The Halal Guys is joining the vibrant food hub that is Halsey Street. I remember my experiences visiting The Halal Guys’ original food truck very fondly: the relentless line that followed a modest little food cart, situated on the corner of a bustling Manhattan street, with wonderful aromas of beef and chicken filling the air and reminding me that the wait would be worth it. And it was; priced very reasonably compared to surrounding eateries and restaurants in Manhattan, and quantities of food that would fulfill even the most demanding of appetites, the food cart attracted local workers, residents, and even tourists who wanted a taste of the food cart that was becoming a symbol of New York City itself. Most importantly, it was the unique and savory taste that kept me and many others coming back. There are very few sources of food in New York City that provide such value.
Many years later, after opening restaurants in New York, California, and abroad, the Halal Guys have opened a new location in Newark. Located next to Prudential Headquarters, it is only a couple of blocks away from Rutgers University, with NJIT a couple of blocks further away. As NJIT students, we may not have many eateries, but we love the options we have.
Many NJIT students are fans of the “Sahara Grill” food truck, due to its location, prices, and most of all, its great taste. The Sahara Grill has the most to lose from Halal Guys opening down the street, with both establishments serving the classic chicken and gyro staples. In spite of this, I believe Sahara Grill has hardly any cause for concern.
I was invited to a “soft opening” of The Halal Guys on Halsey Street a week prior to the grand opening, and immediately the first issue I couldn’t help but notice was the deceptively long walk from the NJIT campus to the Halal Guys location at 72 Halsey Street. This may not be a great food option for those looking to grab a quick lunch in between classes as it took a group of three of us about 11 minutes to arrive at Halal Guys by foot.
Upon entering the restaurant, we immediately noticed the amount of workers behind the counter, who were all excited to see us as we customized our platters, similar to the “create your own” ordering systems found at Chipotle and Subway.
I ordered a regular chicken and gyro platter, which is priced at $8.79. A small sized platter is priced at $7.79, while sandwiches are priced at $6.79. A 10% discount is available to students.
Let me preface the actual food review by saying that many of us at the Vector office were awaiting the opening of Halal Guys ever since we heard they were opening a store on Halsey Street back in the Summer of 2016. As a result, our expectations were high, probably a bit too high.
I must have forgotten Halal Guys’ humble roots as a food cart, and not a full-fledged restaurant even though they now had a storefront. Despite realizing this after taking my first bite, I was still not able to recreate my experiences at Halal Guys food carts in the past. The quantity of beef and chicken was small, with lettuce and tomatoes taking up a significant portion of valuable real estate on the unusually-small platter container.
While the beef was cooked well and had a more flavorful taste than meat from Sahara, it quickly disappeared after several bites. The chicken complimented the beef nicely and the rice provided an adequate filler, but both fell behind in the comparison to Sahara which I had eaten two days prior.
The white sauce was not how I remembered it. Normally after tasting their world-famous white sauce I’m left wondering what magical ingredients came together to make it. This time the flavor mostly consisted of yogurt, and the creamy flavor and texture was lost somewhere in the move across the Hudson.
Now moving onto the prices, they are a bit high for students, especially compared to the relatively small quantity of food you receive. The reason why the original food cart worked so well was because of the value of the food, and decreasing overall quantity while increasing prices goes against that mantra.
I realize that having a storefront versus a food cart introduces increased overhead costs, but neighboring competitors such as Qdoba and Blaza Pizza offer items similar in cost that are arguably more creative and filling.
Bottom line, in order to draw students from NJIT regularly, I would recommend tweaking the prices and offering more than the 10% student discount. All in all, we welcome The Halal Guys’ new location on Halsey Street, and hope that it can adjust the experience to capture the allure that made original Halal Guys food cart so famous.