Good halal food is hard to come by in the Los Angeles food scene: much of it is relegated to cultural enclaves in areas heavily populated by the Islamic community. In New York, however, The Halal Guys have gained a significant following as the purveyors of an affordable, delicious halal comfort food staple: chicken over rice. Last month, the Chicken and Rice Truck opened up shop on the famed Hollywood and Highland intersection Jan. 24 to bring a piece of Manhattan culture to the Hollywood night scene.
Initial reactions have been positive: the Chicken and Rice food truck celebrated its grand opening with a $5 special for a plate of chicken and rice which usually sells for $7. The hungry masses gobbled it up: Chicken and Rice’s twitter (@ChickenRiceLA) apologized for food selling out early the first two nights and continued its $5 a plate promotion through the first three days of opening.
Despite its tourist-friendly location and the inherent difficulty of parking near Hollywood and Highland, the food truck has been able to attract a constant stream of hungry patrons — passersby and foodies alike jostle into a crowd outside the truck one weekday night to catch a glimpse of the city’s newest food craze.
As with most newly-opened concepts, the entire process of ordering and receiving food still seems a little rough around the edges. The crowds put in their order with one of two men standing outside the truck with tickets and pens and then the order is then placed on a service line. The kitchen staff assembles the plates beginning with a large portion of fragrant red rice and top the bowl with a portion of falafel (vegetarian), chicken, gyro-style lamb or a lamb and chicken combination plate. And then the most important finishing touch: all of these ingredients are topped with a rich white garlic sauce and a spicy red sauce.
The result doesn’t look terribly appetizing at first glance — it’s not the most Instagram-friendly plate of food — but a single bite reminds all true foodies to never judge a book by its cover: savory, heavily-seasoned lamb, garlic and spicy pepper sauce all come together to create a salty, satisfying orchestra of flavors. It’s the stuff of late-night food runs, and provided it sticks around, it’s sure to be classic post-club grub for Hollywood revelers stumbling out of the nearby Premiere Supper Club.
Chicken and Rice also offers its meats in burger, gyro, taco and kati roll wrap presentations. Though the truck likens these offerings to a Los Angeles-friendly twist on a New York favorite, it’s difficult not to dismiss these other renditions as gimmicky, half-baked developments. The real reason surrounding the hype is the huge servings of delicious spiced rice.
Speaking of the rice, one of the places where Chicken and Rice falls into trouble is the proportion of meat to starch: there is simply too much rice and not enough chicken or lamb. Of course, at $7-$10 a bowl, it’s hard to fault the truck for skimping on what certainly tastes like very high quality meat. It bears mentioning, however, that the truck could stand to at least fully cover the rice with the meats. Which is to also suggest that the meat is tasty enough to be missed.
Regardless of the truck’s shortcomings, it’s a nearly fail-proof proposition: open up a halal food truck in one of Hollywood’s most storied corners, make the food cheap and consistently delicious, and stay open past midnight. It’s clear that food that is simple, substantive and delicious is always a welcome addition to any city.
It doesn’t take an understanding of Islamic dietary restrictions to know that chicken and rice this good is halal for everyone — not just Muslims or New Yorkers.