Is Adel's Famous Halal Cart Really Worth An Hour In Line?

It's easy in New York City to pay exorbitant prices for a lackluster meal. It's very rare to pay rock-bottom ones for a lunch that isn't easily worth two or three times that. So, when New Yorkers find a street vendor serving up food that could easily satisfy in a sit-down setting for stand-up prices, they cluster on it. And in turn, that crowd attracts a crowd. This brings us to Adel's Famous Halal Cart, possibly the most active business in the Rockefeller Center area after midnight, barring whatever robo-traders are selling crypto in Australia at that hour.

The luminary street vendor has been drawing more and more devotion from a town that once pledged itself to Halal Guys. Adel's sticks to what worked for the latter: fresh, juicy, well-seasoned food that satisfies equally well if you're drunk and need to cure what ails you or stone-cold sober and just want to savor a perfect combination of food groups.

But does the experience live up to the hype? The best way to answer that is by mounting an expedition to Midtown and stuffing our stomachs for a firsthand report. We wanted to see whether Adel's Famous is truly fame-worthy or too long of a line to stay famished in.

Where is Adel's Famous Halal Cart located and what are the hours?

Adel's is located on Sixth Avenue at the southwest corner of West 49th Street. It's hard to miss, given the extremely long line that forms in what's otherwise a fairly quiet stretch of skyscraper after the bustle of the day is done.

In fact, Adel's Famous is significant because the cart doesn't open until the end of the work day at 6 p.m. While other vendors are often wrapping up after lunch, and Halal Guys starts its day at 11 a.m. only to end it at dawn, Adel's doesn't even open up shop until the pedestrian traffic thins out enough to handle its lengthy line of supper supplicants. It closes at 5 a.m., a half-hour before Halal Guys does. You might see a queue of customers curving south and west as devotees line up, so the fact it's only open at night might do as much as a public service to prevent sunstroke as it does filling hungry bellies.

Why does everyone line up for Adel's Famous Halal Cart?

Simply put, Adel's is the top name in a city bemoaning the faded glories of the Halal Guys. Going by what a lot of people will tell you, you'll visit Adel's Famous expecting it to raise up the fallen standard of how incredible halal food can be and carry it to new heights. The truth, in our admittedly anecdotal experience, is not quite so.

Most of the people we spoke with or saw in line were trying it for the first time — often as out-of-towners who came here on the recommendation of the internet or local friends. A group of snazzily dressed Chicago arrivals, who have their hometown's Halal Guys delivered "on the regular." One of the members of the group told us they wanted to do an in-person comparison: "We've heard this is materially better according to social media and some New York friends. The appeal of it has us waiting a really long time — at least 30 minutes."

"We're foodies," a man in front of them chimed in. "We done stood in [a] Thanksgiving line for five hours at Amy Ruth's. This is what we do. We just came here a few days ago, now we're back again." Previously he'd gotten the chicken-and-lamb combo, which seems like a good cross-section to start with if you want to know what brings people back.

What to order at Adel's Famous Halal Cart?

Your best bet is to sample everything Adel's excels at in the lamb-and-chicken combo platter. That way you'll try both meats, rice, pita, and twin sauces. While the rice is differentiated by a pleasant floral sweetness, it's not exactly elevated.

We weren't given the option of regular versus spicy rice and only learned about it later (we seem to have received spicy rice). Our meal did shine from its hot sauce. This is Adel's best facet, landing precisely on the point between joy and pain where piquant ingredients ought to. A pleasant warmth in the belly followed the rest of the day, all without scorching the tongue or requiring milk when eating.

We recommend that you skip the falafel. For a dish that rarely misses at even the most unremarkable spot, it's baffling that it fails at the crown-wearing, Manhattan-based halal cart. Ours was served cold (yes, both the pita and the falafel balls themselves), which seemed like a bizarre oversight rather than a conscious choice. Even accounting for temperature, it was unremarkable. No spices, salt, or savory flavors leaped to the fore of taste, merely aroma, and the crunch wasn't in the top 10 we've ever had. 

It's entirely fair to say that you could make a better falafel yourself even if it's your first time. You could definitely find one nearby, possibly without crossing the street.

How much does the food cost at Adel's Famous Halal Cart?

Adel's has multiple websites but neither lists a menu with or without prices. Prices aren't posted at the cart either. We paid just over $21 for a falafel pita and the lamb-and-chicken combo platter. It looks to be a little over $9 for either item (give or take tax), an extra fee for sauce, and the possibility of a credit card surcharge — which is always legally defined as a "cash discount" to skirt legalities on a technical level. All of this is fine, as even today the odds of carts and trucks accepting credit cards are probably 40/60.

For two items, $21 is a reasonable upper edge for street cart food, given our inflated era of costs and the fact that Adel's knows its top dog. Plenty of worse-regarded carts would charge the same or more. On this front, Adel's is a fair and even good deal. You're allowed to charge what you're worth, so no gripes there. However, owing to our experience, we think you're better off going nearby to pay a buck or two less for a pita that's actually been warmed up. We just can't imagine the top version of that falafel being equal to or better than the cheaper ones nearby.

How long is the wait for Adel's Famous Halal Cart?

Wait times can often be an hour or even up to two if it's early enough and the weather is nice enough. Go at midnight on a pleasant late-summer night midweek, and we expect you'll share our experience between 30 to 45 minutes. Results are not guaranteed, even in winter. Stroll up at 4 a.m. and you might not wait at all. "I'm a little saddened by the line, but it is what it is," says a tourist from Los Angeles, who ultimately waited about 45 minutes for a meal.

Among the actual locals standing in line in front of our expedition, one young man began to get impatient. We overheard him say, "Yo, let's go to Haji's up in Harlem." A long haul for a chopped cheese sandwich or a combo platter if you're hungry now, but definitely the better deal even after subway fare if you're waiting a  ½ hour to eat no matter what. And if you decide to make the trek, the former Haji's is alternatively called Ricky, Blue Sky, or Blue Line but it's still known as Haji's to many. Sadly for the guy in line, his buddies don't even acknowledge the idea — it's Adel's or bust.

Is Adel's Famous really better than Halal Guys?

In our taste test, Adel's turned out much closer to Sammy's or Rafiqi's Delicious Food — or even the Halal Guys imitators with similar branding that put out food of comparable quality — which is to say, good, satisfying, and worth the price. But, there's simply nothing that makes Adel's stand out here. Regardless of arguments about the decline of Halal Guys after opening its brick-and-mortar location or swapping lamb for beef (or allegedly using pre-cooked chicken), the original Halal Guys was a revelation even to tongues trained on years of street meat carts. 

Adel's is indeed good; a solid four out of five stars. But, we failed to find any element here that makes it exceptional, unlike the Halal Guys' white sauce/toum variation that is so good the cart won't even sell you the real deal. While the hot sauce at Halal Guys is tasty under the Scoville scale, it will ignite your face from the get-go. Personally, we think this is the one part where Adel's beats Halal Guys by delivering a great balance of flavor and fire. If you're a heatseeker, though, you'll probably stick with Halal Guys to deal yourself as much damage as possible.

Adel's never hits like a live wire to divide your culinary life into "before" and "after." That's a ridiculously high ask of a street cart, but if we're going to compare with Halal Guys during its similar golden period, that's the bar.

Is Adel's Famous Halal Cart worth the wait?

In our opinion, you can skip Adel's unless you luck into a short wait. It's too comparable to its line-of-sight competitors to be essential to a NYC culinary tour, and it's sandwiched right between the renowned Halal Guys and Vendy Award winner Royal Grill Halal Food. We went at midnight, the 30 minutes passed quickly, there was camaraderie with our fellow foodies, and even so, it wasn't worth undertaking the trip unless you happened to leave Radio City Music Hall and see a short line.

You might as well stand in just as long a line at Halal Guys, even when its late night, but it will be worth it. And you might also be canny enough to walk over to the much shorter outpost at Seventh Avenue, not five minutes away. Or hey, try one of the many other worthy halal grills nearby. There's even a map of halal trucks you can use, run by an enthusiast who ranks every one of the carts on Instagram and Reddit.

As we ate our meal, one of the Chicagoans returned to compare thoughts. Speaking reservedly, we agreed it was definitely a good meal, but Adel's won't be opening a brick-and-mortar in Chicago anytime soon.