Asked + Answered: Everything You Wanted to Know About the Halal Guys’ New Costa Mesa Storefront

At the beginning of last year something magical happened. A wish, that New York transplants like myself have been making to the stars for years, finally came true.  L.A. got its own street meat cart, serving chicken and “lamb” over rice with white sauce and hot sauce.  The New York street staple known as “halal” was finally available on the west coast.  And it was pretty good.  But that was just a facsimile. A drill, if you will.  This, my friends, is the real deal.  The “Famous” Halal Guys who have the cart in Midtown Manhattan (on 53rd Street & 6th Avenue) with the super long lines, have started opening brick and mortar franchises. And one of them is opening in Costa Mesa on October 2nd.  Yesterday I drove 50 minutes down the 405 to get a sneak peak at the new location, and will now answer every question you have about what I saw and ate.

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So first things first.  What’s the place called?   The Halal Guys

And this is the same exact same “Famous Halal Guys” with the long lines in Midtown on 53rd & 6th?  Didn’t you read the intro?  (If you don’t know who the Halal Guys are, it might be worth reading this. If you want to know about the history of this food in L.A., you’ll want to read this.)

But how did this happen?  Aren’t they just a street meat cart?  How are they now opening brick and mortars all the way across the country?  Last year Fransmart, the company behind Five Guys and Qdoba’s expansion, cut a deal with the Halal Guys to take them international.   The New York Times wrote all about it. 

So is this the first location?  Nope.  Two brick and mortars have already opened in New York City.  And a Chicago location opened last month.

I don’t know.  Doesn’t street meat belong on the street?  Can this stuff be as popular as burgers or burritos?  Good question.  I don’t know.  But I do know this: I wouldn’t drive 50 minutes for a Five Guys burger or anything from Qdoba.  And yesterday I drove 50 minutes for Halal Guys lunch.  I’m super excited to have chicken and lamb over rice with white sauce and hot sauce within striking distance of  my house in Culver City

But isn’t street meat a late night drunk think?  Is it actually good or worth getting excited about?  For some people, it’s that.  But for me, it’s a great fast food lunch.  Imagine eating tacos for lunch every day (or late at night, while drunk), and then moving to a city with no tacos.  If a taco place you liked in L.A. opened a franchise 50 minutes from your new house would you drive for it? Would you get excited about it?  Of course you would.  And I’m sure some people in your new hometown would say “Is it really worth the drive?  It’s just cheap tacos…”  But you wouldn’t be listening because you’d be too busy stuffing your face with that cheap Mexican street meat.

Fair enough.  So, how is the Chicago location doing?  Looks like it’s doing pretty great so far.  And if Instagram followers are any indication, SoCal should be even better.

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So what’s the place like?  Well, it’s in a Costa Mesa strip mall, and feels like any fast food chain.  There’s professional signage, plus photos on the wall of one the original Halal Guys’ carts made to convey some sort of history (even though the photos were probably taken in the past year or two.)

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Did you look for yourself in the photo?  Shit yeah, I did. I’ve eaten at this cart so many times.  The least they could do was immortalize me in a historical photo on the wall! Sadly, I didn’t see myself or anybody I knew personally in the photos, but totally recognized the indifferent faces of all the sad Midtown office workers waiting in line.

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Ok, so let’s talk menu.  What’s the deal?  So the menu is divided into two sections: sandwiches and plates.  I’m guessing there will be people around the country who will order gyro sandwiches (it’s a natural thing to do if you’ve never eaten street meat), and I think you could get that at the original cart in Midtown.  But nobody ever does.  The platter is the way to go, and not just any platter but the classic platter.  Chicken + gyro over rice.

Wait, does that say falafel?  Yep.  Falafel is one of the things they’ve added to the menu that wasn’t originally part of the cart.

Interesting.  What else have they added?  They’ve also added typical Middle Eastern sides, like hummus, baba ghanouj, and tahini, which kind of makes no sense.  You already have white sauce!  Why do you need tahini!?

But don’t a lot of falafel places offer yogurt or tzatziki PLUS tahini as options?  Shut up with your stupid “facts”.

Anything else that’s new?  Yeah.  There are also french fries, plus baklava for dessert.

So what did you order?  I went with the classic platter, of course.

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Wait, are there two sizes?  Good eye!  Yep. There are two sizes (another change from the original cart.)  The regular size, which should be familiar to anybody who has visited the original cart, is $8.95.  But they also have a small for $7.95.

$9!?!?!  Isn’t that a price hike.  Yup.  The original street meat plate was $5 for a long time, before they officially raised their price to $6. (Update: A commenter has informed us, the price in Midtown is now $7.)  But the brick and mortar has way more overhead.  I’m not too mad about it.  And, what’s that they say?  It’s cheaper than a plane ticket!

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So for somebody who has never had this food before, what’s the chicken like? Is it like shawarma?  Nope.  It’s chopped up chicken, marinated and cooked on a flat top.  In fact, even though these flat tops were larger and inside, the piles of chicken sitting on the griddle were very reminiscent of what you see on the streets of Midtown.  It brought  bit of a tear to my eye.

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And the gyro?  The gyro is just the typical gyro tube you find at any Greek restaurant.  In Midtown they don’t have time to let it fully cook on the spit, so they usually cut it off, chop it up and cook it on the griddle.

Is that where they doing at the storefront?  Well, I’m not entirely sure.  I didn’t see any gyro meat on the griddle, just the chicken. And I saw them cut fully cooked gyro meat off the spit, at one point, which is definitely the best way to do it.  But this was just training, and it might be hard to do that at a high volume… so we’ll see.  Either way, they’re scooping your meat out of metal trays Chipotle style.  How it gets there isn’t as important as whether or not it tastes good and right.  And it does.

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What about the rice?  Oooooooh… the rice.  For fans of street meat like myself, the rice is actually the best part. And they’ve nailed it.  The bright orange color. The dryness (which you totally want because of all the sauce that goes on top.)  It really is perfect.

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Speaking of sauces, how are the sauces?  One of the things Fransmart did when they started working with the Halal Guys was to professionalize all of their sauce production.  The white sauce and hot sauce you get in Costa Mesa is the same exact sauce they’re squirting on the platters on the sidewalk of 53rd street. And they even have sauce packets… which… brace yourself… have ingredient and calorie information.

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Holy shit.  A packet of white sauce is only 50 calories!?  That’s not bad at all.  I was thinking the exact. Same. Thing.

Wait, is that the infamous “secret” recipe for the white sauce?  Yeah, although the important part is still secret.  The first ingredients confirm what we’ve known for a long time… that the sauce is mayonnaise based.  But who knows what the hell “spices” means.  Either way, it’s great.

And the hot sauce?  Also perfect.  And just as deadly as the original.  You’ll want to go easy on the hot sauce.

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Speaking of going easy, that doesn’t look like a lot of white sauce.  In New York, they put on waaaay more.  It’s true, but these guys were still training. I was assured there would be more sauce… but you can also ask for more, or extra sauce packets on the side.  In fact, if you order it to go, they’ll leave the sauce off and only give you packets on the side.

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Anything else on the sauce front?  They also have a sweet and smokey BBQ sauce, which has its fans in NYC.  I’ve never been into it.

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Lettuce, tomato, and pita?  Check. Check. Check.   They also offer you onions, green bell peppers, olives and jalapeños.  I’m sure a lot of customers will enjoy some of those options,  but none of that stuff was on the original so I passed.

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Does that mean you didn’t try any of the new stuff?  Like I said, this was just training.  So they actually didn’t have falafel or french fries or even the baba ganouj, but I did try the hummus on the side.  It was fine, but in the end if I wanted real Middle Eastern food I’d go to a Middle Eastern restaurant.  If I’m going to Halal Guys, I want street meat.

So, overall how did it compare to NYC?  I have to say… it’s pretty much identical. And they’re using the exact same sauces at all locations, so even if you think it’s different than what you ate years ago on that corner of Midtown, it’s not any different now.

But what about the not taking the street meat off the street?!  That’s true.  It’s weird eating this sitting down in a comfortable chair in the air conditioning.  And it’s missing that little hint of cab exhaust on the back end… but if we’re just talking about food, it’s pretty much exactly the same.

So is this the only SoCal location?  Nope.  There’s a Long Beach location in the works for this year, and they’re currently looking for locations in Los Angeles proper.  (Until then, I will definitely be making the drive again.)

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So they’re already open?  NO.  They are not open.  Don’t make the mistake of driving all the way down there until after October 2nd.  That’s their official opening day.

Final question, and apologies in advance for getting gross because it has to be done.   What kind of bathroom issues did you have afterwards?  Actually, none at all!  So, I guess in a way, it’s not exactly the same.

Got any questions we missed?  Feel free to ask them in the comments below or via twitter @midtownlunchLA 

The Halal Guys, 3033 Bristol St. Costa Mesa, CA. 714-850-1080

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