Street Meat Palooza 6: Our Annual Chicken & Lamb Over Rice Battle Royale Crowns an Unlikely Winner

Last month, 30+ brave Midtown Lunch’ers gathered in Bryant Park with 32 plates of chicken and lamb over rice with white sauce and hot sauce from 16 different carts and food trucks nominated by the readers of this site. The goal? Crown the street meat champion of Midtown. Last year Uncle Gussy’s old school Greek truck took home the top honors, following in the footsteps of The Famous Halal Guys (on 53rd & 6th), Kwik meal, Kwik Gourmet, and Comme Ci Comme Ca.  Previous champs were retired so that a new platter of street meat could be immortalized.

After intense weeks of calculation, here are the results…

16. Halal Food


Location: SW Corner 49th & 6th
Price: $6
Last Year’s Rank: N/A

Somebody has got to come in last every year, and this years distinction goes to the no name Halal Cart on 49th & 6th.  This vendor had a brief moment of fame back in August when he helped Dr. Oz tend to a tourist who was hit by a cab, but even broccoli and  home made hot sauces weren’t enough to help it out of the cellar.

15. Halal Food


Location: SW Corner of 36th & 8th
Price: $5
Last Year’s Rank: N/A

Every year there’s usually one plate of street meat that’s called out for being, just, well… off.  Whether it’s finding a piece of cardboard (that’s happened at least once, possibly twice) or just a generally strange taste, there’s always one.  And this year that distinction goes to the halal cart on 36th & 8th, which more than one judge called out for being “chemically”.  Nauseating and disgusting ended up on a few ballots too.  And yet, somehow, it wasn’t bad enough to land them in last.

14. La Baguette Truck


Location: SE Corner 40th & Broadway
Price: $6
2010: 4

Mr. Baguette was the big surprise of Street Meat Palooza 3, finishing 4th in 2010.  But the years have clearly not been kind to this truck, as they dropped to a fairly pathetic 14th.  Only one person included them in their top 5, with most comments either dubbing it forgettable or complaining about the mushy rice.

13. Rafiqi’s


Location: NE Corner of 47th & Madison
Price: $5
2011 Rank: 9

It’s been 2 years since Rafiqi’s had an entry in SMP, and if the results are to be believed their cart on 52nd & Park is better than this one.  Words like bland and boring were thrown around, although a number of people really liked the corn and other veggies.

12. The Halal Guys


Location: 53rd btw. B’way+7th
Price: $6
Last Year’s Rank: 7

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.  The Famous Halal Guys Cart on the SE corner of 53rd & 6th is no longer eligible after winning the first Street Meat Palooza, but its many offshoots can still be considered.  This cart came in a respectable 7th place last year, and the cart on 52nd & 6th came in 5th the year before that, but this is the first year one of the reps from the Famous Halal Guys isn’t in the Top 10.  Most of the complaints centered around the dry chicken and/or it being too spicy.

11. New York’s Best Halal Food (aka The Imposter Cart)


Location: SW Corner of 53rd & 6th
Price: $6
Last Year’s Rank: 3

Once again the Imposter Cart has bested the cart it has worked so hard to imitate, but not enough to crack the Top 10 either.  Maybe this batch of judges just weren’t into this style of street meat… but at least nobody complained about dry chicken.

10. Mr Khan’s Best Halal Food


Location: NE Corner of 45th & 6th
Price: $6
Last Year’s Rank: 16

If Street Meat Palooza has a perennial loser it would have to be this well known cart on 45th & 6th.  At SMP2 it suffered from “cardboard-gate”, rebounded for SMP3 with a 8th place finish, before dropping to the back of the pack in SMPs 4 & 5 where it finished 16th and 17th.  And yet Khan keeps getting nominated, and this year managed to crack the top 10 once again on the strength of its chicken.  No cardboard this year, but overall it’s still probably a pass.

9. Faith’s Halal


Location: 33rd btw. 7+8th
Price: $5.50
2011 Rank: 10

Faith’s Halal returns after a two year absence, but stays in the middle of the pack.  Those who liked it were big fans of the “smokey” almost “bacon” like flavor of what may have been “BBQ” sauce.  Those who didn’t, hated it for the exact same reasons.

8. Kabab Express

7 #1

Location: SE Corner of 55th & 6th
Price: $5.50
2011 Rank: 16

Known for their actual grilled kababs, this cart near the LOVE sign bounced back from their terrible performance in SMP4 with a respectable mid-pack finish.  Most people who gave it high marks liked the “cuminy” spice mixture that they sprinkle over the top.

7. XPL Halal


Location: NW Corner of 52nd & 3rd
Price: $5
Last Year’s Rank: 15

This branch of XPL had an explicably terrible showing last year, but seems to have bounced back nicely to end up 1/100th of a point behind its 48th & Park counterpart. The chickpeas got real high marks, as did the jalapenos and “Indian” flavors.

6. XPL Halal Food


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

Another solid finish for the break out cart of the very first Street Meat Palooza.  A few mentions for the rice (which wowed the judges that very first year) but it seemed like the super flavorful and spicy hot sauce is what carried them into 6th place.

5. King of Falafel & Shawarma

15 #2

Location: NW Corner of 53rd & Park
Price: $8
Last Year’s Rank: N/A

Arguably the most famous of this years entries, Midtown was lucky enough to get our very own branch of Astoria’s Falafel King this year. Everybody knows their falafel is the best, but how would their street meat fare in a head to head battle with the best Midtown has to offer?  Pretty well it seems.  None of the judges picked it as their absolute favorite, and many complained about the dry meat, but the tanginess of the pickles and white sauce coupled with the excellent falafel was enough to carry these guys to a Top 5 finish.

4. Mom’s Halal

16 White Rice16 Yellow Rice

Location: SE Corner of 55th & 3rd
Price: $7
Last Year’s Rank: N/A

There’s always one big surprise in every Street Meat Palooza, and this year it comes courtesy of Mom’s Halal on 55th & 3rd.  The big chunks of chicken and real tzatziki sauce were a big hit, although nobody mentioned a preference between the white or orange rice. Either way, if you work in the NE corner of Midtown this is clearly a cart you should be checking out.

3. Biryani Cart


Location: SW Corner of 46th & 6th
Price: $6
Last Year’s Rank: 11

Just when we thought the Biryani Cart would have to rest on the laurels of their kati rolls forever, they surprise us with a Top 3 finish, their first time cracking the Top 10 in 4 tries.  Their “colorful” rice got most of the complements, but a number of the 14 judges who put them in their Top 5 also mentioned the moist and flavorful meats.  It’s about time.

2. Carnegie John’s


Location: NE Corner of 56th & 7th
Price: $8
2009 Rank: 11

Speaking of about time, Carnegie John’s returns to Street Meat Palooza after a 3 year absence and came pretty damn close to winning the whole thing!  Their terrible finishes in SMP 1 & 2 were a big surprise to the fans of this super popular disciple of Tony Dragonas, leading us to believe that maybe they just weren’t cut out for the format of the Palooza.  Not so says this year’s judges, who clearly like the larger chunks of meat.  And just like last year’s winner Uncle Gussy it was probably the souvlaki that lead them to their highest finish ever.  Welcome back John!

1. Trini Paki Boys Halal Food


Location: SE Corner of 43rd & 6th
Price: $6-8
Last Year’s Rank: 14

Clearly Street Meat Palooza 6 will go down as the year of the classics, as the Top 3 were all well known old school vendors who had performed poorly in years past.  And none more so than The Trini Paki Boys cart, who some credit with inventing halal style street meat almost 30 years ago.  Of course no Street Meat Palooza is without its controversy and some longtime fans of the Trini Paki Cart might notice that the plates above don’t look anything like the classic plates of chicken over rice that this cart may have served in years past.  For one thing, the Lunch’er who picked up the entires ordered two different platters- one chicken curry over rice, one beef curry over rice (since they didn’t have a lamb option), and it was definitely the beef curry that lead them to victory, along with the flavorful rice and the spicy hot sauce.  Street purists may cry foul, but how can you be mad at discovering that we’ve possibly been ordering the wrong thing at Trini Paki all these years.  And isn’t that what Street Meat Palooza is all about!?

A quick thank you… to all of the Midtown Lunch’ers who nominated the carts, picked up the food, and judged the competition. Sampling 16 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, everyone is a winner in our eyes! Street Meat Palooza isn’t really about winning or losing. It’s about discovering that even after 6 years of some hardcore street meat eating, we still discover new things year after year. Here’s to unlocking fresh surprises next year!

Past Street Meat Palooza Results: 54 | 3 | 2 | 1


  • I was wondering if Trini Paki wasn’t nominated this year as I kept scrolling down and was kind of surprised to see them at #1. I always get a small Chicken and Rice + doubles whenever I’m in that area for lunch, so I’m happy that they finally managed to spike a SMP.

    • I want to put in a word for TP’s roti – same great chicken and lots of terrific veggies, just no rice to slow you down. And ask for the searing home made tamarind sauce – not something you see at other carts.


    I’ve resided to believe the Midtown Lunchers have no palate due to the low ranking of Mr. Khan year after year.

    King of Falafel and Carnegie Johns were so easily identifiable as to psychologically be better in peoples minds.


    • Props to Biryani Cart and XPL for doing well at actual chicken/rice though.

      Am I the only one to actually despise the Halal Guys food? They chop everything up too fine which dries out the chicken and especially the lamb.

      • One cart chops it up fine, one leaves it more alone. It’s weird.

        I’m pretty sure I still gave Trini love for the beef, despite it not being lamb.

      • There are too many variables in chicken and rice. I think any of these carts could win if they had a good day.

      • I hate it too. I only tried it once, and was dumbfounded as to who would ever craved shaved minced chicken… I am partial to Gussy’s. That is my favorite by far—so much so i go no where else for street meat these days.

    • I was wondering where Trini Paki was as I scrolled, too!

      King of Falafel and Carnegie John’s are recognizable, but they’re still really good. Who doesn’t like char-grilled meats for lunch, and who doesn’t like hand-assembled meat rotisseries over the standard gyro?

      But yeah, Trini winning with chicken and beef when the competition is chicken and lamb…

    • Seriously, why is there so much Khan hate? Number 10 and “overall it’s still probably a pass”? WTF. Haters…

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    The annual day of the year where I eat chicken and lamb over rice…

  • It’s odd that you consider the separate Halal Guys’ locations different institutions. I don’t believe there is much of a change in quality from one halal guys’ location to another (I think they are all great). I had the one downtown on 14 and 2nd ave last weekend and it was quality.

    • 52nd and 6th isn’t affiliated with the other two in Midtown any more (or the 14th & 2nd burgeoning empire).

  • YEAH! ‘Bout time TPB got the top spot. Personally I’m surpised it took this long.

    And beef is street meat as much as chicken, so don’t hate. If anything, maybe SMP needs to expand (or clarify) the rules to include beef as well as chicken or lamb.

    Big ups to Mohammed and Fatima!

  • Six great years! Thanks so much. Congrats TPB and ML crew.

  • At last. Wonderful write-up Zach. Captured the mouth-challenging, stomach-befouling event perfectly once again. But I can’t believe #15 Halal Food didn’t come in last! It tasted like chemical-laden paste!

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    Thanks Zach – this write up definitely makes my day! Though is there any way to post which cart was associated with the number it was randomly assigned to during judging? I took a picture of my score card so I could gauge how my palette ranked against all the other judges but it’s useless as of now…or we can speculate away!

    I believe #7/XPL on 52nd was #11 on the scorecards (I brought it) but that’s all I can offer…

    • Halal Guys was #1 on the assigned-in-the-order-they-arrived scorecard. That seems to be the only one whose number made it into the picture. Also, I done brung it.

  • What about the Button Mutton Guy on 39th & 7th?

  • Kwik Meal combo plate!

  • Lo and behold, Little Morocco is back in their usual spot after a six week absence. Maybe they step up their game for a nomination next year. Sure could use some better Street Meat in lower Midtown West.

  • RE: New York’s Best – “Maybe this batch of judges just weren’t into this style of street meat…”

    I don’t get this statement. The judges weren’t into big juicy chunks of lamb? That helps to explain some of the head-scratchers in these rankings.

    • Or maybe it wasn’t “big juicy chunks of lamb”, but rather the same sliced-off-the-gyro, finished-on-the-grill lamb as at many carts, only kind of dry and without much flavor. Carts have off-days.

      • Speaking of off-days, the lamb over rice I got from Biryani Cart today paled in comparison to the picture in this article & seemed unworthy of a #3 ranking on any list. Their kati rolls are a different story, but I digress. Makes me wonder which vendors might have known what was going on & stepped up their game for the day.

  • Have been to Trini Pak, the King and XPL Halal Food this week. Love the falafel at the King but XPL plate for $5 a steal with extra sauces. Trini Pak beef least favorite…

    • Tried Biryani Cart; their lamb over rice came in tiny pieces, with ~1/3 the amount of meat pictured above. Disappointed.

      Trini Paki was decent, but not great. Don’t understand how this is classified as street meat. Maybe a beef chow fun stand will win top honors next year.

      I eat NY’s Best at least once a week, and am inclined to say it lives up to its name. However, I’m currently gobbling down a combo platter from King of Falafel, and I’m very impressed. These guys don’t play around!

    • Seriously, who refers to the cart as NY’s Best? It’s the Imposter Cart!!! And no need to shill it. The cart has earned solid cred for many years.

      • You seem to be lacking in reading comprehension, so let me help: we were leaving comments on the trucks we had tried recently, post-rankings. Am I also shilling for King? Have you anything to add to the discussion? No, you don’t.

      • I call shenanigans on the whole street meat palooza

      • Hey Farva what’s the name of that restaurant you like with all the goofy shit on the walls and the mozzarella sticks?

  • Who are you Mr. October. Who are you…..

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