Dear Mr. Gold:
New York City has the legendary halal carts at 53rd Street and Sixth Avenue. Please tell me Los Angeles has something similar.
–Joseph Saranglo, via Facebook
Dear Mr. Saranglo:
In a way, this question should be going to Zach of Midtown Lunch, who became famous as a specialist in Manhattan halal carts before he moved to Los Angeles a couple of years ago. I've certainly eaten at my share of the carts positioned along Sixth Avenue, but it took me years to discover that the good one was the cart called Halal Guys — I had always hoped it wasn't, because the line was twice the length of its many, many imitators.
At any rate, Halal Guys is basically Egyptian in origin, but the food in question, seared meat or chicken served with an unctuous white goo, is more or less sui generis, and could as well have come from Bangla or Pakistani or Syrian cuisine. I can't think of anything at the lunch counters in the back of Swadesh or Aladin that might qualify, and the South Bay halal Pakistani places are a little too careful in their seasoning. I'm not sure halal-cart chicken or lamb exist here in that exact form — they would have to be flavored with diesel fumes and taxi exhaust and eau de subway grate to make an exact match. But shwarma's pretty close, I think, and the garlicky tahini sauce you can get in the best places is vastly preferable to the carts' mayonnaise-based white sauce. My nomination: Arax Falafel.