from his brother.  Real chunks of lamb. A tzatziki-like white sauce.  The same plastic containers.  And the same green hot sauce. He even parks right next to his brother.  But obviously there is something missing… because even though it was good enough to land Fahima in 4th place it wasn’t good enough to keep the Kwik Meal victory streak alive.

3. No Name Cart

16_No Name Halal CArt

Location: NE Corner of 40th & 3rd
Price: $5
Last Year’s Rank: N/A

Every year Street Meat Palooza produces one big surprise. One cart always ends up doing way better than you expect, and this year it was this no name cart on 40th & 3rd.  A number of judges commented on the great smokey flavor of the charred meat, with one going so far as to say that he would murder somebody if this cart didn’t make it into the top 5.  Luckily nobody will have to be murdered this year.

2. Uncle Gussy’s

07_Uncle Gussy's

Location: SE Corner of 51st & Park
Price: $5
Last Year’s Rank: 12th

I have to say, Uncle Gussy’s coming in 12th last year was a huge shock.  Considering how popular this truck is, 2nd place makes way more sense.   A lot of the judges loved the big chunks of meat, and the clean simple flavors.  In fact if it wasn’t for the rice (which a number of people complained about) they probably would have taken the top prize.

1. Comme Ci Comme Ca

03_Comme Ci Comme Ca

Location: 36th & Broadway on Tuesday, Thursdays, & Fridays. 52nd & Park on Wednesdays.
Price: $9
Last Year’s Rank: N/A

I know there will be some who cry foul about this year’s winner.  They have merguez instead of lamb.  The $9 price tag makes it the most expensive plate of food in the competition.  And the chicken & merguez over rice combo isn’t even technically on the menu.  (You’ve got to ask for it special.)  But it’s got white sauce and hot sauce on it.  And it’s over rice.  And it got the most 1st place votes of any plate of food in the competition.  The scores were super close, but in the end this Mediterranean take on NYC street meat edged out the competition.

So, there it is.  Another Palooza is in the books. Agree? Disagree?   Was your favorite not not even in there?  Feel free to sound off in the comments. Because we’re only 364 days away from Street Meat Palooza 5, 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 17 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 even though we crowned a winner, everybody is a winner in my eyes!  If anything Street Meat Palooza isn’t really about winning or losing.  It’s about showing how unique and different every single plate of chicken and lamb over rice is, a fact that become infinitely more apparent when 17 of them are eaten side by side.  Until next year!

PAST RESULTS: Street Meat Palooza 1 | 2 | 3


  • The No Name Cart that came in third is at the NE Corner of 40th and 3rd? I live a block from there and have never seen it. Is the cart right next to the fruit stand that’s always there?

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      Yes it is right next to the fruit stand on 40th and 3rd. They typically are on the south side of 40th but due to construction are on the North side now. Its awesome – they’ll throw on falafel as well for free. They use an actual grill for the chicken instead of just cooking on the flattop – its got a great flavor that’s different from your generic Rafiqi’s.

  • Thanks for putting all this together, Zach. I have been eagerly awaiting the results, and hoping there would be a few top contenders in my area. Maybe this will help convince my coworkers to trek a few blocks to one of the top 5 today.

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    The same picture was used for Khan (17) and Tazy (15). No, it doesn’t matter. I’ve been to the cart on 40th and 3rd but I’ve only tried the hot dogs. They are grilled and really good.

  • I think price ought to be factored in somehow. i mean, i can practically get 2 plates from Uncle Gussy’s for one from Comme Ci Comme Ca. $9 for street meat? i dunno…

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    This was ridiculously awesome, although I have to say that tasting 17 plates of street meat was not much of a sacrifice to me. Although I still don’t know which one was the one I picked as my favorite!

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    lholly, I’m in the same boat, can’t remember what I chose but I think I liked Comme Ci Comme Ca (#1) and Halal Cart (#7) the best.

  • Famous Halal Guys, #6, are still number #1 in my heart.

  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    man, now i have to get halal food today. i was gonna get a hot dog from asia dog but damn, so much halal… too bad im in the flatiron area with no amazing carts to choose from but i have my choices around here

  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    Comme Ci Comme Ca!!!

    Shit, now the lines are going to grow even longer. This is disappointing.

  • Awesome event and awesome food, though I had a serious case of the meat sweats afterwards. Thanks for putting this together Zach!

  • SMP — a triumph. Thank you all, ML Crew and especially Zach. Good thing I had my street meat yesterday because the lines are going to be crazy today.

  • Disappointing. I don’t want to accuse anyone of anything, but that doesn’t look like what I get from Mr. Khan.

    • I picked it up. If anyone can remember, it was number 4. In actually, Zach had asked me to mix it all up, which I had reservations about, but did it anyway. I dunno what happened again…grrrr


      • Photos were taken pre-mixing though… the reason we mixed it up this year is because in past years sometimes people would get to the bottom and there would be no white sauce or not hot sauce or whatever. I thought mixing them up would give a more uniform experience to all the tasters.

        Listen… every one of these finalists is somebody’s favorite. That’s the beauty of the Palooza!

      • :( Khan will never get the recognition you think it deserves, lol.

      • CheeeeEEEEse, was Mr. Khan himself there that day, or was it the younger guy that’s there sometimes? You were a taster too, right? Did you concur that it was sub-par that day?

      • Yeah, older gentleman with a ‘stache? It’s usually both whenever I go.

        It was a little off, but didn’t seem to warrant last. I did get there within the time frame, possibly too early for it to be as hot as persnickety would have liked. I dunno.

  • Perhaps my reading skills are weak, but do the tasters know who’s food they’re eating or is it a blind tasting?

  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    To brookln231: Yes it is right next to the fruit stand on 40th and 3rd. They typically are on the south side of 40th but due to construction are on the North side now. Its awesome – they’ll throw on falafel as well for free. They use an actual grill for the chicken instead of just cooking on the flattop – its got a great flavor that’s different from your generic Rafiqi’s.

  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    Love Rafiqis. I tend to go to that one, though the one on 3rd and 50th isn’t too bad and the line tends to be shorter. I was very unimpressed with Uncle Gussy’s, but that’s because I went there wanting Greek food. They’re from Astoria, as am I so we all KNOW good Greek food. If they package it as Greek, it should be that.

  • Comme Ci Comme Ca got shafted in the Vendys, I’m so glad to see them get some real credit. They may not be cheap street meat but they’re darn good.

    It’s so sad that Little Morocco wasn’t in – I guess they were still trying to rebound from their getting robbed. My co-worker says they’re back, though.

    I just wish Uncle Gussys made it into the west 30s every now and then :-(

  • I don’t get the gripe about Uncle Gussy’s rice – I actually like it better than some of the other rice options available. I find the rice at the Famous 53rd street cart undercooked a lot of the time, and while I like the XPL truck’s rice, I prefer how fluffy Gussy’s rice comes out.

    Also, if you guys were allowed to order their combo over rice instead of just the lamb? Gussy’s would have been on top, no question.

    • It was the combo… chicken and lamb. (And the rice thing is definitely a personal preference. Some people like their rice dry like 53rd. Some like it fluffy like Uncle Gussy’s. But enough of the judges didn’t love the rice to bump them to #2.)

  • Irrespective of the awards, this post is a fantastic guide to lunch on the street. Thank you.

  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    So that makes 3 years in a row that the most expensive plate was the winner. At $9, can you really put it in the same category of food as a $5 plate? If some gourmet truck starts selling a $15 plate of “street meat,” do they get to compete?

    For next year, how about maximum $7 for eligibility?

  • Hey! Now I realize that’s my arm in the top pic.

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