The Halal Guys, known in New York City for their plates of chicken and gyro over rice with white sauce and hot sauce, are set to open their second Southern California location on Jan. 2 in Long Beach. The opening comes three months to the day after opening their first SoCal franchise in Costa Mesa.
"We have a budget to open 10 more stores next year, and 50 over the next 10 years," says Paul Tran, chief operations officer for Nothing LLC, the franchise group bringing the Halal Guys to Southern California.
If Costa Mesa was any indication, expect long lines at the Long Beach location, a reality that's become standard for fans of the Halal Guys. The original cart in Midtown Manhattan became known by attracting huge late-night crowds, a mix of cab drivers and clubgoers. Its popularity led to daytime expansion, spawning a host of imitators that caused the Halal Guys to coin the phrase "We Are Different" (a slogan you'll see all over their T-shirts and signs.) Somebody was once stabbed for trying to cut the line.
So when has been the best time to go? Tran says between lunch and dinner. "There is still a line, but the wait is [shorter]. We're getting faster as we learn to speed up the operation. There is still a lot more room to improve."
Part of the learning process is familiarizing the customers with their options. There are a number of decisions to be made, including if you'd like a platter or pita sandwich, the size of your order and what you'd like for your protein and toppings. The "classic" platter starts with their signature bright orange basmati rice and pieces of dark meat chicken along with beef gyro, which is cut off the cone raw, then chopped and cooked on the flat top next to the chicken. It's a standard move for many of the NYC carts that don't have time to let the gyro cook properly on the spit.
Then comes the lettuce, tomato, and a few triangles of pita bread before the whole thing is topped with a mayo- based white sauce (sorry, tzatziki fans!) and an insanely hot red sauce.
There are new additions to the brick-and-mortar locations unavailable on the cart, such as falafel, hummus, crinkle-cut French fries, and baklava, plus olives, onions, bell peppers and pickled jalapeños as toppings.
In fact, those expecting a taste of classic Middle Eastern, Greek or even Mediterranean flavors might be disappointed. The platters of what's commonly known as "street meat" have roots in Greece, Egypt, and Bangladesh, but at its core, it's a New York City food. And the Halal Guys' version is the dish distilled down to its most basic elements. There is very little seasoning on the chicken, the gyro is not as spice-heavy as shawarma, and the rice is on the plain side.
Whether or not it's worth waiting in line for, that's entirely up to you.
1804 Ximeno Ave., Long Beach, www.thehalalguys.com.