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"The Cart" Review

"The Cart" on 53nd and 6th Avenue is one of the best NY dining experiences I've ever had*. They serve a choice of meat (chicken, gyro, or both) over rice and salad. You chose from three sauces (hot, white, BBQ) and you get some warm pita.

1. The line was 30 minutes long at 8:30 PM
2. Order "combo meat with white and hot sauce"
3. Forget the BBQ sauce
4. Don't be alarmed at the amount of white sauce they put on. It looks like a lot, but once you mix it in, it's perfect.
5. If you pay for water and then tip the main guy as you pay, one of his helpers will run over to the water stand (a few yards away) and pick up your bottle at the (separate) drink cart.

(*BTW, like many chowhounders I've have had DiFara's pizza, I have eaten at Aureole, Shake Shack, Burger Joint, Nobu, Patsy's Harlem, Dounut Plant, R.U.B., etc. This is in the same league of greatness.)

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  1. what is in that white sauce???

    4 Replies
    1. re: shen

      Is it the white sauce that makes it so great? The only time I went, I said "no sauce" and the guy, in disbelief, asked me twice to confirm. Whoops.

      1. re: shen

        It tasted kind of like yogurt/cucumber to me. Very cooling and delicious on the meat and rice. Didn't try the red sauce but absolutely recommend the white.

        1. re: efdee

          Gotta get both sauces. They work together.

          1. re: efdee

            i assumed it would be some kind of tzatziki spinoff, but personally i thought it tasted a bit too rich and mayonnaisey to be a yogurt sauce. i also didn't detect any cucumber, visually or by taste. no matter, b/c it is ohhhhhhhh so good. drat, now i want some...

            and yes, jane, the sauce is a must. hehe did he really ask you twice to confirm? that's cute :-)

        2. How does it compare to Tony Dragonas cart on Madison and 62nd?

          1 Reply
          1. re: guttergourmet

            I tried Dragonas' cart after reading about it and found his chicken and rice to be pretty bland, though the portions are very generous.

          2. I'm looking forward to "the cart" this weekend; I hope it's out late on weekend nights!

            1 Reply
            1. re: Hungry Celeste

              it's supposed to be open until 4/5am on all days. i've been there in the freezing cold and the sweltering heat. they're always there.

            2. Is this the halal cart across from the Hilton?

              1 Reply
              1. re: Mazzer

                Yes, just south of the Hilton, on the SW corner of 53rd and 6th.

              2. we had an awesome experience driving by there a couple weekends ago. it was late on a saturday night, and the line was half a block long. my parents marvelled at the length of the line, and as we oogled the line, stuck in traffic, an elderly indian woman poked her head out of a parked car and (unsolicitedly) exclaimed "it's very very delicious!" needless to say, we all can't wait to go.

                1. This cart has a website devoted to it, and has been written up many, many times, and on many blogs. Here is a Wikipedia reference, which also has the website. Please know, it opens up late in the afternoon (not exactly sure the hour), but there is another cart in the location earlier in the day. This 'poser' is not the original chicken and rice. Check out:

                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicken_...

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Jesdamala

                    hmmm. should've read the wikipedia link before i went traipsing out there tonight.

                    6:43 pm. no line. got a combination plate with chicken, gyro meat, rice, white sauce, red sauce, salad topped with more white sauce, and some bread. $5

                    the sauce was mayonnaise-y and too sweet for my taste. no hint of cucumber. besides the overdone sauce, everything was satisfying and tasty. chicken was far from the gristly stuff i've gotten at similar carts before. i was glad to find this place, given how depressed i always get with the soullessness of the time warner building quick food options.

                    but all along, i had the lingering feeling that i was eating from the "poser" cart. and sure enough, at 6:53, they started packing up. and ten minutes later, in the same location, voila, there's a new cart.

                    the way to tell them apart is that the earlier cart has a lot more text on the side (listing knishes, among other things). the "original" cart is pretty minimalist with the text/listings.

                    i didn't have the stamina or stomach space to do a side by side comparison, but i challenge somebody else to take that on.

                    1. re: rose water

                      To be honest, I wasn't that impressed by the famous cart. It was not noticably better than some of the other good halal carts I've been to. So I don't think it's worth the wait that it entails.

                      On the other hand, I'm glad that I did try it, or else I'd always wonder if I was missing out. So maybe you'll have to go back and try it.

                      1. re: spchang

                        Where are the close substitutes? I'd love to avoid the wait (while still having a hot sauce plus a white sauce on tender meat).

                        1. re: NAtiveNewYorker

                          I can compare it to "the Cart" but my favorite street vendor is Kwik Meal, locations at 45th and 6th, 45th and 5th and 46th and Madison. Lamb on rice, extra hot sauce (the florescent green stuff). The lamb is tender and well seasoned and the hot sauce is great, very flavorful and spicy as all hell.

                          1. re: ESNY

                            Unfortunately, I haven't had "the cart" yet, but I can second the recommendation for Quik Meal - I love the lamb and hot sauce too!

                        2. re: spchang

                          I wandered by several times this weekend, but either "the cart" wasn't out (too early), or I couldn't figure out which cart was "the cart". So I missed out...

                    2. Rafiqi's is a decent substitute for the lunch crowd, but still doesn't really compare to the quality, the quantity and especially the experience you'd get at 53rd.

                      1. There's also some great ones in the NYU/SoHo/West Village area. there's a lunch halal cart across the street from banana republic (on sixth & bleeker), same block as bar pitti. it's a little different but the white sauce is still great.

                        and there's a place on Macdougal and around bleecker or so, that has great lamb. it's a HUGE piece of meat (on the spit or whatever). the lamb is great there.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: cadireon

                          There's also a new one near Tower Records just off Broadway, thought it was pretty good as well. But I've only gotten chicken there.

                          1. re: cadireon

                            Do you mean the big vertical meat cylinder rotating in front of heating elements, that gets carved down? That's pretty standard. They were even all over Germany when I was there (aka "doner kebabs").

                          2. My Yemeni friend swears by this cart. I'd love to ask the cognoscenti what distinguishes it from the other halal carts - is it a unique spin on the ubiquitous white sauce? Is it the quality of the meat? Freshly ground spices? There are plenty of halal carts in the immediate vicinity, and they look very sad w/no customers.

                            1. I've been curious about this cart for some time, but haven't wanted to bear the wait, especially for something I usually get at lunch at some other reliable halal carts around town, but I finally braved the line this week and checked it out, if only to have an opinion on "the cart."

                              Well, it was quite good. In fact, it makes my top 5 halal food carts in the city. Here's what makes it good. Because of the lines and the quick turnover, it's fresh, meaning you get chicken (and lamb gyro) that doesn't sit around on a hot grill drying out, like you tend to see at many other carts. Also, they don't season the meat all that much so you taste the nuances of the meat (I'm talking mostly about the chicken here). And the white sauce (which is pretty much the same white sauce as most of the other carts) and their flavorful hot sauce makes for a stellar combination. One other thing that factors in is how nice and patient those guys are (though it was early in the evening). Most of the other guys running those carts are pretty pushy and sometimes kind of mean.

                              However, I still think the Trini-Pak cart on 43rd/6th Ave and the Kwik Meal/Gourmet carts in Midtown offer up a tastier chicken/lamb/rice. Trini-Pak definitely makes the best seasoned chicken in my opinion. They also have enough turnover that you're getting something freshly cooked, and I like the white basmati rice they use better, as well as the vegetable accompaniments. They use the same white sauce as "the cart" and the hot sauce competes with "the cart's".

                              Kwik meal is more in the school of "the cart" when it comes to seasoning the chicken. It's fairly minimal, with a good peppery flavor. They also use mostly thigh meat, which I find tastier than breast meat, and they are also careful not to overcook their meat. Also, when you order lamb at Kwik Meal, it's real lamb, not processed gyro meat, which is a plus. Kwik Meal's default hot sauce is a fruity green chili/vinegar mix, which is also very nice, but if you ask for their "other" hot sauce, beware, because that's one of the hottest things around. A little too hot for me. Their white sauce is really a cucumber yogurt (you can see the cucumber bits and taste the refreshing yogurt) that they plop on the side of the rice.

                              Another runner-up might be the Xpress Power Lunch carts in the financial district. Good turnover, and not too aggresively seasoned chicken, with a good white/hot sauce. But what makes their version among the top is their rice, which is as flavorful as the chicken/lamb.

                              So I see it this way.
                              1. Trini Pak cart (43rd/6th)
                              2. Kwik Meal/Gourmet cart (45th/6th, 45th/5th, 46th/Madison)
                              3. "The Cart" (53rd/6th after 7pm)
                              4. Xpress Power Lunch (Whitehall/Pearl, and another cart near Wall street)
                              What dropped "the cart" to number 3 is the rice and salad. Pretty mediocre.
                              From here, it's a little more difficult to rank, as the rest all seem pretty much equally flawed (dried chicken, mediocre rice, lame hot sauce, etc.). Rafiqi's is one of the worst offenders to me, and I've tried at least 3 of their carts. I'm definitely not a fan.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: E Eto

                                That's the funny thing with these carts - they smell so strong when the meat's cooking, but when you actually taste it, it's pretty bland, especially if you put any white sauce on it. I tried the Trini-Pak cart, and that had the best-seasoned chicken of the ones I've tried.

                                1. re: E Eto

                                  Thanks for the detailed, informative comparison!

                                  1. re: E Eto

                                    thanks for the extremely informative comparison of the carts.

                                    by any chance, do you know when the trini pak cart sets up shop? what about kwik meal? are they mon-fri, daytime-only carts catering to the office worker crowd? or do they set up shop at night like "the cart"?

                                    thanks.

                                    1. re: lebron

                                      The others are daytime lunch carts.

                                    2. re: E Eto

                                      ive just read all ur reviews and all i have to say is this:
                                      1) First and foremost, its not called "the CART" its called "the STAND"
                                      2) second off, the stand is worth it. i wait an average of 40 - 65 minutes everytime i go and i go at around 11 usually
                                      3) rushhour starts at around midnight and 1am
                                      4)its the sauce that sells
                                      5) lastly, a joke. TWICE ppl have come up to me and asked me if we were all waiting on line to buy marijuana. LOL

                                    3. Rafiqi's is good too.

                                      1. I'm not sure that it's just the white sauce that differentiates the 53 St and 6 Av (SW corner) cart's plate from others. There is much more cinnamon in the dish than in other shwarma or chicken I have had. Also the rice is very richly flavored, smooth, medium grained. In Hainanese chicken rice, it is often the richness of the flavor in the rice that differentiates the dish.

                                        To test this, before mixing the white and hot sauce (they combine well), I carefully extracted and tasted the meat and rice. It is not spicy, but there is distinct cinnamony sweetness. Incidentally, the salad is distinctly inferior to what you find at some other carts, where you might score a piece of turnip pickle or a juicy small tomato. One of the merits of street food is that you can see the ingredients when you order. This cart's salad is just crunchy lettuce and commercial tomato -- clean, edible, and utterly uninspiring.

                                        This popular, perhaps overrated, and famous cart is a delightful experience for a visitor: street food served amidst a busy New York cityscape, and outstandingly tasty.

                                        1. Chicken & Ricet is utterly delicious!

                                          The other cart I like is somewhere on 6th Ave and 25th St. It's like a mini bus with the guy inside. The falafel's are fresh and the meat as well. And it's just freaking delicious!!

                                          1. Could you clarify the water situation? What does the tip get you exactly? I'm very intrigued, and didn't notice that part of your OP way back when.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: D...DF

                                              they don't sell beverages at the stand itself, but rather direct you to a stand a few yards away. my interpretation is that the OP was saying that someone will run over and get your beverages for you if you tip. fwiw, that didn't work for us.

                                              1. re: rose water

                                                I think they changed the hot sauce they typically use at the cart. It used to be thick pasty stuff HOT sauce. They guys always warned me when I asked for extra. The other night it was a runny type of hot sauce that they handed me in a container, while good, nowhee near they same. Yogurt was the same , verry yogurty...

                                                I wonder if they had to dumb down the hot sauce for all the tourists waiting in line?