The Houston location of The Halal Guys, which originally earned fame and respect in New York for its food carts that serve gyro, chicken and garlicky sauce, opened to an eager audience on Saturday morning. Unlike most restaurant openings, though, this one caused traffic and parking problems so dire that they required police intervention. The new restaurant and its customers are also proving problematic for its next-door neighbor, 59 Diner.
Hundreds of people lined up through the weekend to get a taste of New York. Their cars quickly filled The Halal Guys’ small parking lot to capacity, so soon the 59 Diner lot was filled, too, as was the available street parking on Farnham. The Halal Guys' customers reported that the wait in line was up to two hours.
By Sunday, three police officers were instructing The Halal Guys’ customers to park across the street, but it didn't help enough. When we visited around 3 p.m., the 59 Diner parking lot was completely full. Only about ten customers were actually in the diner, and we witnessed several people coming out of The Halal Guys and getting into cars in front of 59 Diner.
A 59 Diner employee who did not wish to be named told us that both businesses — and the parking lots — have the same landlord. “I told the police last night to have [The Halal Guys] customers park across the street so at least our customers can park here. If our customers pull in and the parking lot is full, they think we’re busy.”
The 59 Diner manager, whose first name is Javier, acknowledged the issues by phone this morning. "I've got to go talk to those guys [at The Halal Guys] to try and get this fixed," he said. "I may have to put someone of my own out there [in the parking lot]. This has to stop."
Perhaps worse, though, was what customers reported on Twitter on Saturday night:
That trash included disposable food containers and sauce packets. We called late that night and a 59 Diner manager said he had employees picking up the trash but the lack of parking was the biggest issue for that restaurant's customers. The manager, Javier, said "Maybe [The Halal Guys] should send over their own people to pick up their trash."
One big issue that could be causing the trash problem is that The Halal Guys has very little seating — certainly not enough to accommodate the hundreds of customers the place is getting. If people have to stand in line for 90 minutes, chances are they're very hungry by the time they get their food. It's a reasonable assumption the to-go box trash is from people eating in the parking lot at their cars.
Is the food at The Halal Guys worth the long wait and the parking hassles? Early customer reviews are mixed. One patron we spoke with on Sunday afternoon said he waited for 70 minutes, which is actually one of the shorter waits we heard about. Even after eating the chicken and gyro combo, he said, "I think I'd wait until it settles down," he recommended. "It's probably not worth the wait."
(Updated 2/1/16, 5:05 p.m. to correct names and relationships below)
While we were there, John Paul Cedillo and his friend Ashley Ramos tried to go to the restaurant, then changed their minds. "I like halal, but not for a two-hour wait," said Cedillo. "I'd had them before in New York and that's why I wanted to try and get in. But I did take photos to show we tried to get in during the opening! All of the credit and none of the wait!" he laughed.
Two gentlemen, named Dayo and Adeyinka, waited an hour and 45 minutes and took their food to go. Dayo works in the Medical Center area, and tried The Halal Guys during the Uber Eats preview last week. Diners could get an early look at the combo plate, but only if they had it delivered via the service. "It was pretty good," said Dayo. Apparently, it was good enough for a long wait in line, which is what diners will likely encounter for several weeks to come.
We tried to speak with someone at The Halal Guys, but no one was answering the phone at 11:10 a.m., most likely because the restaurant was trying to keep up with the throngs of customers.