When a popular restaurant decides to franchise at an international scale, there are plenty of worries.
Will the quality of each market's food match what made the original exceptional? Can the ingredients from the original spot be sourced appropriately across the globe? Will the franchisee's employees care as much about the restaurant?
The Halal Guys, which began as a short-lived hot-dog cart in Manhattan before pivoting to halal food to accommodate New York's Middle Eastern cab drivers, now faces that challenge as more than 1,000 franchise rights have been sold. (The Buffalo location, which opened May 10, is No. 298, and Syracuse, Rochester and Binghamton-Vestal are next on the slate).
In Amherst's crowded Boulevard Consumer Square, sandwiched between fellow chains Blaze Pizza and Naan-tastic, the Halal Guys operates in fast-casual mode with an impressive amount of seating considering the space's narrowness. The menu is small but easily customized – typically a good sign – with the Combo Platter lauded by NYVA Restaurant Group, which oversees this location, as the most frequently ordered item.
This platter is essentially a hybrid rice and salad bowl, topped with freshly shaved beef-based gyro, as well as marinated chicken in roughly equal portions. The rotating spit isn't quite like you would see at an authentic shawarma restaurant, with the Halal Guys' setup lacking the juices dripping down and any semblance of char on the outside (thanks to that aluminum foil, below). The flavor of the marinated chicken trumped the beef gyro, which, unfortunately, was fairly dull.
The standard base has lettuce, tomatoes, pita bread and orange-colored rice, with jalapenos, kalamata olives, onions and green peppers as add-ons for 49 cents more. While Quintanilla originally trumpeted the mayo-based white sauce as a star, the hot sauce made the louder impression; it's not shy in the least, and a few drops go a long way (tip: order it on the side). Eager to test your tolerance? Pair the hot sauce with jalapenos, and keep water and antacids handy.
The beauty of the platter concept is that all the items mix together nicely. A bite with chicken, rice, lettuce and white sauce was memorable, and the portion of the regular ($9.99) is massive and perfect for big appetites, while the small is just a dollar cheaper and half the calories.
Even though it might pale in popularity to the Combo Platter, the falafel sandwich exceeded expectations; Buffalo knows quality falafel is rare. The Halal Guys' fried chick peas, sliced in half for the sandwich (which, let's face it, is a pita wrap), were fluffy on the inside and boasted a nice exterior crunch. They weren't too dry, too dense or flavorless. The white sauce was more noticeable in the sandwich than the platter, and the warm pita was a caring cradle.
Hummus, available as a side for $2.99, was generously portioned, too, and served with one pita - which was insufficient. Ask for a second pita, and you might still have to find a different vessel for it after.
Sure, the Halal Guys is a chain, and it definitely lacks the charm of the original New York City stand (which still boasts a shockingly long line). But in terms of suburban Middle Eastern-American options, you could do worse than a quick lunch or dinner stop after shopping in Amherst.
INFO: The Halal Guys, 1595 Niagara Falls Blvd., Amherst, in Boulevard Consumer Square. Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.