It took The Halal Guys a long time to get to Las Vegas.
They’ve been drawing the crowds in New York for more than 25 years, first with a cart and eventually with brick-and-mortar operations. Las Vegas has been building its credentials as a top-notch foodie destination for nearly as long, and that time period has covered a lot of mini-booms, like the big spike in Middle Eastern restaurants of various nationalities that started about 10 years ago. Many of those local spots are halal, which means they prepare food in accordance with Islamic law (primarily involving source, processing and the cause of the animal’s death) and most of them offer menus far beyond The Halal Guys’ limited selections.
The Halal Guys fits in somewhere in the middle of the valley’s Middle Eastern spots. But one area in which they really stand out is customer service.
I don’t have any dietary restrictions, but friends who do report endless frustrations with the lackadaisical attitudes that a lot of local restaurants have when it comes to them. So, when I ordered a falafel sandwich ($7.99) and was asked if it was for a vegetarian, the server explained that it was because the freshly baked pita was warming on a grill that had been used to prepare meat — not something that would be obvious to a casual observer.
The Halal Guys has a counter-service arrangement, and they call your order number instead of bringing it to the table. But that’s because, just before the order is handed over, you’re asked how much diced tomato or bell pepper, olives or jalapeño peppers you want. Then there’s the sauce bar, where you can further customize with white, hot or barbecue sauce or tahini. Pretty impressive for a place where the food tabs tend to run south of $10.
And don’t get me wrong; the food is quite good. Pitas are freshly prepared and, as a result, impressively pillowy. The falafel nuggets were crisp on the outside, reasonably moist within and almost emerald-green, thanks to a liberal amount of herbs that tasted like a mix of parsley and cilantro. I avoided the hot sauce when the employee said it deserved the name, but the creamy white sauce had a flavor that haunted, with a wisp of garlic and just a hint of spice. I asked for jalapeños for more kick and, with the crunch from the fresh vegetables, ended up with lots of textural and flavor contrasts.
Hit LIKE if you're in the mood for some halal food right now. pic.twitter.com/UsdFo7FQcz— The Halal Guys (@HalalGuys) November 30, 2016
Platters ($9.99) are served with one or two items, and we went with gyro meat and chicken, the only options beside falafel. The gyro meat was pretty standard, although more moist than most, but the chicken was exceptional, prepared with a marinade that boosted both umami quotient and moistness. The platter was served with a big pile of undressed shredded lettuce and tomato, so the sauces came to the rescue. They weren’t necessary, though, for the mellow rice blend.
Baklava is normally $2.49 but was free that day with the purchase of a platter, and it wasn’t among the best I’ve had, lacking much in the way of moisture and without a hint of lemon or rosewater.
So don’t go for the baklava. Go for the solid, if somewhat unspectacular, Middle Eastern food. And stay for the way-better-than-average customer service.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find more of her stories at www.reviewjournal.com and follow @HKRinella on Twitter.