We check out three street food sellers in FT Undercover
The sauce rules at The Halal Guys in Washington, D.C.
In a shirt the same color as a New York City cab, the guy working behind the counter at The Halal Guys near Washington, D.C.’s Dupont Circle takes less than a second to recommend the combo platter for a first-timer trying to decide which of the Middle Eastern menu items to order. Watching him assemble it, the platter looks something like a pie chart, with portions of lettuce, tomato and rice, then generous scoopfuls of chicken and beef gyro meat, followed by warm slices of pita bread—all for $9.99. And that white sauce I’d heard people raving about? Yeah, it deserves all the hype and then some. Pro tip: Spend the 50 cents for extra white sauce on the side. I’d drizzle it on every single bite of food if I could. Since The Halal Guys started franchising in 2014, the NYC street cart-turned-restaurant has taken its Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavors across the country. The space itself was unremarkable, with minimal design elements save for a large wall image of the Egyptian immigrant founders serving platters from their first cart as a line stretches down the street. Having just a few seats encourages customers to enjoy their street food outside, and I do just that, walking a block to sit at the Dupont Circle Fountain where I savor every bite and contemplate how many platters would fit in my carry-on for the flight home.
The upshot: Simple yet exceptionally flavorful, The Halal Guys doesn’t offer much beyond its platters, and it doesn’t need to. — LM
Walking up to fast-casual Pincho Factory in the urban Brickell neighborhood of Miami, the stage is already set for a positive experience thanks to the outdoor seating. For someone in town from Minnesota, where winter is in full swing, the chance to enjoy the warmth of South Florida while dining is much appreciated. After perusing the menu I’m tempted to order the Fritanga burger with fried white cheese and cabbage slaw, but since the emerging franchise is named for Spanish grilled kebabs—pinchos—that’s where my money goes. Instead of going the skewered kebab route, I opted for a build-your-own Pincho entrée featuring the steak kebab meat atop a rice bowl. With five styles to choose from, California style wins, with lettuce, tomatoes, mandarin oranges, sliced almonds, dried cranberries, Gorgonzola cheese and mango sauce. Made to order, when the bowl arrives at the table I’m impressed, first with the generous portion size for $10.99 and then with the tender steak, cooked to my requested medium temperature. The bowl’s other components mix perfectly. While I watch several people go in and leave with their pickup orders, only one other table is occupied, a little surprising given the vibrant nightlife of the area on a weekday. This lack of on-premises diners, however, explains why an employee stops by my table three times. Attentive service? Check.
The upshot: Pincho Factory’s focus on quality ingredients is clear, and one hopes the 10-unit franchise is making up for the lack of on-premises diners with plenty of delivery and pickup orders. —LM
Pincho Factory in Miami
The offbeat calzone slinger D.P. Dough has a lot of fun trademarks, such as “Open Crazy Late” and “To Each Their Zone,” but the company should probably ponder “Cheese Nap” for its next trademark. The brand makes a big point to be on or near college campuses, where youngsters make questionable decisions and soak them up with staggering, delicious calories. But when you’re pushing what those kiddos would consider elderly, a monster calzone for lunch is a blessing and a curse. For a brief moment, you’re young, free and can devour an entire calzone and maybe a garlic knot, too. But then comes the cheese nap, when your body goes into shock and your keyboard starts looking like an all too inviting pillow. While it’s a gargantuan portion of really tasty cheese and dough for $8 to $8.50, maybe leave the full calzone to the younger set and we oldsters (anyone over 25) can save the other half for dinner.
The upshot: Monster sizes draw long lines on college campuses for this calzone franchise, but when taking delivery from an office park, anyone over 25 should beware the dreaded cheese-and-dough nap. —NU
Ever wonder how consumers feel about your franchise? Editorial staffers Laura Michaels, Nick Upton, Tom Kaiser and Beth Ewen check out three brands in a different genre each issue, and report back.