On a Friday afternoon before closing for Friday prayers, Saad’s Halal Restaurant is packed with hungry customers. Located at 45th and Walnut streets, Saad’s Halal Restaurant is a little far from Penn’s central campus, but the food is certainly worth the longer walk.
Saad’s Halal Restaurant has been operating in the same location since 1996, with a customer base that consists of locals and tourists. An hour before closing, a line had formed inside the restaurant, which was dominated by regulars who “love the food” and “cannot get enough.” The restaurant has both a vegetarian and non–vegetarian menu, so I decide to try an item from each.
While it takes around 20 minutes to receive the food, the restaurant's abundant decorations make the wait feel short—I take the opportunity to admire the restaurant's look, with its beautiful tiled ceiling and framed photos of critics’ reviews and its employees. The restaurant’s atmosphere is embracing and inviting, with traditional religious music providing the backdrop to the cheerful chatter of its customers. While the majority of customers grab their meals and leave, a few groups decide to sit down and eat, an opportunity made possible by Saad's Halal Restaurant's transition from a food truck to a restaurant.
The kitchen was right in the dining area, so I could smell my delicious lunch as it was being prepared. I begin with the chicken shish tawook Maroosh way sandwich, which is one of the restaurant’s signature meals and includes a unique take on a traditional halal dish.
“It’s like a chicken gyro, but it’s on a hoagie roll. There’s grilled chicken, sautéed onions, garlic sauce, tomatoes, parsley, and pickles. [This sandwich] is supposed to be wrapped in pita but the hoagie roll is my invention,” Saad Alrayes, the owner of the restaurant, says.
The Maroosh way sandwich is generous in its portion size and certainly enough for one person. Full of chicken on the inside, the sandwich is filled to the brim with tomatoes, pickles, and other greens that look as though they were freshly picked from a garden. The hoagie roll is a great addition, providing a crisp texture that complements its juicy contents.
From the vegetarian menu, I order the classic falafel, which is made from ground chickpeas and seasoned with parsley, onions, garlic, coriander, and cumin. After being molded into a sphere, the falafel is deep–fried until it's golden brown. Finally, the falafel is wrapped in soft pita bread—a mouthwatering sight indeed. Each bite of the falafel is a crunchy delight, and its portion doesn't disappoint, either.
Besides the food, Alrayes himself has created a friendly atmosphere where the customers all feel welcome, no matter if it's their first or thousandth time there. The restaurant is a breath of fresh air from the recognizable restaurant chains around University City, with little details that make it stand out like the “no cellular phone” signs throughout the restaurant, which should become a more enforced rule at other places, too. Instead, customers are talking among themselves as well as conversing with Alrayes, who takes the orders.
Alrayes treats each customer with kindness, asking how they've been and what's been happening in their lives. Alrayes' genuine interactions have fostered friendships—I observed as he reconnected with a customer who had not been back since the COVID–19 pandemic began. The customer was smiling and laughing that Alrayes remembered her, which shows that Alrayes really cares about his customers more than just their monetary value to his business. Not only is the food great here, but so is the company.
Saad’s Halal Restaurant is open every day except for Sunday, although its is closed throughout Ramadan (April 1—May 1). It's the perfect place to celebrate the conclusion of finals while surrounded by close friends and excellent food.
It might take a student 10 to 15 minutes to walk from off campus to get to Saad’s Halal Restaurant, but there's a reward: a fresh meal waiting for you once you reach your destination.
Location: 4500 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19139–4587
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, closed on Sundays