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Halal food in NYC is disappointing

I loved shawarma. I probably will fall in love with it again if I ever go back to California. Nothing in New York comes close. Don't be fooled by restaurants claiming to sell shawarma (real lamb on a spit). It will most likely be some mystery meatloaf tasting meat, I believe is called the Greek gyro. The white sauce is vile, why would I want to eat watered down mayo on my rice? Halal carts seem to serve the same thing, they want to make easy money and don't care much for distinguishing themselves or making authentic middle eastern food. Sit down restaurants sell the same thing but for the double the rice and half the portions. The only place that comes close to being good is Karam but their garlic sauce is overwhelming and bitter.

The best shawarma I ever tasted was from a store/deli owned by a Lebanese couple in California. Marinated chicken or real lamb served on lavash bread and dressed with tomatoes, parsley, turnip and cucumber pickles, red onions, tahini yogurt sauce, toasted and then they give you a hot sauce and a yogurt garlic sauce on the side. Sorry New York but you don't know anything about good Middle Eastern food.

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  1. >Sorry New York but you don't know anything about good Middle Eastern food.

    Appreciate your weighing in, but your opinion might carry some weight with locals if you named the New York restaurants that disappointed (other than Karam) and explained exactly how.

    3 Replies
    1. re: squid kun

      I have tried Mamoun which was recommended to me on this very board three years ago. Needless to say it didn't live to my expectations. It was not memorable so I can't even describe why. Karam was also another recommendation and I explained why I didn't like it so much. If these two were suggested as being the best of the best why try something that is considered even worse? But I have went to places like Seaside Turkish and Sumac in Staten Island that claim they sell shawarma. Sumac gave me some cut up gyro meat (I asked for lamb shawarma on rice) on a small bed of yellow rice and charged me 10 dollars for it ugh. Also their wrap contains a massive amount of sweet white mayo sauce. Tasted more like an American fastfood chicken wrap.
      There is this place owned by a Syrian man near Karam, the shawarma wrap was salt less and dry. I forgot the name.

      1. re: Mtbdec28

        Safe to say most regulars on this board consider Mamoun far from "the best of the best."

        1. re: squid kun

          Their vegetables are never the right colors.

    2. No you don't know anything about good Middle Eastern food

      1 Reply
      1. If you are judging our middle eastern food by sampling gyros from halal carts (which are mostly mediocre), and gyro places (which are mostly mediocre), than you were either misinformed or not too knowledgeable yourself. There's a big difference between gyro and Shawarma.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Ziggy41

          Obviously when I see shawarma on the menu I ask for shawarma but get gyro meat. That is my major beef basically.

        2. Halal carts are the Taco Bell of Middle Eastern food. It's silly to judge the quality of all Middle Eastern restaurants in the entire city based off cart food. I take it you haven't ventured out to the many fine NYC establishments that do serve authentic Middle Eastern food.

          1. Check out Naya Express. They make a shawarma exactly as you descibe. They're a bit too pricey (about $8.50 per sandwich) for my cheapo self, so I rarely go, but when I do, I enjoy it tremendously. It's the closest thing in NYC I've found to the awesome shawarma they have in Toronto. The only thing is that their garlic sauce is super potent, which I love and get extra of, but it may turn some people off.

            5 Replies
            1. re: Humbucker

              i saw that Naya recently opened on 56th between 5th & 6th and thought to check it out.

              1. re: coasts

                I've heard bad things about the new 56th st one. I can only vouch for the one on 3rd ave.

                1. re: Humbucker

                  Seems like a Lebanese chipotle to me. Babaganoush was good though, shawarma not so much. Not in Manhattan, but I've found no peer to Wafa's chicken shawarma.

                2. re: coasts

                  I haven't been to that location but if you go get their hummus, they make a nice silky version

              2. The climate in California is very similar to the climate in Lebanon. It is possible to get fresh picked many of the ingredients that stand out to you as as crucial to make good Lebanese food where it isn't possible to do that in NY most of the year if at all. Even some ingredients that are grown in both NY and California outside of hothouses are sharply different in flavor because of the extreme difference in climate.

                No point in blaming NY for this. When you are in NY, eat a cuisine that doesn't rely on Mediterranean climate ingredients tasting fresh (or sweet or mild).

                1. for one thing, gyro white sauce is yogurt not mayo.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: mrnyc

                    I have it read it up, most of the white sauces are mayo based and they taste like it too.

                    1. re: Mtbdec28

                      well a lot of the cart vendors use mayo on their meats but thats not the greek original - its very disappointing. There are places that have both mayo and yogurt based sauce and you have to specify.

                      Cant speak to schwarma in manhattan generally but had a good one at Jerusalem on UWS last year.

                      1. re: Mtbdec28

                        True, true... halal carts in NYC are fast food; the quality is vastly superior in LA, mostly thanks to tireless Mexican vendors who set the quality standards for the whole industry.

                        Of course they use mayo in NY--it's cheap and caters to fast food palates; what would you expect: fresh sheep yogurt or something? not on my hamburger, not even tehina.

                        If you want to try a decent shawarma in NYC you will have to find a restaurant. Or--you can keep arguing with people on boards. :-)

                    2. A few years ago Tanoreen in Brooklyn got stellar Zagat reviews and people were effusive with its praise. I am curious if any of you NY Middle Eastern critics have tried it. I noticed a lack of love for it on the boards recently. Did it go downhill? The reason I ask here is the relevance to this subject. Is it better than anything in Manhattan as people said years ago?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: NYJewboy

                        I've been to Tanoreen and like it quite a bit. Mezze more than mains.

                      2. Well we have plenty of the stuff you want but its not Halal, mostly Kosher.

                        1. Looking to a halal cart for authentic Middle Eastern food is exactly like judging a city's Mexican scene by the quality of its Taco Bells.

                          This isn't Dearborn, but NYC nonetheless as has a vibrant Middle Eastern community and some good-to-great dining options. Stopping by a restaurant like Omar's Bakery, Wafa's or Al Salam is probably going to yield better shawarma than what you get from a street cart equipped with nothing more than a griddle.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: JungMann

                            Pardon mew JungMann, but do you have a good rec for Dearborn? I am going to be in the area!

                            1. re: NYJewboy

                              I don't, but there's a board for that...

                          2. Have you tried Freddie's king of shawarma? His cart is on 53rd and park and it is incredible. He doesn't have the Greek gyro meat - he has actual chicken or lamb roasting on a rotating spit.

                            1. Just to add, I wouldn't reduce Halal, or Kosher foods down to simply Schwarma, or claim California is superior, when it's really LA that's superior. Schwarma need not be Halal or Kosher either, so the question becomes whether you had a misunderstanding and want really good Schwarma, or you in fact do want really good Halal or Middle Eastern, rather than just good cart food or good Schwarma.

                              I will agree that some incredibly poor food (Mamouns, Taim, etc.) have loyalists in NY. You have to go out of your way to find authentic flavors that do the cuisine justice, but it exists.

                              1. I think this whole discussion proves the point that you can't walk into any Middle Eastern restaurant in NYC that claims to sell shawarma and expect shawarma. While there are so many, many Middle Eastern restaurants in NYC, only a very few pass the test. Whereas in the Bay Area California, I was never disgusted. Sometimes the sandwich will be dry and lacking in flavor but never have I encountered gyro meat or mayo white sauce (mayo goes only on American deli sandwiches and certain salads). A sandwich should have either lamb or chicken, fresh vegetables, a tahini based sauce, pickles. Plus they use thin lavash bread not thick pita bread so there is more meat than bread.

                                I have to say many things in manhattan are overrated and overpriced like Katz deli, momofuku milkbar, Sardis. They offer the worst food I ever tasted. Just to show that I'm not a picky eater I do want to mention what I do like in Nyc - charred Chilean Sea bass at Pasticceria Bruno on Hylan Blvd, Staten Island, yum.

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: Mtbdec28

                                  By the way, I mention the carts because so many people think that food is actually delicious, they are fooled into thinking that is real Middle Eastern food.

                                  1. re: Mtbdec28

                                    I really don't get the carts. Our NY office is a block from the uberpopular one at 54th and 6th, and I never figured out why anybody would line up for that, much less eat it.

                                    1. re: Mtbdec28

                                      I don't think anyone is fooled into thinking the carts are middle eastern food. Its what we call street meat. Its fine for what it is, but what do you expect for $5? A life affirming or changing experience? Its a cheap filling lunch. If it was $10 a plate, the opinion about it would be completely different.

                                    2. re: Mtbdec28

                                      "Whereas in the Bay Area California, I was never disgusted."

                                      Are you sure it was Halal, in the Bay Area, first off?

                                      Secondly, there's a cart with the lamb, and rice, with white sauce that started up in SF to emulate the NY carts. It's sort of it's own street food breed to begin with.

                                      It sounds like you got caught up with some tourist traps, but the Bay Area scene for Middle Eastern does not compare. Places like Aziza should have been laughed out of business, and Sunrise Deli wins awards when it's far worse than anything Mamoun's serves on a bad day. You can get mislead into bad food anywhere.

                                      1. re: sugartoof

                                        I'm sure my go to spot is halal since the couple who own it sell halal/middle Eastern groceries and are Muslims. The wife has an attitude but I couldn't resist the shawarma, it is mainly a halal grocery store called Mediterranean Food Center in Fairfield. It replaced Falafel King which was even better. My father used to bring awesome shawarma from Concord but that restaurant closed down and was replaced with The Mediterranean which is not as great but still a million times better than the stuff I tried in NYC. I haven't tried too many places in the Bay Area because simply there are not many places and the two I found are good. But here in NYC, so many options yet each disappoint.

                                        If you look at my post from
                                        3 years ago, I asked where is the best shawarma, not many answers, two suggested Mamoun. I will admit this thread produced more promising suggestions but I hate to go to these places and find that they are like Mamoun.

                                        And that is sad to hear that the gyro and mayo stuff is now in California, hopefully it goes away and doesn't spread.

                                        1. re: Mtbdec28

                                          Sorry your post didn't return better suggestions. Sometimes when a basic question is asked frequently, it can slip through the cracks. Searching for past threads would have turned up a laundry list of places, and debates over which is better, lots of discussion about Israeli style, and so on. Better yet would have been if you specified "I'm looking for the best Schwarma in NY". The thing about Schwarma is you should be able to look at it and know instantly if it's for you or not.

                                          Assuredly, someone still would have mentioned some Halah cart they swear by (a couple of them are actually good, but out of the city) or a yellow truck, or Mamoun's. You would have also been given some options that compared to your favorites.

                                      2. re: Mtbdec28

                                        "I think this whole discussion proves the point that you can't walk into any Middle Eastern restaurant in NYC that claims to sell shawarma and expect shawarma."

                                        You're right. But you can't also go to just any bagel shop in this city and expect it to be Russ & Daughters. What you're seeking out is a very specific type of sandwich: Lebanese shawarma on saj bread with either tahini or toum (the garlic sauce you mentioned earlier, which is not made of yogurt). If you're picky about how garlicky the toum at Karam is, you're probably not going to like the shawarma in Astoria or Omar's Bakery since the Egyptian spices won't be what you're expecting. Scratch the Israeli-owned shops as well. For what you're looking for, maybe you'll like Naya in Midtown or Al Salam in Bay Ridge.

                                        1. re: Mtbdec28

                                          Okay, so....basically, you started a thread--and argument--on the Manhattan board, and you're telling us the only food you liked in NYC is on Staten Island (Outer Boroughs).

                                          (Not dissing SI--my son lives there and I've enjoyed the several meals I've had while visiting him.)

                                        2. It's not that hard to look or ask before ordering. I recommend you do that. Especially if you prefer Lebanese-style. Most typically they will be making it even while you are glancing at the menu or waiting on line or ordering, so it wouldn't/shouldn't be a surprise.

                                          If you searched high and low, you likely would have figured out to avoid places that serve gyro and mayo, and instead offer tahini/yogurt; cuz lots of places in NY, without any opinion on overall quality, superficially will have lamb on a spit, tahini/yogurt, assortment of pickles and such, on flat bread.

                                          1. Recently went to a new Turkish place at 54 and Lex called Anka grill..they bake their own bread in the brick(i think) oven and their lamb was indeed tender, moist and flavorful. They also had two of those rotating meat thingies going on...am going back for more soon.

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: Monica

                                              I was going to get a rotating meat thingy for lunch there yesterday, but I decided Just Salad would probably be healthier. That said, Turkish döner probably won't satisfy the OP's craving for Lebanese shawarma.

                                              1. re: JungMann

                                                OP should check out some of the restaurants and markets in Great Neck, NY. I am still salivating over the chicken shawarma stuffed with tomatoes, parsley, red onion, pickles, hummus and delicious spicy sauces all wrapped in their amazing store baked chewy flat bread called sangak. I don't know how different Lebanese food is from Persian food but I doubt there is a huge difference.

                                                1. re: Monica

                                                  You got shawarma at a Persian restaurant in Long Island? Are you sure it wasn't joojeh kabab?

                                                  1. re: JungMann

                                                    It's called Shop Delight in great neck. It's a supermarket and love visiting it whenever I visist my MIL.
                                                    Love all the prepared food they have too. their store made bread is to die for really...a must eat.

                                            2. Souk el Shater - They don't put mayo on their schwarma, Lebanese run.