Everything You Wanted to Know About L.A.’s New Halal Chicken & Rice Cart
Unless you believe in cosmic forces it will be hard to accept that this happened accidentally, but I just this morning realized that Midtown Lunch: Los Angeles turned 4 years old this week. I say cosmic forces must be involved because 10 days ago Los Angeles finally got the one thing that I’ve been craving, the one thing I’ve been begging for, the one thing that any true Midtown luncher can’t live without: a chicken and lamb over rice halal cart. It took four long years of questioning, hoping, searching for alternatives, and finally it’s happened. And just in time for our four year anniversary. Sometimes life really is perfect.
On January 26th the Chicken and Rice cart opened for business on a side street across Highland from Mel’s Diner, just south of Hollywood Blvd. And if you had told me that the photos were from 53rd St. & 6th Ave. on a Friday night at Midnight, I may have believed you. L.A. turned out in force for New York style street meat, answering the 4 year old question of “Could a halal cart be successful in L.A.?” Answer: yes. But if 6 years of Street Meat Palooza taught me anything it’s that all street meat isn’t created equal. What kind of rice are they using? What about the hot sauce? Are these guys the real deal, or just bush league imposters?
All of your questions answered, after the jump…
What’s the cart called? Chicken and Rice L.A.
Are they affiliated with a halal vendor in NYC? Nope. The owner Nitesh is from L.A., and also owns an Indian restaurant called Spice Hollywood Bistro. But he has spent a lot of time visiting New York, where he became a big fan of the New York style street meat… particularly the famous halal cart on 53rd and 6th.
Is the cart itself just like the ones in New York? Nope. It’s a custom made hybrid between a taco truck and halal cart that’s open to the street, so you can see the food being made while you wait, but still conforms to L.A.’s street food laws, which are completely different than New York’s.
Where do they park? Right now they’ve been starting the night around 7:30pm on a side street across Highland from Mel’s Diner, just south of Hollywood (on Hawthorne). Around Midnight they’ve been moving to Supper Club on Hollywood and Las Palmas to serve the post club crowd until around 3am.
Is there parking? Nope it’s Hollywood. You just have to get lucky or pay a ton of $$ at one of the lots.
Are they open 7 days a week? Tuesday through Sunday. So far they’ve been closed on Mondays.
What about lunch? Sadly for us, they’re not open for lunch yet… but they’re supposedly testing out lunch spots as we speak and hope to be open for lunch in the next week or two. Possibly on Wilshire?
Do they post their locations on Twitter or Facebook? Yup. They have an active Twitter account @chickenriceLA and have been really good so far about letting people know where they are.
Their Twitter account says Downtown. Do they park in Downtown? Not yet, but they are hoping spending to spend some time in front of LA Live after concerts and the clubs let out.
But otherwise they’re always on Hollywood & Highland? So far, yes. But it’s not guaranteed. In fact, tomorrow night they are going to be on Santa Monica Blvd near Wilcox in front of Dragonfly. In other words… make sure you check their twitter before heading over.
Ok. Let’s talk food. Can I see the menu? Yup. Here it is…
Can I get a combo with chicken and lamb? Yup. They’ll do a combo for $2 more.
$10 for chicken and lamb over rice!?! Isn’t that really freaking expensive? Yes. Yes it is. (Although they claim to give you more meat if you get the combo.)
Isn’t it only $5 or $6 in New York? Yeah, it’s usually around $6
So is it the same as what you get in New York? They don’t want people to compare them, but it’s pretty clear they’ve patterned most of what they do off of the famous cart on 53rd & 6th, so if you’ve ever been to that cart this will seem slightly familiar. The circular aluminum container, and how it’s served are practically identical. Rice, chopped up meat, salad, white sauce, hot sauce and a few slices of pita.
Can I see it? Sure… here it is.
Whoa. That really does look the same. Doesn’t it?
Although on 53rd & 6th they use iceberg lettuce and tomato, not arugula right? Yup. You are really observant!
Is the chicken white meat or dark meat? It’s white meat (this is L.A. after all!) so it’s going to be a bit more dry than what you get in NYC.
Big chunks or chopped up fine? It goes on the grill whole, and then gets chopped up as finely as the chicken from 53rd & 6th.
Does it have a lot of spices? They marinate it to try and help keep it more moist, but just like 53rd & 6th they keep the flavor on the chicken relatively simple and let the gyro spices and sauces do most of the talking.
So there’s gyro meat? Yup. They use the same standard gyro cone you see at most Greek places and New York street carts.
Do they let it get all crispy on the spit before cutting it off? Unfortunately it’s illegal to have a gyro spit on the street in L.A. so they cut the meat off raw and cook it up on the flat top.
That’s terrible! It’s actually more common then you think in NYC, but you’re right. It is gross to watch, and it takes longer to get the gyro crispy and nicely browned on the flat top. But the flavor is the same.
So is the gyro nice and crispy? Not really. But if you like that style of street meat, you probably don’t like 53rd & 6th that much. Their gyro is practically like ground beef. Still tastes great though, and I’m sure the cart will work on getting the cooking of the meats more consistent over time.
Is it halal? Yes. Their chicken and gyro are halal
What about the rice? The rice is actually one of my favorite parts about the cart on 53rd & 6th, and these guys get pretty damn close. It has that dry consistency that good street meat basmati rice has, and they soak it in paprika, turmeric and food coloring to get that signature orange color. Warning, though, if you’re into the plumper, water logged rice that you find at some NYC carts you might not be down with this.
Wait, isn’t the rice from 53rd & 6th yellow and made with saffron? No and no. I promise you that the famous cart on 53rd & 6th has bright orange basmati rice, just like this rice. And they definitely don’t use saffron to make it that color. The color comes from turmeric and possibly paprika or food coloring. If you got yellow rice, you were possibly at the imposter cart on the opposite corner (although they’ve now changed their rice to be bright orange basmati as well) or a different cart altogether. Don’t believe me? Here’s photographic proof.
Ok… now we’re getting to the really important stuff. What about the white sauce? You know… not bad at all. The dirty little secret about most white sauce in NYC is that it’s mayo based, and Chicken and Rice follow that popular model. Occasionally you’ll find a cart in New York with a yogurt based tzatziki type white sauce, but those have become few and far between over the past few decades as the Greeks gradually turned over most of the street meat business to the Egyptians. You may be able to find a few subtle differences between 53rd and 6′s white sauce and Chicken and Rice L.A., but overall it hits all the right notes.
What about the red sauce? The red sauce is a different story. 53rd & 6th is known for their melt your face off hot sauce, and Chicken and Rice L.A.’s version doesn’t come anywhere close. I think they’ve been gradually making it hotter and hotter as the days go on to gauge how much heat L.A. can take, but it’s still pretty tame. It has good flavor, and a little bit of heat. Not a bad start, but hot sauce aficionados and scoville stalkers will likely be disappointed.
Were you sober? Yes, so obviously take that into account.
What about the rest of the menu? They supposedly are planning to offer kati rolls, tacos, burgers and gyro sandwiches, and there were falafel balls that looked like they’d been sitting out for awhile. But if I were them I’d stick to perfecting the basics. Better to do one thing perfectly, and bang it out for lines of fans, than 4 things that are just ok and end up slowing down the serving process. Then again burgers cooked on the same griddle as street meat do turn out pretty great.
Speaking of service, how fast is it? They’ve only been open two weeks and the crowds have been sporadic so they haven’t quite perfected their serving technique. It is not nearly as fast as 53rd & 6th (those carts work like well oiled machines) but I’m guessing they’ll get better.
Are the lines as long as that first night? I think it depends on when you go. At 11pm last night there was no line, but I hear that there are small lines when they first open at 8pm and when the clubs let out late at night. And obviously they’re busier on the weekend then during the week, but nothing like what you saw that first night.
Do they plan on opening more carts? Not here in L.A. but they do plan on expanding to Orange County, San Francisco and Vegas, and are even working on a Maggi Noodle Cart- which they hope to launch in the next few months.
So, what’s the overall verdict? I had pretty low expectations (which always helps) but overall I was pretty impressed with how close these guys come to replicating what they do on 53rd & 6th in Midtown Manhattan. The meat still isn’t cooked perfectly, and all the little flavor differences do add up. But overall it’s pretty damn good and will likely get better as they iron out the kinks… you know… provided they don’t get caught up in expanding their menu or operation. All in all I couldn’t have asked for a better 4 year birthday present.
Now if we could just get 9 more to open, we can have a Street Meat Palooza: L.A.!
Got any other questions? Feel free to put them in the comments…
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