These 2 foodies are making halal restaurants in Phoenix easier to find | Phoenix New Times
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How 2 local foodies are making it easier to find halal restaurants in Phoenix

Finding restaurants that source and prepare food in alignment with Islamic teachings can be challenging. These two Valley foodies are using tech to help.
Bushra Hasan and Bilal Momeni both found it difficult to find halal restaurants in Arizona. They used their skills in tech to help.
Bushra Hasan and Bilal Momeni both found it difficult to find halal restaurants in Arizona. They used their skills in tech to help. Bushra Hasan/Bilal Momeni
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Picking a place to dine out can be challenging for any group. For Bilal Momeni, who is Muslim, finding a restaurant that is halal – one that sources and prepares food in alignment with Islamic teachings – adds another challenge.

“It’s this constant issue of, ‘Hey, where do we go? Where do we eat, where do we not eat?’” the Scottsdale tech entrepreneur says. “I had that issue growing up in high school and now, too, whenever my family travels … it’s difficult.”

When searching Google, or checking other platforms that aim to highlight halal restaurants, he’d find listings for spots that had closed or weren't actually halal.

“There’s this misconception of people considering Mediterranean food halal. Google will associate that as a halal restaurant,” Momeni says.

To help himself, fellow Muslims and people who value eating halal, Momeni created Halalify – an online restaurant search tool akin to Yelp, but created for halal restaurants.

And he’s not alone in wanting to elevate these eateries. Bushra Hasan runs AZ Halal Eats, a social account on Instagram and TikTok that features halal restaurants in metro Phoenix. She created the account in 2023 to share restaurants that serve a variety of cuisines all prepared following halal guidelines.

Although these two are not the first to share resources about halal restaurants, they’re doing so using technology that comes naturally to them. Momeni runs a networking engineering company in Scottsdale and Hasan is a user experience designer for a medical device company. Their backgrounds have also made them think about how to make this information more accessible and relevant.

“There's not really a place where you can advertise: 'My food is halal,'” Hasan says of her motivation to start AZ Halal Eats. “As a consumer, you have to find that yourself.”
click to enlarge The Halalify app on a smartphone.
Halalify works like Yelp, helping users find nearby restaurants. But, all the restaurants on the platform, which has a national database, are halal.
Halalify

An increase of halal restaurants in Phoenix

Halal is an Arabic word that translates to “permissible.” On the flip side are “haram” foods, those that are not permitted, such as pork, blood and alcohol. Momeni notes that the guidelines can be similar to Kosher practices.

“Halal is simply the way that the animal was raised – in a humane way – and the way it was slaughtered,” he says.

Momeni and Hasan both note the growing range of restaurants and cuisines that now offer halal options.

"We've got a halal Iraqi restaurant that specializes in halal breakfast, we've got halal Mexican, we have halal Thai food now, and these are all options that just were never available to us before,” says Hasan, who has lived in Arizona since elementary school.

click to enlarge A spread at Old Town Sarajevo.
AZ Halal Eats highlights restaurants that offer halal options but whose cuisine spans beyond the Mediterranean restaurants the people generally associate with the dietary practice, such as the Bosnian restaurant Old Town Sarajevo.
Bushra Hasan
Not wanting people to miss out on these growing offerings, she started AZ Halal Eats last year, initially cold-calling restaurants to confirm. Chino-Mex, an American Chinese-Mexican fusion restaurant in Chandler that serves birria ramen and taco plates with sides including lo mein and spring rolls, was the first spot she highlighted on her accounts. Now that her page has built a following, she often hears from restaurants directly. One spot she just visited is Tempe's Bangkok Grill, whose Thai menu items are all halal.

“I wanted to create a platform where I could share what I'm discovering with other people, because that's the best way, I think, in this day and age to get information,” Hasan says.

Momeni was on a similar track. He and a team of developers built Halalify in 2023, launching a database of Arizona restaurants in November and expanding to include restaurant information across the U.S. in February. People can search online or through the Halalify app.

“I realized that there’s a real need and there’s a lot of halal restaurants,” Momeni says, noting there are an estimated 20,000 in North America. “A lot of restaurants go out of their way to buy this expensive, premium halal meat. If you’re spending that much money as a business, you want to advertise it.”

And, to ensure each restaurant has been properly vetted, Momeni says his team checked and cross-checked information online. If there was a question, they opted to leave the restaurant off the list.

“It’s easier to add than it is to remove so we’ve made sure what we have is 100% halal,” he says, noting that restaurant owners can also claim their listing on Halalify.
click to enlarge The breakfast spread from Rayoog Cafe.
The breakfast spread from Rayoog Cafe. The Gilbert restaurant is one of several highlighted on AZ Halal Eats.
Bushra Hasan

Halal restaurants in focus during Ramadan

Ramadan began on Sunday night and continues through April 9. During this month, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. The holiday marks the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, a span in which Muslims believe the Quran was revealed to the prophet Muhammad.

As Valley Muslims ready for Ramadan, contemplation and service are in focus.

“Ramadan is genuinely a time to reflect,” Momeni says. “It’s not about the food, it’s not about the hunger, it’s more of a spiritual time and connecting to God, connecting to your humane values.”

But fasting and breaking that fast before sunrise and after sunset with friends and family is part of the daily ritual. During Ramadan, there are two meals each day: suhoor, served before dawn, and iftar, after sundown.

Some Muslims break their fast at home or in a mosque. Momeni says his mother will cook at home for the family during the week and they will order takeout from favorites like Persian Room or Princess Pita Mediterranean Restaurant and Market on weekends.

click to enlarge AZ Halal Eats' Bushra Hasan.
Bushra Hasan started the social account AZ Halal Eats to highlight Valley restaurants offering halal options.
Bushra Hasan
Hasan says she and her friends “make a huge deal” out of Ramadan, cooking together or going out.

“We love to break our fast together,” Hasan says. “A lot of these halal restaurants will do Ramadan specials… or they'll change their opening hours to accommodate our schedule in Ramadan.”

One spot she’s looking forward to visiting before sunrise is Gilbert’s Rayoog Cafe, which stays open all night during the holiday. The cafe serves traditional Mediterranean and Middle Eastern breakfast dishes such as shakshuka and Turkish coffee, along with not-so-traditional items such as toast boards and a keto salad.

During a time when more people may be seeking out halal options, Hasan says she wants to help shine a light on these local eateries.

“My purpose for this page has always been to be able to point out what our halal options are as Muslims in Arizona,” Hasan says. “I just want to have this platform to help inform and help any businesses grow.”
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