There’s one dish that I truly miss and simply can’t get in Los Angeles. No, it isn’t fancy, pricey or found in some exclusive hidden locale. What is it? It’s the chicken and rice plate from the 53rd and 6th Halal Cart in midtown Manhattan. Yes, some of New York City’s thousands of fine restaurants are being outdone by a food cart that is so famous, its positive online reviews would take up the memory of a 2001 ‘smart’ phone. How could one street vendor serve a block long line of people at midnight, while a trendy restaurant in the Village struggles to fill the house? The secret is: are you ready for this… the food.
The Halal Food Cart’s signature dish is delicious. After your first bite, you’ll immediately understand why you’ll have to endure a fifteen minute long line just to order seconds. Does grilled, finely shredded chicken lying majestically on a bed of perfectly cooked long grain rice sound good to you? How about if I mention the chopped iceberg lettuce, pita bread and two kinds of sauce that each has its own charm? The white sauce is something between ranch dressing and tzatziki, while its counterpart, the red sauce, is VERY hot, so be careful, and sample a bit before pouring the entire portion over your food. Like a crazy chemistry experiment, if you mix them all together, your result is a magical junk food that other vendors just don’t deliver. Try it for yourself and bid your taste buds ‘sayonara’ as they instantly travel from midtown Manhattan to the gates of Heaven. The price of admission: a large dose of patience and a small serving of dollars as chicken and rice will cost you $6. Where else can you experience a true New York phenomena for only $6?
Yes, there are lots of Halal meat carts in New York City, so why is this particular vendor the one that has them lining up until four in the morning? One reason is the chicken itself. Unlike its competitor’s version, It’s shredded very finely and sauteed at the cart. It doesn’t hurt a bit that it’s seasoned well. The true mystery is how the chicken retains its moisture when the same chicken from other vendors appears dried out. While the chicken is spectacular, the rice should not be dismissed as a mere side. Even though it’s a shade of bright orange, the ‘Yellow Rice’ is full of flavor without that cheap Chinese take-out place rice smell. I know you’ve been there before, right?
When my husband and I took our first trip to NYC together, I convinced him that he had to try this fantastic street food. To me, the food was so tasty, I knew it would be able to stand up and defend itself against my husband’s aversion to rice. To help sell my case, I tried to convince him by describing the meal as the inside of a burrito, without the Mexican food flavor. In my excitement, I forgot my own advice, and bought the dish from a shady vendor downtown. I soon paid the price for my infidelity. Instead of a taste of paradise, I received rubbery chicken atop sauce-less, mushy rice. To make matters worse, we both got sick! From that day forward, I never cheated on my Halal vendors again.
Still convinced he’d like it, I asked my husband to give it one more chance and try the ‘good’ chicken and rice from 53rd and 6th. He agreed, but just couldn’t get over the still fresh memory of nausea. I have mixed feelings when my husband doesn’t like the foods I love (and as you may have read, it happens a lot). Sure, there’s the positive side: there’s more for me, but that’s not the point. It’s great sharing something you love with someone you love.
PS: I tried to duplicate chicken and rice using Zankou chicken leftovers (chopped&sauteed) + rice&lettuce + tzatziki + tabasco or tapatio = close, but not the same…