The Halal Guys, the NYC food cart institution, is breaking into Philadelphia. The franchise has three locations in the area: a Chinatown storefront on 10th and Race Streets, a Northeast Philadelphia location on 25th and Grant Avenue, and an outpost in King of Prussia.
Thay Eng, manager for the Chinatown location confirms, that the University City location at 39th and Chestnut (inside Hamilton Court) is on–track for a mid–to–late August grand opening (hopefully in time for NSO).
34th Street Magazine tried the restaurant’s signature dishes in advance of their on–campus opening, and they did not disappoint.
Four bright yellow bags sat on the table, three filled with falafel/beef gyro/chicken combos, and one filled with rolled pita, baba ganoush, and hummus. Strewn about were the Halal Guys’ famous pouches of white sauce and red sauce, the latter of which elicited a near–universal “holy shit” reactions even from people not new to the realm of spicy foods.
When we pulled the combos out of the big, they looked like standard–issue halal: tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, pita, beef gyro, chicken, falafel, on top of a bright orange rice blend that the helpful delivery team tells us uses a "secret spice blend."
We brush the special sauce on top and ponder the idea of “secret recipes” and whether the white sauce most resembles ranch, tzatziki, or aioli. Even without the halal combo, though, the white sauce is undeniably good; I put it on a plain piece of rolled pita when I thought no one was looking.
The tender chicken and gyro brought about one reaction above all others: “they’re not greasy!” Even the falafel feels light, with a green interior reminiscent of the Goldie blend. Combos are available, or single–protein dishes with just gyro, chicken, or falafel.
The mix of crispy, near–tasteless lettuce (this is one of the rare cases in which tasteless is a good thing) and fresh tomatoes with the rice, meat, sauce, and pita makes for a rich textural contrast and prevents us from feeling like we're eating a meat platter. The sauce, we learn, ties it all together: without it, the halal is good but nothing special.
And then there were the sides. Little cups filled with light hummus, hot pepper sprinkled on the top, and olive oil paired spectacularly with just the tiniest bit of hot sauce. Complete with rolled pita bread in individual tinfoil wraps—excellent for eating on the go, or at work the next day like I did.
And the baba ganoush, that oft–overlooked eggplant dip, was even better, light and unassuming–looking but flavorful with a sort of meaty texture that shouldn’t work, but does. While we didn't get to try the baklava or the fries, we trust they're just as fresh–tasting and addictive as the other sides.
Look out for the scheduled grand opening of the new Halal Guys location before the start of next semester.
Address: 101 S 39th St, Philadelphia, PA 19104 (Hamilton Court)