When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: The Halal Guys
Location: 1015 South Rural Road, Tempe
Open: Less than a month
As we walked up to the entrance of the Halal Guys in Tempe, a few employees moved two posts, holding a red, velvet rope, to the front of the lunchtime line forming outside.
Every few minutes, a doorman would unclip the rope and allow a few people at a time entrance.
If this fuzzy rope wasn't enough, the hype and anticipation surrounding the opening of this Middle Eastern restaurant had our expectations sky high.
On Friday, January 27, the beloved New York-based chain of food carts came to Arizona with the state’s first brick-and-mortar franchise of the concept. And people were freaking out.
The Halal Guys’ cult following showed up in hordes to the opening, and it seems like there’s been a line out the door ever since. So, we had to find out if the famous platters and sandwiches were worth waiting for.
We went with the combo platter, a falafel sandwich, pita and hummus, and a side of falafel.
We took the employees’ advice and ordered the chicken and gyro meat combo smothered with both the famous white sauce and hot sauce.
This was the best decision we made at Halal Guys. While the basic meal was just okay — chicken was a bit salty, the gyro was no better or worse than that of other Middle Eastern spots in metro Phoenix, and the platter seemed equal parts lettuce and rice — the combination of the tangy white sauce and the four-inch long stripe of fiery red sauce kept us going back bite after bite.
The white sauce reminded us of something we’ve longed for but haven’t had since it was discontinued a few years ago: Taco Bell’s Baja sauce. And that is by no means a complaint.
Thankfully, one employee convinced us to add the white sauce to the falafel sandwich, as well, and we are grateful. It saved what would have otherwise been a dry, unexciting wrap.
Before the pita was secured in foil, the falafels were smashed with tongs. Based on the falafel we got as a side, the sandwich would have painful to eat without this crucial step due to the chickpea balls’ overly crisped exterior.
Unfortunately, not even the drizzle of tahini could add enough moisture to make the four pieces of falafel that come in the side portion enjoyable.
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We can think of a few places in town that have better hummus and pita bread than Halal Guys, but the layer of rich, flavorful olive oil over the dip redeemed this side.
In the end, the only reason we’d return to Halal Guys over one of the many other local Middle Eastern in town is that white sauce. But take that away, and we don’t really get what the big deal is.
So, we ask genuinely, is it just that addictive white sauce that makes people flock to this Tempe storefront? Or, perhaps, maybe we’re just missing a spoonful or two of nostalgia for a favorite from another place.