Last weekend I got lost in the chaos of New York City. While on a short trip with friends, I took in the sights and sounds of a city that has rebounded from the woes of the pandemic. The best part of that bustling city is of course the food. From the gourmet, five-star restaurants on the Upper East side to the hole-in-the wall delights in Queens, it’s pretty hard to eat bad food there.
Because NYC has one of the highest concentrations of Muslims in the country, they have some of the best options for halal food. Here are three places I visited and enjoyed. I hope you get out there and taste test them too!
Usually after a long day of shopping or museum hopping, I stop for a quick bite to eat at a food truck. I need something fast and cheap, so I usually order a chicken shawarma with spicy red and white sauce. There’s no particular shawarma truck that I go to. They’re all generically named “Halal Food,” but it’s okay because the menus pretty much contain all the same offerings: falafel, gyro, shawarma. (Fun Fact: did you know the famous chain, Halal Guys, got their start as a food truck in NYC? Now, they have 29 franchise shops throughout the U.S!)
However, during this last trip I got to experience shawarma on a whole new level. A quick trip to the East Village, brought me to Au Za'atar, a Lebanese restaurant known for its build-your-own shawarma menu options. With parties of at least five, they bring the ENTIRE mini rotisserie (with heating lamp) to your table with all the fixings.
My group of seven friends ordered the lamb shank, brought on a platter with loads of french fries, warm pita bread, and tons of sauces for us to make individualized shawarma. We also enjoyed fancy mocktails including frozen watermelon juice and frozen strawberry vimto. Lastly, I was super impressed by the cute, outdoor Covid seating, set up with surround sound to play all the best Arabic jams. I HIGHLY recommend this place!
On the edge of Williamsburg, you’ll find Qahwah House, a Yemeni-owned coffee shop. This cafe is one of two that began in Dearborn, Michigan, and is best known for it’s Yemeni Lattes and Adeni Chais. My favorite offerings were the pastries. I tried the coconut basbusa, and sabaya drizzled with honey. What’s more dazzling is the bubbly social scene. At night, you’ll see tons of college age and young professionals mingling and meeting for the first time. It reminded me of a grown-up version of MSA social hours (and all the shenanigans that come with that territory!)
Last, but not least is Yemen Cafe & Restaurant. I absolutely loved this place. With a group of nine, the owners were so kind as to accommodate us by pushing three tables together. One of my friends ordered for us and soon we were passing around plates of salad, huge rounds of fresh, warm, bread and soup. For the main course, we ate chicken and lamb on huge beds of rice. It was served family style, and we each took turns serving each other. Overall, the food was delicious and the staff was so generous. I highly recommend it!