Many people have eaten at their favorite halal cart to enjoy some delicious platters, shawarma or curry, but might not know what "halal" actually means. Many Muslims believe in only eating food that is halal (“permissible” in Arabic), and avoiding food that is haraam (“forbidden”). Halal is a broad term, however, and when restaurants and food suppliers refer to a food as halal, they typically mean it is “zabiha,” meaning it has complied with the rules of butchering meat that they believe are required in order for it to be truly permissible for consumption.
Unlike the rules for kosher food, which require that all fruit, vegetables and dairy be confirmed kosher, zabiha rules only refer to meat. With dishes that are both zabiha and delicious, these halal restaurants have made a name for themselves among both Muslim and non-Muslim locals and tourists.
To figure out the best halal restaurants in the United States, we took a look at existing rankings and review sites (including Yelp, TripAdvisor and Zabihah.com) in order to gain insight into which spots have earned the most renown among those seeking out zabiha options. Among American restaurants that use zabiha meat, we took note of those restaurants that have won awards and accolades, both among the Muslim-American community as well as among organizations and critics that aren’t necessarily halal-focused. In addition to popularity, our list prizes the quality of food, innovative cuisine, level of service and presentation that allow these restaurants to compete with any of America’s top restaurants.
Bebop Korean-Mexican Grill/Yelp
Bebop fuses Korean barbecue with Mexican cuisine, giving its creative menu a Western twist. Order a Gogi burger, which uses a natural beef patty kicked up by the addition of a housemade bulgogi marinade, or a burrito or quesadilla with bulgogi, spicy shrimp, carne asada or spicy turkey bacon.
Au Za’atar has become a social media sensation in recent years thanks to its tableside shawarma. Guests can eat their shawarma — available in beef, lamb or chicken — hot off the spit, each one good for three to four people and surrounded by a heap of hand-cut fries seasoned with sumac, parsley and za’atar aioli. The rest of the menu includes dishes such as trays of mezze (Mediterranean small plates), lamb shank, lamb and chicken kebabs, filet mignon shish kebabs, tabouli salad, spicy falafel, various types of hummus and kibbeh kras — the national dish of Lebanon, made with a mix of ground beef and bulgur wheat with onions and almonds.
Reem Assil conceived of her restaurant and bakery in 2010 while visiting one of the oldest cities in the world: Beirut. The characteristic Arab hospitality and flavors of Reem’s were inspired by the proprietor’s travels through Lebanon and Syria, bringing to the Bay Area classics such as fresh, oven-baked mana’eesh (a type of flatbread), house-made dips such as hummus and baba ghanoush, falafel wraps, shakshuka (a spicy, tomato-y egg-based breakfast dish) and lamb burgers.
Prepared in the style of Texas regional barbecue, the ribs are just one reason to visit A.B.’s Amazing Ribs. The menu also includes burgers, brisket, pulled chicken and lamb, mac and cheese, loaded potato skins, chili and wings. Priding itself on its hand-selected, fresh ingredients, A.B.’s also makes its own sauces and sides to go with its barbecue entrees.
Syed Qayyum’s N Thai Palace has gained regional renown for its high-quality Thai dishes, courtesy of his chef father, who trained in Thailand, and the impressive presentation not commonly found at the handful of other halal Thai spots in the country. Only authentic Thai ingredients, purchased fresh daily, are used in N Thai Palace’s dishes, and highlights of the menu include the impressively spicy drunken noodles, stir-fried chili beef, black pepper chicken and spicy, crispy tamarind chicken.
An unassuming sandwich shop with a large following, Attari Sandwich Shop (and the neighboring Attari Grill) is located in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, known as “Little Persia” or “Tehrangeles” on account of its significant population of Iranian expats. A variety of sandwiches with Iranian ingredients are available at this deli, including those with more interesting traditional meats such as cow brain and tongue (the latter of which is quite popular), olivieh (chicken, potato and egg salad) and kuku sabzi (a kind of Persian herb frittata).
The MasalaWala (roughly translating to “the spice guy” in Hindi and Urdu) is named for owner Roni Mazumdar’s father, Satyen, whose passion for feeding his guests was witnessed by Mazumdar throughout his childhood in Kolkata, India. Inspired by Satyen’s hospitality and recipes, The MasalaWala has both traditional and modernized dishes on the menu, such as samosas, chicken tikkas, gobi Manchurian (cauliflower flavored with ginger and Indo-Chinese spices) and lamb rogan josh (a slow-cooked, Kashmiri-style lamb curry).
Kazan Restaurant owner Zeynel Abidin Uzun once worked as a chef at the restaurant in Istanbul’s famous Topkapı Palace. Queen Elizabeth II reportedly loved his orange baklava, which guests can try at his Washington, D.C.-area eatery today. Also on the menu is doner kebab, lamb steak, mixed grill platters and other various traditional beef, chicken and lamb dishes.
The Halal Guys/Yelp
Starting out as a hot dog cart in Midtown Manhattan 30 years ago, The Halal Guys soon became known for its chicken and gyro over rice platters, growing into an international chain with more than 80 locations across the country (plus two in the Toronto area and one each in London; Seoul, South Korea; and Jakarta, Indonesia). Both platters and wraps can be ordered with chicken, beef gyro, a combination of the two or falafel, all of which is doused in The Halal Guys’ famous white and spicy red sauces.
The food served at A La Turca is some of the most authentic Turkish cuisine one can find stateside. Among the kebabs (or kebap, as it is pronounced in Turkish), try the traditional doner (roasted and sliced ground lamb and beef), the İskender (doner kebab in a tomato sauce served over pieces of bread with yogurt) or the chicken shish kebab. Other must-try delicacies are the various types of gozleme (a savory flatbread dish stuffed with cheese and fillings such as potatoes, spinach or chicken), Turkish baklava and grilled kofte (spiced Turkish meatballs that were the precursor to the Swedish variant).
Peli Peli Kitchen is one of the few spots in the country offering halal South African cuisine, particularly peri peri chicken. Peri peri (also known as piri piri) is a South African chili pepper popularized by Portuguese settlers that is used to season chicken and seafood, and the chicken at Peli Peli Kitchen is marinated in it for 24 hours before being covered in lemon herb butter and flame-grilled. The menu also includes Portuguese beef or chicken fajitas and grilled shrimp, all available as plates or tacos, as well as a curry chicken taco, crispy peri chicken sandwich and South African burger.
Hills of Herat offers authentic Afghan dishes made fresh and with high-quality ingredients. In addition to kebabs and lamb chops, its traditional menu includes dishes such as dopiaza (literally “two onions” in Farsi), in which lamb chunks are simmered in onions and Afghan spices, and chicken qorma, a tomato-based curry heavily seasoned with spices and herbs.
Eerkin’s has three locations in the Washington, D.C. area where diners can try the cuisine of the Uyghur people, a Turkic-speaking ethnic group that lives mainly in the autonomous region of Xinjiang in northwestern China. On offer are Uyghur-style naans with kibda (fresh lamb liver with tomatoes, onions and spices) or lamb shank, quail soup, chuchura (minced beef and onion dumplings in soup) and Uyghur-style noodles, kebabs and rice dishes.
Dave’s Hot Chicken started out as a pop-up concept that brought Nashville hot chicken to East Hollywood. Soon becoming a full-fledged restaurant, Dave’s has a menu that’s simple yet bursting with flavor thanks to its hot chicken tenders and sliders at seven different spice levels for main entrees, along with fries, cheese fries, mac and cheese and kale slaw for sides.
This Brooklyn burger spot adds some Pakistani humor and flavor to its menu, with delicious burgers like The Jani (“jani” meaning “sweetheart” in Urdu and featuring a thick patty, tomato slice and spicy mint chutney) and Ye Cheez (literally “this thing,” a pun referencing the fact that it’s a cheeseburger with a thinner patty, tomatoes, lettuce and pickles). At BK Jani, customers can also try the masala fries, chicken tikka, seekh kebabs, juicy lamb chops and a spiced mango drink or limeade while enjoying the colorful interior covered in Pakistani art and love notes from past patrons, such as one stating, “My wife is no longer my jani. BK Jani is my JANI.”
Located on Chicago’s diverse Devon Avenue, known as the city’s “Little India,” Sabri Nihari is a legendary stop for Pakistani food in the Midwest. A mandatory order is the restaurant's signature nihari, a heavy stew made with beef shank and bone marrow and eaten with naan. Other top menu items include chicken biryani, palak gosht (meat with spinach) and frontier chicken, a dish from northern Pakistan in which boneless chicken is grilled on a low-flame with onions, tomatoes, green peppers, garlic, ginger and other herbs.
An institution of Central Jersey’s South Asian-centric Oak Tree Road, Shalimar has a large restaurant as well as a smaller, 24/7 spot right around the corner. At both, one will find the same menu of heavily spiced and fragrant dishes, although the full-fledged restaurant also has a colorful sweets counter with delights such as kheer (a kind of South Asian rice pudding), gulab jamun (fried milk solids in a cardamom and rosewater syrup) and barfi (a dense, milk-based sweet often flavored with nuts). Shalimar is a super-casual spot, and its butter chicken alone earns it a place on this list, but it also has plenty of other fan favorites such as chicken and cheese kebabs, biryani, fresh naan, nihari and spiced lamb chops.
Named for the legendary “Pulp Fiction” exchange (depicted on a mural inside the restaurant), Royale with Cheese is a trendy burger spot in the underappreciated food destination of Detroit. A local bakery makes fresh challah buns daily for the burgers, which are custom-blended, made to order and never frozen. All meats and poultry are sourced from a local butcher, and the shakes are hand-spun and house-made with frozen custard.
Saad’s started out as a food truck, but today it is a full-fledged restaurant offering fresh, made-from-scratch Philly cheesesteaks. Also on the menu are lamb shawarma sandwiches and platters, shish kebabs, falafel, tabouli salad, rotisserie chicken, burgers and sandwiches, as well as chicken, lamb and beef served in the “maroosh” way, with garlic sauce, sautéed onions, tomatoes, pickles and parsley on a toasted hoagie roll.
Offering excellent Chinese food to the Bay Area Muslim community, Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant opened its doors in 1997. Husband-wife team Xuqun Yang and Feng Wang found very little in the way of Northern Chinese cuisine, especially halal Northern Chinese, and opened their restaurant to serve both Muslim and Cantonese-speaking restaurant-goers. In addition to Chinese-American classics such as sesame chicken and sweet and sour shrimp, the menu includes traditional dishes such as five-spice beef and cumin lamb.
Traditional and fusion Thai dishes with halal meat are offered at Noodle Wave, with four different levels of spice and all kinds of flavor on its extensive menu. Thai coconut curries, stir-fried entrees such as spicy basil chicken or almond sriracha chicken, as well as noodle soups and noodle dishes such as pad Thai and Singapore noodles can be found on the menu.
Juicy Platters’ name gets straight to the point: customers can order falafel, beef, chicken or a mix of the latter two in the form of a wrap or platter, or to eat with salad or pita. Toppings include hummus, guacamole, plantains, kalamata olives, spiced chickpeas, cheese and tomatoes. The small chain currently has three locations in northern New Jersey but plans to expand.
786 Degrees derived its name both from the fact that all of its pizzas are fired up at between 700 to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and the traditional significance of the number 786 among many Muslims, who often use it as shorthand for the first words in the Quran. Serving authentic, wood-fired Neapolitan pizza, 786 Degrees offers 11 different types of gourmet pizza, with notable pies including the Bombay Tikka Masala (tandoori chicken kebab, saffron tikka masala sauce, hand-crushed San Marzano tomatoes, burrata, paneer, mango chutney, roasted sweet peppers, onions, cilantro and Himalayan salt), the Shrimp Tuscany (garlic shrimp, pesto sauce, spinach, three cheeses, herbs and truffle oil, as well as mushrooms when in-season) and the Istanbul (chicken doner kebab, Turkish yogurt sauce, mozzarella, onions, fresh cucumber and Himalayan salt).
Located in the famously ethnically diverse neighborhood of Jackson Heights, Kabab King has held court since 1996 as one of the most popular eateries among locals of Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi descent. In addition to South Asian cuisine, the Pakistani-owned restaurant serves South Asian twists on Chinese foods such as Manchurian chicken and Sichuan goat. While the dining and presentation is super casual, the mouth-watering biryani, chicken tikkas and seekh kebabs make it one of the best spots for Indian food in America.
Brother-sister duo John and Diana Tran honor their mother’s deliciously traditional Vietnamese recipes at Simply Banh Mi, where vegan and gluten-free options make the menu even more accommodating. Customers can enjoy pho as well as rice, noodle and salad bowls and, of course, banh mi sandwiches, one the most iconic street foods in the world.
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