Houston is only days away from the arrival of the city's first location of The Halal Guys, and diners are buzzing about the opportunity to get their first taste of the New York-based sensation. Over 1,600 people have RSVPed on Facebook for the restaurant's grand opening on Saturday, and a contest to attend an invite-only preview dinner has generated hundreds of comments, likes and shares.
For those who have yet to travel to New York City to sample the restaurant's cuisine, the format is simple. Diners order Chipotle-style. Start by choosing either a sandwich wrapped in pita or a rice platter. Select falafel, gyro meat, chicken, or a combination of meat and chicken. Finally, choose whether or not to add veggies, add sides like hummus or french fries, and choose a sauce.
Prices are reasonable: $6.29 for a sandwich, $7.29 for a small platter, and $8.29 for a regular.
True to its history as both a Starbucks and a Snap Kitchen, Halal Guys doesn't have much seating beyond a short counter, a few tables, and a small patio, which means most ordering will be to-go. The restaurant has a bright red and yellow color scheme that's reminiscent of a certain other global icon.
On Friday, local franchisee Masroor Fatany invited a select group of media members to preview the restaurant's offerings. I opted for a rice platter with both chicken and gyro meat topped with a healthy squirt of white sauce and a judicious dab or spicy sauce. The chicken and gyro meat compare favorably to other Middle Eastern restaurants, but that's not what has turned Halal Guys into a phenomenon.
Rather, the white sauce sets Halal Guys apart from its competition; the tangy, yogurt-based sauces tastes like a lighter version of tzatziki. While Texans are rightfully skeptical of anything New Yorkers consider "spicy," the companion hot sauce packs legitimate heat that blends a Tabassco-style vinegar base with a heavy chili punch. Stirring some into the container will give the whole meal a serious kick.
A consensus from other media members at the tasting is that the meal compares favorable to the New York original. Blogger Zain Mohammed ranks Halal Guys ahead of Jones Fried Chicken, a locally-owned restaurant that's attempted to replicate the white sauce.
While it's hard to use such a meal to predict what the dining experience will be like when the line is out the door, the good news is that the Houston version of Halal Guys seems poised for success. Fatany certainly thinks so. He has plans to open a dozen restaurants across the Houston-area and has plans to bring the concept to San Antonio in 2017.
Expect to hear about new locations in March or April. For now, get ready for a major line on Saturday.