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
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
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
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.
Location: NE Corner of 47th & Madison
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
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
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
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
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
Location: SE Corner of 55th & 6th
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
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
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
Location: NW Corner of 53rd & Park
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
Location: SE Corner of 55th & 3rd
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
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
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
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!