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The Halal Guys’ menu options offer chicken, beef or a combination of both in platters and sandwich wraps, along with falafel and hummus. The Miwaukee location on Oakland Avenue is the company’s first in the state. — Photo: The Halal Guys

The Halal Guys spices up Milwaukee with its first location in Wisconsin

The Halal Guys’ food is so good an obsessed Midwesterner once used frequent flier miles to visit the original food cart in Manhattan, according to Dustin LeFebvre, who recently opened a first Wisconsin location.

Now Milwaukeeans can enjoy the Guys’ famous sandwiches and platters in their hometown. The restaurant, 3133 N. Oakland St. offers a clean, bright dining environment that adheres to the original food cart’s mustard yellow and ketchup-red color scheme.

The restaurant’s name comes from Islamic law: The term “halal” refers to foods that Muslims are permitted to eat.

The restaurant’s menu items combine chicken or beef with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors over rice or enfolded into pitas. Both versions come with a dollop of Halal’s three signature sauces. There’s a nondairy mayonnaise-based white sauce blended with spices, which comes in regular and wickedly hot versions. And there’s a simple barbecue sauce.

Lettuce and tomatoes round out the plate.

LeFebvre says the food truck was started out of necessity, with no plans for nationwide expansion.

“In 1990, the three founders of Halal Guys were sharing a New York City taxi medallion,” LeFebvre explains. “They were Egyptian immigrants and devout Muslims who adhered to halal regulations. No one in Midtown was selling halal food, so out of necessity came innovation in the form of a food cart.

“Their initial clientele was other taxi drivers, because many of them were also Muslim. This became the best marketing device, because the taxi drivers recommended the Halal Guys’ food cart to all of their passengers, locals and tourists alike.”

Business bloomed. Halal Guys is now the most-Yelped restaurant in the United States and has almost two dozen locations across the country, as well as in Manila.

LeFebvre got involved in the business shortly after graduating from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He was in the market to open a business of his own, but a fast-casual restaurant wasn’t really on his radar until he tried the Halal Guys fare.

“I thought it was awesome,” he says. “If I wasn’t passionate about the food, then I couldn’t run this restaurant. When I met the founders in New York City, I felt that they were great people. They aren’t focused on money. They are passionate about their food and they just want to share it with others.”

It’s clear LeFebvre picked the right business for him. He practically inhaled his platter of food during our conversation. I filled up too. I loved the combination of rice, meat and vegetables. And the white sauce was the perfect complement to the core ingredients. Vegetarians are welcome at Halal Guys, too — falafel and hummus also are on the menu.

Milwaukee’s Halal Guys outpost is practically on the UW-Milwaukee campus, and the menu and prices should attract a lot of students. It’s open until 3 a.m., so I predict the after-bar crowd will flock here to soak up a belly of beer with a hearty platter or sandwich.

During the restaurant’s soft opening, two international students, one hailing from Jordan and the other from Saudi Arabia, were fork-deep into quickly vanishing platters. They liked the food a lot and said they’d certainly be back.

For a restaurant with a focus on Middle Eastern-inspired dishes, their comments might be the best review possible.

The Quick Bite

Name: The Halal Guys

Location: 3133 N. Oakland St.,
Milwaukee

Premise: Fast-casual Middle
Eastern food

Menu samples: Combo chicken/gyro platter, served with rice, pita, lettuce, tomato ($7.59 small, $8.69 regular); falafel sandwich wrap with lettuce and tomato ($6.29).

Bite-size review: As a place to grab food fast on the way to class and as a restaurant in its own right, The Halal Guys is a smart, delicious addition to the Oakland corridor.

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