.Next Mex

Filipino-Palestinian chef’s new spin on taco culture

Good news for fans of El Halal Amigos: The popular food truck now has a restaurant in San Jose. After starting his restaurant on wheels in 2020, Hisham Abdelfattah opened the brick-and-mortar iteration of El Halal Amigos earlier this year in February. He now reserves the truck for catering gigs.

That’s only bad news for those who can’t find their way to Willow Glen. At the location on Lincoln Avenue, tacos, burritos and nar-chos are still on the menu. That’s right, nar-chos—not nachos—an indication that Abdelfattah’s restaurant isn’t your average taqueria.

Abdelfattah’s heritage is Filipino and Palestinian but he fell pasionately in love with Mexican food. When he “really dove into Islam” a few years back, the chef couldn’t find Mexican restaurants where the food was halal. Halal means “permissible” in Arabic and “refers to the dietary law of Islam,” according to El Halal Amigo’s website. Abdelfattah started to cook it at home. When his friends told him they loved the food, he said, “Hey, I think I got something here.”

I met a friend for lunch at El Halal and ordered a taco plate along with chips and guacamole. We also received a complimentary bowl of chips and salsa. A whole lotta chips for a table of two but they were exactly the kind that I like: deep-fried corn tortillas, slightly saturated and darkened by the frying oil, crunchy, lightly salted, and cut into triangles. There are five protein choices—pork is not halal—for tacos, burritos and dishes such as enchiladas and quesadillas. My three tacos were filled with chicken, carne asada and, finally, potato and cauliflower.

Only later did I realize that I’d hopefully and hastily misread the menu as potato and corn. Cauliflower, unfortunately for me, is my least favorite vegetable. It was finely diced and spiced but didn’t make me a convert (to be fair, at my advanced age, nothing ever will). There is, however, a second vegetarian option for nopales, which I’d like to try on a return visit. The chicken and carne asada tacos, brightened up by lime wedges, white onions and cilantro, were the clear favorites. My friend ordered a delicious plate of slow-cooked barbacoa costillas. Two giant beef ribs cooked in banana leaves and chiles.

While we were eating outside in El Halal Amigo’s parklet, Abdelfattah took the time to stop by each table. He appears to be naturally suited for the hospitality business, genuinely interested in hearing what his customers have to say. When he bought the food truck in 2020, he also started a TikTok account (elhalalamigos) that’s currently entertaining approximately 42,000 followers. His public persona, he tells me, was generated out of necessity to attract people to his business.

“When I opened [the food truck] in 2020, I had $100 to my name and no idea how I was going to pay people,” he recalls. “A month before we opened, I started hitting social media, making videos, getting people excited.” Abdelfattah says that he was initially reluctant to “throw my whole body in the video, and my face.” Out of his “passionate desperation” something clicked online for the viewing public. One of the first videos he posted was of the chef speaking Spanish. “Because I’m Middle Eastern and Filipino, I knew it was going to create controversy,” he says. And it went viral, garnering over a million views. At the time, he made videos every day because, “I wanted the algorithm to know I was fucking active.”

About six years ago, the chef traveled to Mexico, visiting Guadalajara, Michoacán and Nayarit. He stayed with friends and tried the various cuisines, or, at least the ones that he could. “When we devised our menu, I knew that I wanted it to be very user-friendly. I wanted people to look at my menu and be like, ‘I really need to order that.’” Abdelfattah does include some references to his own heritage. In Arabic, nar is the word for fire, a hot sauce pun that explains the idea behind the nar-chos.

The new location of El Halal Amigos is a kind of homecoming for Abdelfattah. He was the chef and general manager of Main Street Burgers back in 2011, before he worked at Tacolicious in Santana Row. He then went on to start the food truck after being laid off at the start of the pandemic. When the Main Street Burgers owner saw how well the truck was doing, he suggested that El Halal Amigos move into the Willow Glen address.

Abdelfattah sounds grateful for all the support he’s received, and he’s proud to have provided jobs for other people. “Not only was I able to help the people that really needed it, but I was able to create my dream and build this platform on social media,” Abdelfattah says. “And people are just so inspired by our story.”   

El Halal Amigos is open daily 11:30am-9pm (until 10pm Fri-Sat) at 1100 Lincoln Ave, #160, San Jose. 408.645.5571. elhalalamigos.com


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