the halal guys....new york comes to san francisco
Single serving week continues as I finally find time to grab some lunch at a place that has become an institution in New York--The Halal Guys. But we are in SF you say! Well, they've come to town, for several months now, and are serving up their famous bowl for locals now.
Originally started as food carts in NYC, they grew in popularity for the Mediterranean chicken and gyro meat on rice, along with a more than generous slathering of "the white sauce." It seemed to become one of those things you had to try if you were ever in NY. Even though people always say, never eat street food when you travel, this was the exception to all those grey, overcooked hotdogs.
Now with their appearance in town, I did decide to wait until "all the excitement" died down before making may way over to their spot on O'Farrell Street to see what all the fuss was about.
Walking in, with all that red and yellow, it does give the feel of a fast food place. The set is like the new hot trend of fast casual. Order here, pick your toppings there, pay at the end, find a table. A scheme I fist remember being done by Subway and then taken to the next level by Chipotle.
Since I'm here I will go all in and get the classic rice bowl along with both proteins and all the toppings, except those jalapenos, which look like the icky pickled can variety. From there you get to sauce it to your own delight at a little bar next to the soda machine, or like a few people I saw, take the whole bottle to your table and down it like a beverage.
It is grilled chicken, gyro meat, seasoned rice, lettuce, tomato, onions, green peppers and tomatoes with a side of steamed pita bread. All for about $9. From there, you have your choice of three different types of sauces.
Barbecue: A dark and thick ruddy colored sauce with small spicy notes and an almost smoky chipotle flavor with just a hint of sweet undercurrents.
Hot Sauce: Well, they aren't kidding. This is super burn your tongue can't taste anything after I need an anti-acid tablet I hate the flavor of regular food hot! A blend of vinegar, red pepper, salt, lemon juice and "spices." I'm guessing maybe some kind of harissa and a couple of other Middle Eastern things, though if you can taste them through any of the heat this was giving off, more power to your palate.
White Sauce: It's like ranch meets mayo meets tartar sauce meets tzatziki. The ingredients evidently are soybean, canola oil, egg yolk, vinegar, water, salt, sugar, black pepper and "natural flavors," whatever that is. Though, that is the makings of mayo but whatever they aren't listing makes it thinner than mayo and closer to the ranch to me. Seems several folks around like it "ALOT!" I saw each of them with their own squeeze bottle putting it on every bite. I'm content with with what you see above.
Honestly, it really is just a Mediterranean version of Chipotle. The gyro meat was nice and peppery, does remind you of a gyro. The chicken was okay, though verged close to the dry side, which would make the white sauce help it. The veggies were nice looking and fresh, adding a tasty little crunch to the mix. The rice, which you can't see underneath is of the orange colored seasoned variety, though, it gets lost under all the sauce and the meat. But I didn't come across any under or overcooked pieces so that is a bonus.
I can't say I understand what all the fuss is about, even with that "white sauce," but as a quick go to salad alternative dish for lunch, it's all right. And considering the neighborhood this place is in, choices for a decent priced lunch that is sort of healthy are limited. Having The Halal Guys offer some sort of white meat chicken and veggies is a good thing. While I can't say I would be making my way over there to specifically eat there, if you are in the hood and want a quick bite, I would recommend giving them a try. As for that sauce everyone seems crazy for, I'll just leave that up to personal taste. For me, a little went a long way. For others, I'm surprised I didn't see anyone tried to walk out with a bottle. Though I'm sure it has happened since they've been open.
"Hey! Is that a bottle of white sauce in your pocket or are you just happy to see me!"