If you follow any Instagram accounts centered around eating in Atlanta, you’ve no doubt seen a proliferation of pictures showing the round foil gyro platters from the Halal Guys, which opened on January 28. The New York city-based chain started in 1990 as a simple hot dog cart, but began serving halal food after high demand from Muslim cab drivers seeking a quick bite. Fans of the brand have been anxiously anticipating its ATL debut, but the restaurant is also exciting for frequenters of Buford Highway, where Middle Eastern food isn’t as represented as other prominent cuisines.
The Buford Highway location is part of a worldwide expansion; the company’s website boasts 200 new restaurants in development, with franchises planned from Kuala Lumpur to Las Vegas to Toronto. And the owners clearly did their due diligence with picking this Chamblee location. The bright red and yellow building sits at the heavily traficked 4-way intersection of Buford Highway and Chamblee-Tucker. While that location is always teeming with people, I’m not sure Halal Guys needed any help, as evidenced by this photo of the line at lunch on a Tuesday:
Although the concept is fast-casual, eating here takes longer than you would expect due to the volume of customers. The people working the counter are still getting their rhythm, so patience and a full phone battery are required for the expedition. I arrived around 11:10 a.m. on a Tuesday and waited about 15 minutes to order. When I left, the line was out the door and snaking into the parking lot. In short: Go early, and get it to go. Right now, there just isn’t enough seating to meet the demand and, more importantly, dining out gives you control over your sauce. When dining in, your order arrives pre-sauced (often generously), but when you order to-go, you can get sauce packets instead—an infinitely better choice if you are a sauce control freak like me. Sure, you could ask for sauce on the side, but that won’t solve the seating issue. If you do snag a spot on the patio, it is a fun intersection to watch. (And how often do you eat al fresco on Buford Highway? Not counting the occasional tamale eaten while sitting on the hood of a car.)
So, how is the food? Good, not great. I suspect the location is struggling to keep up with the current demand. They were defrosting the frozen gyros on the spit too quickly, which meant the soggier meat couldn’t crisp up as well as it should have on the flattop. The chicken was also a little too peppery. Halal Guys offers both sandwiches and platters, both of which offer a choice of beef gyro, chicken, or falafel, along with the option of spicy sauce (which is really spicy!) and a tangy mayo- and yogurt-based white sauce. (There’s also a barbecue sauce, but skip it.) I preferred the platter because you get a little of everything: salad, rice, super soft flatbread cut into triangles, and sauce. It also makes for a better to-go order than the sandwich. Go for the beef and chicken combo with a side of falafel. I couldn’t find fault with the hummus and baba ganoush, but the fries (offered as a side) were cold. That didn’t stop me from dipping them into the hummus, which is a surprisingly good combo. If you want something sweet, there’s also baklava for dessert.
Should you go? Yes, even if just to see the beautiful melting pot of people that make up the lines here. The food is affordable, tasty, and will most likely get better as the staff settles.