Well, that was quick. Just 20-odd days since the official unveiling of the Chicken and Rice truck, we've already seen late-night lines around the block, question-and-answer odes to the second coming of Manhattan's halal-cart culture and lots of early Yelpers Photoshopping their tin of food next to the version found at the Halal Guys cart at 53rd & Sixth, some 3,000 miles away.
It's all to be expected; Chicken and Rice is new, it's offering the latest in late-night, cheap-eating street food, and it's giving New Yorkers one less thing to self-consciously brag about. What's not to love?
For the uninitiated, L.A.'s Chicken and Rice truck (it's not a cart, folks, no matter how much your Midtown-wishing vocabulary would work otherwise) is a nod to the near-ubiquitous halal street food carts that operate on many corners in Manhattan's urban core. These carts offer a simple concept: Seasoned bits of chicken and/or lamb, fired until tender and slightly crispy at the edges, are plated over aromatic piles of rice with a little touch of leafy greens on the side, then doused in opposing sauces – a fiery red version that would be out of control if not for the cooling, often tzatziki-like white sauce, which is creamier and smoother. Add in a few slices of pita, and you've got halal cart chicken and rice.
Hollywood's late-night-only version hews close to its originators, offering the same simple menu of chopped chicken and lamb, with pre-made falafel available for the meat-averse. Each can be served over the namesake rice or as a wrap, taco, burger or gyro sandwich – though opting for anything other than “over rice” likely would be a mistake. Prices are a level above the usual late-night fare in this town: $6 for falafel, $7 for chicken and a full $8 for lamb, while a combo sets you back $10. That's real money to be spending on a stand-up sidewalk meal, especially when the wait on weekends has been known to stretch on endlessly.
So what do Angelenos think of Chicken and Rice? So far, reaction has been mostly positive, due in part to the uniqueness of the enterprise, but also because there's a lot to love.
Simple late-night food, prepared well and served with a sauce that's got a little kick will always win the day, and the truck's location (later in the night it moves onto Hollywood Boulevard to be closer to the post-club crowd) is sure to pull in adherents. But in other ways, L.A. is already rife with these sorts of flavors, and has our own long-standing late-night truck culture well in place. It will be interesting to check in on the Chicken and Rice folks four months from now.
Until then, your best bet for giving this late-night transplant a shot is to head to the corner of Hawthorn and Highland in Hollywood, then look for the colorfully spray-painted truck. It's parked Tuesday through Sunday from 8 p.m. to roughly 3 a.m., though (as noted above) it often pulls up stakes and heads to Hollywood Boulevard as the night wears on.
Or, just like 2008, you can follow @ChickenRiceLA on Twitter to see just where it's planning to be. And once you've tried it, be sure to tell your New York City transplant friends that they're not cool anymore and probably never were.