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Nov 13, 2006 06:22 PM

Jackson Heights Halal carts

Since the hoopla over the Vendy awards, I wanted to know what the big deal was with Sammy's cart, and really see if it's anything that special. I've been eating at various Halal carts for over a decade now, so what the hell. I'll call myself an expert. Just out of curiosity, I tried the chicken/rice plate from the three carts that were there at the corner of Broadway and 73rd. Of course, Sammy's had the longest line, with the Vendy Award trophy in prominent view. The other carts weren't devoid of business, but the crowds were definitely skewed.

First, the Afghan halal cart on the corner next to Kabab King Cafe is sort of an anomoly to me. There were interesting new flavors in their mix. The rice seemed like a cross between greek rice (with orzo or browned pasta mixed in) and asian fried rice. My Japanese eating companion thought it tasted "wafuu" (Japanese-like). The chicken was kind of tangy with some kind of slight vinegar taste, and then some spice. This was definitely the most subtle of the three, but held its own.

Khan's, which is located about 4 feet from Sammy's, served rice that was slightly yellow-hued with just enough spicing to make it interesting. The chicken at Khan's and Sammy's were basically indistinguishable, with a good amount of spice and with onions and green peppers thrown in at end to sautee and warm up slightly before being plopped on the rice. The hot sauce at Khan's is almost bright orange without a real spicy kick, but well flavored.

Sammy's rice is definitely the most highly spiced. Darker hued than the other carts' rice, it probably is good by itself. The hot sauce is dark red from an infusion of chili powder. My problem with Sammy's was that while the individual elements of chicken, rice, hot sauce were all above average, put together, it was a little overkill. Completely out of balance. But I can see how people who like a lot of bold flavors would be attracted to Sammy's.

My favorite of the three was Khan's. I liked the balance with their rice and hot sauce best. I'm not sure which I prefer between the other two. Both are decent, depending on if you want more subtle or aggressive. Oh, and the white sauce at all three were pretty much indistinguishable.

So I guess the question is, is it worth the trip to Jackson Heights to eat at the halal carts? Probably not. If you want something cheap to take home (they're all $4), then sure, check them out. But I wouldn't travel any distance just for this (there's far too many other places to sit and enjoy).

Per my review of "the cart" in midtown, none of the Jackson Heights carts fall into the top 5.

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  1. >>>The rice seemed like a cross between greek rice (with orzo or browned pasta mixed in) and asian fried rice.<<<

    Never had a first-hand look or taste at this Afghan halal cart, but I've opened many a box of "Rice-A-Roni" (the San Francisco Treat) and thought the same thing.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Mike R.

      Lebanese eat that kind of rice a lot - browned pasta cooked in a chicken stock.

    2. I was very surprised by the Vendy award too - the food was pretty average as I remember. My biggest turn-off at the place was that they tried to sell me goat meat as 'lamb'. They have no idea what's the difference between lamb and goat. No respeck for that.

      The Afghan cart sounds interesting - is it always there? I don't think I've seen it.

      1 Reply
      1. re: welle

        A number of cultures (Indian and Chinese that I know of) use the same word interchangeably for lamb (or mutton) and goat.

      2. A halal cart has recently appeared at in Woodside 61st street under the LIRR bridge across from Dunkin Donuts. Is seems to be a permanent addition to the area as he's been there every day for at least a week. Smells good - anyone tried it yet?

        2 Replies
        1. re: butterchicken2nan

          Why this guy got a Vendy and not the Halal Cart on Steinway and 30th is beyond me. The rice from this cart has a Rice O Roni texture.

          1. re: Foodie2010

            I second the one at the NW corner of Steinway and 30th. That's a good cart.

        2. I guess I haven't noticed lately, but since I went past the corner where Sammy's and Kahn's halal carts are usually parked, and neither of them were there on Sunday, and there were two new carts in their place. Sammy's cart is so inconsistent from pretty good to awful, that I don't give them my money anymore. I liked Kahn's better, but it wasn't anything special either. I don't know the names of these new carts, but so far I liked what I had from one of them. I wonder what the story is there.