Monday, August 29, 2011

Halal [HOT LIST]

Chicken Tikka Pizza from Halal Desi Pizza. Photo by Nicole Rupersburg.

Sunset today marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, and the beginning of Eid, the two-day Muslim holiday following Ramadan. Here in metro Detroit we have an estimated population of over 200,000 Muslims, and we also have the highest concentration of ethnic Arabs outside of the Middle East. To honor our Muslim friends (truth be told, Dearborn is one of our favorite cities in metro Detroit), we bring you this Halal Hot List.

Halal means "lawful," referring to food (and other items) that are permissible in accordance with Islamic law. Islam forbids the consumption of pork, alcohol, carnivorous animals and birds of prey, and blood, as well as any food that may be contaminated by these products. "Halal" also refers to a specific method of slaughtering (the Jewish "kosher" is very similar to the Islamic "halal"). A restaurant that is certified halal will serve none of these outlawed items and will prepare everything in accordance with Islamic law.

There are certified halal restaurants all over metro Detroit, from Dearborn to Garden City, Hamtramck to Sterling Heights. They are Iraqui, Yemeni, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Lebanese (we'll look specifically at these ethnically distinct restaurants in future posts). The five restaurants featured here specialize in five very different kinds of foods. "Halal" doesn't have to mean Middle Eastern or Indian food ... it also means burgers, tacos, pizza, and rotisserie chicken; a little something for all palates (including wholly Midwestern American ones). And to our Muslim friends during this holiday, Assalamu alaikum.

#1 Halal Desi Pizza (Hamtramck)
If you've ever driven down Caniff off of I-75, you've noticed Halal Desi Pizza. It's a box of a building at the corner of Lumpkin and Caniff, covered in signage announcing their pizza, gyros, burgers, chicken wings, Chinese food, and Mexican food. Yes, all of those things. This Bangladeshi establishment serves a variety of popular catch-all American fast food items, and every last one of them is certified halal. The pepperoni for their pizzas is made from beef and they also serve a lot of lamb (their New York-style gyros are a bestseller, and they also have a lamb burger for only $5). But the chicken tikka pizza makes a journey to Hamtramck for pizza alone entirely worthwhile. Chicken tikka (marinated and seasoned tandoori chicken) baked crispy on the edges and bright red with seasoning, along with green peppers and onions on chewy, traditional round crust (do yourself a favor and say "yes" when they ask if you want the crust buttered and sprinkled with parmesan). Alhamdulillah, we love a good melting pot!

#2 Al-Ameer (Dearborn, Dearborn Heights)
We couldn't NOT put a straight-up Middle Eastern restaurant on this list, and this is the most famous of all. At Al-Ameer, you get the full Lebanese-Muslim experience: lamb, lamb, and more lamb; skewered, marinated meats (like lamb; also chicken); and also plenty of light, flavorful vegetarian dishes like fattoush salad, hummous, baba ghanouge, tabbouli, falafel, labneh ... and then lamb. "He don't eat no meat? That's okay. I make lamb." Etc. The baked kebbie is tasty, but the raw kebbie is where it's at. (Hint: it's lamb.) But if you only ever order one thing here, the buttery-tender stuffed lamb with labneh should be it.

#3 Fuego Grill (Dearborn)
There is perhaps no other country on earth that loves pork more than Mexico. Except America. So opening a certified halal Mexican restaurant is certainly not without its challenges. Fuego Grill is the only certified halal Mexican restaurant in the state of Michigan: that means no carnitas, no tacos al pastor, no tripe. But the food here is fresh, all made in-house from scratch, and they do what they can with what they have. They make a chicken-based chorizo with vinegar, cumin, and a dried pepper paste that could easily pass for "the real thing" (and even if not, it's still damn good). They also serve excellent tender, juicy steak dishes (like the braised beef tips).

#4 Zayeqa (Farmington Hills)
It's Chinese food done in Indo-Paki style, the end result of Chinese diaspora into northern India. What this means: it's spicy. It has flavor. There's a lot of curry. And it is better than most other Chinese places you will eat; spare us the almond chicken and egg foo young. The menu is a melding of Hakka, Indian and Pakistani items; we recommend the hakka noodles and every last one of the chicken dishes. But take note: this is legit Indo-Paki food, which means it is H-O-T. If your palate is most comforted by Choose-Your-Meins, this might not be the place for you.

#5 Golden Chicken
You want chicken? They got chicken. Chicken shawarma, shish tawook, chicken and rice, etc. But if you order anything other than the rotisserie chicken you are doing both yourself and this restaurant a disservice. It would be like going to Roast and ordering a vegetarian dish. You haven't actually experienced this place and are out of your element in all discussions of it. Beautiful, golden, juicy chicken cooking on a spit until it's charred up crispy on the edges; this is what Golden Chicken is about.

Bubbling under Al-Ajami (Dearborn), Byblos Cafe and Grill (Detroit), Al Sultan Restaurant (Garden City), Tawaa Cuisine (Garden City), Najeeb Kabob House (Warren), Sheeba Restaurant (Hamtramck), Aladdin Sweets and Cafe (Hamtramck)

Halal Desi Pizza on Urbanspoon