houstoneatz's top 25 halal restaurants
Burger Bodega creator houstoneatz ranks Houston’s 25 best halal restaurants
Editor’s note: When Abbas Dhanani, the chef-owner of Burger Bodega and the man behind the popular houstoneatz social media accounts, asked to share his list of Houston’s top 25 halal restaurants with CultureMap readers, we said yes. Dhanani has spent the past few months eating at Halal restaurants across the city to compile this list, which covers various parts of Houston, includes both restaurants and food trucks, and goes far beyond the typical Mediterranean and Indo/Pak cuisines. Take it away, Abbas.
Muslims I know from around the nation tell me that Houston has the best and most vast selection of Halal food that they can get anywhere in the States — by a long shot. The variety of Halal food in Houston is far greater than that of Mediterranean or Pakistani food, although you will still see a lot of those below.
Before diving in to the list, let’s clarify a couple of points. First, Halal food is not just NY-style cart food, and it's not a cuisine. Rather, it's a way that meat is cut and prepared so that it is permitted or 'Halal' for Muslims to eat.
I also want to make one thing clear before moving forward. Although I am a devout Muslim, I don't follow a strict Halal diet. I am, however, by way of the Muslim community and my wife, who does follow a strict Halal diet, a friend and student of the Halal food scene. Regardless of my own practices, when I started Burger Bodega, I wanted to ensure I could serve my community and everyone else, so we use Halal meat for our burgers. You won't read about Burger Bodega below, because it's not up to me to decide if it belongs on a list of the best Halal restaurants.
To those who may not be familiar, as well as those who practice, or those who may drop in to tell me my list sucks by listing all the restaurants I missed in the comments, I hope that this list can provide some insight into the Halal world of Houston.
The Afghan Village
My favorite Pakistani dish may also define Pakistani cuisine, Karahi Chicken (or Karahi Goat), so naturally, I am always searching for the best Karahi. Although it's Pakistani, Afghanistan also adopted Karahi at some point in their history. During my research into Houston’s Halal restaurants, I was surprised that one of the best Karahis I found was not from a Pakistani restaurant but an Afghani restaurant. Alongside their amazing Karahi, which is named after the dish it's cooked in (kind of like a wok), they also serve some great Afghani favorites.
- Chicken Karahi
- Goat Karahi
- Kabuli Pulao
Aga’s Restaurant and Catering
This list isn’t ranked, but Aga's would be number one if it were. Muslims I know consider Aga's to be the best Pakistani restaurant not just in Houston, but in the nation, and for good reason. Any Pakistani that travels to Houston has almost certainly been to Aga’s.
They have the largest menu I've ever seen from any Indo/Pak restaurant, and the consistency of every dish, from karahis to biryanis to chaat, is impeccable. The massive restaurant has the capacity to serve 800 or more patrons on its busiest nights, and the way they deliver an efficient yet personal customer service experience to each person dining there is truly a sight unseen anywhere else.
Literally everything at Aga’s is good. My favorite dishes change very often, but here are some that come to mind at this very moment:
- Goat Chops
- Chicken Shinwari Karahi
- Butter Chicken Handi
- White Kabab Karahi
Al Aseel Grill & Cafe
Palestinian chicken is the key here. From Musakhan to grilled chicken to nationally recognized fried chicken, Al Aseel specializes in chicken, and they do it right. They also do a great mansaf (lamb cooked with yogurt and served over rice) if you're not in the mood for chicken.
- Grilled Chicken
- Fried Chicken
Al Hawi Grill
Another late-night food truck specializing in charcoal cooking. What makes Al Hawi unique is that they serve their grilled meats on metal skewers. You eat it right off the skewer as if you're at a carnival. The beef with fat is especially exquisite, with chunks of beef and pieces of fat between each chunk. I also enjoy that same offering in a wrap.
- Beef with Fat Skewer
- Beef Tikka Wrap
Al Shami Mediterranean Grill
A list of Halal restaurants is not complete without mentioning my favorite shawarma. Al Shami sets themselves apart with their technique involving charcoal and shrak bread. If I were to travel to the Middle East and order shawarma, this is how it should taste.
- Chicken Shawarma Sandwich with Spicy Sauce
Ashar's specializes in a Pakistani dish called nihari, a slow-cooked beef stew. Aside from their daily a la carte Nihari menu, they also hold a 'Nihari Night' every Wednesday, with a buffet of five different types of Nihari for one fixed price (currently $13.99).
- Beef Nihari
Bismillah Restaurant & Café
Bismillah is one of the original restaurants Halal eaters turn to when they want something aside from the usual Pakistani and Mediterranean food. Inam Moghul opened Bismillah Café adjacent to his father's restaurant, Bismillah Restaurant. In 2019, Moghul combined the two and opened Bismillah Restaurant & Café.
One of the most popular dishes at Bismillah Restaurant is the Ten Chicken Sandwich, which features a fried chicken breast dipped in their Sriracha-based Ten Sauce. This sandwich is something many Halal eaters hold dear to their hearts both because of the taste and out of nostalgia for the dish’s roots.
Back in the early 2000s, finding a Halal restaurant that served classic American food like sandwiches and burgers was unheard of. Ten Café was one of the first to do it at the time and they featured the Ten Chicken Sandwich. Bismillah inherited this sandwich and let the legacy of Ten Café live on after its closure.
- Ten Chicken Sandwich
- Goat or Chicken Biryani
- Papdi Chaat
In Lebanon, there is a breakfast and lunch dish that closely resembles pizza called Manakish. Among my friends, Cedars is the unanimous favorite for Manakish. Each Manakish is freshly prepared and cooked in the bakery’s brick oven.
- Sojok Manakish
- Meat and Cheese Manakish
- Cheese Zaatar Manakish
Asim Dah opened L&H Café several years ago in Kingwood, where he sold his signature Bunqua Burger — topped with grilled jalapenos, fried onions, pepperjack cheese, cayenne pepper sauce, and garlic sauce. He decided to close up shop to start Crypto Burger, a food truck in Sugar Land. Moving to Sugar Land allowed a major concentration of Halal eaters to enjoy the Bunqua Burger along with several others without driving to Kingwood
- Bunqua Burger
- Bull Run Burger
Do Darya Kabab House
Within Pakistani cuisine, there is also Pakistani BBQ, and Do Darya has recruited some high-quality kitchen talent to ensure they serve it at an elite level. The cook they hired is known as a Pakistani BBQ maestro within the grapevine. He sets himself apart using fresh, never packaged masalas and precise grilling techniques.
- Chicken Tikka
- Anything grilled
Gourmandize Mediterranean Grill
This Galleria-area food truck serves authentic Tunisian flavors. What caught my attention was the grilled chicken wings on charcoal served over rice. He also makes his merguez, a spicy beef/lamb sausage popular in Tunisia, in-house for the Merguez Wrap.
- Grilled Chicken Wings over Rice
- Merguez Wrap
In many areas of the country, especially the East Coast, when people say Halal food, they refer to cart-style food like Halal Guys that serve a rice platter topped with chicken, lamb, red sauce, and white sauce. This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Gyro Hut, my favorite Halal platter-style joint in the city.
- Combo Rice Platter (Chicken and Lamb Over Rice). No salad. Extra white Sauce. Extra fire Sauce
Yemeni food, in its purest form, was unavailable in Houston until Hadramout introduced it in 2020 during the early days of the Covid pandemic. I have not been able to get enough of it since. Hadramout gets its name from the city in Yemen where Mandi came from, which they primarily focus on. Mandi consist of meat — usually chicken, lamb, goat, or fish — usually served on a bed of rice eaten communally. Since the opening of Hadramout, a member of their staff left and opened a nearly identical concept called Sheba.
- Lamb/Chicken Mandi
- Lamb Haneeth
- Grilled Chicken
Chef Kaiser Lashkari is one of the city's most prominent chefs. He's done a great job of introducing the masses in Houston to Pakistani food and flavors. More recently, he's fused Pakistani flavors into American classics like his masala fried chicken.
- Chicken Hara Masala
- Masala Fried Chicken
Kabab Shack is like the Afghani version of the Luby’s LuAnn Platter. You choose your grilled meats over rice and two sides. If you are familiar with the Halal scene in DFW, you know about Kebabs To-Go. I won't go into the details, but let's say this place has some ties there, which is why you will see some major similarities in the concepts and the taste of the food.
- Chicken Kabab, Beef Koobideh, Ribeye Kabab on Brown Rice
- Sides: Eggplant, Potatoes, Lentils
Located inside Imperial Pho in Katy (they also have halal pho), Ly's Kitchen offers your typical Chinese takeout menu and has joined forces with former Halal steak food truck The Steak Spot. Along with Ly's classic Chinese takeout dishes, both concepts have collaborated on a steak fried rice dish that combines the best of both worlds.
- Kung Pao Chicken
- Steak Fried Rice
Mad Dogs started as a hot dog pop-up and quickly shifted to a full-time hot dog food truck. Their signature hot dog, the “Mad Dog,” was inspired by well-known Houston hot dog stand Yoyo’s Hot Dog. Along with their signature hot dog, they have a variety of hot dogs to choose from, like the Elote Dog or the Chili Cheese Dog.
- Mad Dog
- Elote Dog
Mirchi Peri Peri
Nando's, a South African/Portuguese chain specializing in flame-grilled chicken, revolutionized this cuisine on a global scale, and they recently opened in Houston. Unfortunately for Halal eaters, Nando’s doesn’t serve Halal chicken. Fortunately for Halal eaters, they aren't missing out on much, because Mirchi Peri Peri provides a more than sufficient substitute. Mirchi changed the game recently with its weekend all-you-can-eat Peri Peri experience.
- Half Chicken with Rice
Located in the Galleria, Musaafer offers a truly unique experience as far as Indian food and atmosphere go. With chef Mayank Istwal at the helm, they take an avant-garde approach to Indian cooking. In a city with plenty of run-of-the-mill Indian restaurants, Musaafer offers a more upscale experience.
- Chef’s Tasting Menu
Pinkerton's is where the worlds of Texas barbecue and Halal meet. Lucky for Halal eaters, Pinkerton's is very accommodating when you let them know you eat Halal only. They cook the Halal beef separately and change their gloves and knives when cutting the beef to ensure there is no cross-contamination.
- Beef Rib
Ali Qureshi and his father Fayyaz come from a background of deli shops from Blimpie to, more recently, Murphy's Deli. Fayyaz, or “Baba Q,” even has his original Blimpie uniform hanging on the wall. Ali took the operational know-how of running Murphy's and spun it into a completely new concept of his own.
Although the deli concept is very common throughout the country, for Halal eaters even the simplest deli sandwich was more commonly enjoyed at home. Q’s capitalized on the lack of Halal delis and did it right, providing the community with a style of restaurant it had never experienced before.
- Q’s Best
- Cali Club
Reza Persian Grill
Persian food in Houston is typically meat-heavy and its quality depends on how well the meat is cooked and seasoned. In my experience, Reza’s meats have been the most consistently juicy and flavorful.
- Chicken Thighs
- Beef Koobideh
Stanton’s City Bites
During my time as a student at the University of Houston, I would frequent Stanton's City Bites before my long commute home. My go-to was always the Spicy Chipotle, no bacon. One day, the owner approached me and asked if I would remove the bacon because I was Muslim. Upon learning I was a Muslim, he mentioned that all the meat aside from the bacon is Halal.
In 2013, when Halal burgers were scarce, this was a big deal. I told everyone I knew whether or not I made a difference. Years later, Stanton's is still one of the most popular spots in Houston for a Halal burger. Just be sure to mention Halal when ordering, so they cook on a separate surface from the bacon.
- Spicy Chipotle, no bacon
The few cuts of Halal meat this steakhouse offers are enough for any Halal eater on a fancy night out. I would confirm with your waiter what Halal offerings are available that day, but they generally feature a wagyu filet, wagyu New York strip, and lamb chops.
- Wagyu Filet Mignon
- Wagyu NY Strip
- Corn Crème Brulé
Yummy’s Hot Chicken
Yummy's went from a Mediterranean Food Truck with hot chicken on their menu to focusing exclusively on hot chicken. They set themselves apart from the array of Halal hot chicken spots by using Syrian spices and offering a side of curry sauce.
- Syrian Hot Chicken Sandwich