Street Vendor at 44th & Sixth Rated City’s Best

Royal Grill Halal Food is located at 44th and Sixth. | Photo by Sydney Pereira

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | A popular Midtown halal truck has won the Vendy Cup in the city’s annual street food competition. The grand champion in the annual Vendy Awards, Royal Grill Halal Food, was announced on Governors Island on Sept. 22. Royal Grill’s owners attributed their win to their family recipes and homemade sauces, which draw customers in day after day, year after year.

“The people love it,” said MD Alam, the eatery’s co-owner with his wife, Hira. “That is the way I grew the business.”

Twenty years ago, the Alams moved to New York from Bangladesh. While MD spent two years at a community college studying computer science, Hira Alam worked with her brother at a nearby food truck. MD later worked as a restaurant manager.

The restaurant’s business, he said, grew rapidly under his watch.

“I thought, ‘Why should I be building someone else’s business when I could be building my own?’” Alam said.

In 2005, the couple opened Royal Grill Halal Food at 44th St. and Sixth Ave.

Day-by-day, they worked up to a consistent 200 customers a day. Today, they have hundreds more customers a day, a third of whom are regulars, Alam estimated.

MD Alam, who with his wife Hira owns Royal Grill Halal Food. | Photo by Sydney Pereira

The Alams and their 13-year-old daughter live in Flushing.

Specialities such as chicken tikka masala and biryani, as well as homemade white sauce, hot sauce, and green sauce are what draw in daily customers, Alam said. His white sauce, he emphasized, is made with plain yogurt and a blend of spices — no mayonnaise.

His mother-in-law is where the specialty recipes originated, Alam said. She taught him how to cook his now-famous foods, he acknowledged.

Royal Grill Halal was one of five finalists for the Vendy Cup, prevailing over a Colombian arepa truck, El Saboroso De Aracataca, in Jackson Heights, a Greek food cart, Franky’s Souvlaki, in Astoria, Long Island City’s Burmese Bites, which snagged the People’s Choice Award, the other big prize at Governors Island, and another Midtown eatery, Jiannetto’s Pizza and Catering, at 47th St. between Park and Madison Aves.

“It’s a really, really hard competition,” Alam said.

The sign says it: Best in town. | Photo by Sydney Pereira

The Vendy Awards are a part of a larger push to fight for vendors’ rights, and funds from the awards go toward Urban Justice Center’s Street Vendor Project, which has been fighting a limit on street vending permits since the 1980s. The Project boasts 1,800 active members, many immigrants and people of color, and fights what it says is an ongoing quality of life crackdown on street vendors motivated by the “urging of powerful business groups.”

The sauce MD Alam was taught to make by his mother-in-law is the final touch on the best street food in town. | Photo by Sydney Pereira

The other Midtown eatery, Jiannetto’s, was founded by Joe Jiannetto in 1998.

Jiannetto hails from Staten Island, where he learned the tricks of the trade in the borough’s many pizzerias, according to a release from the Street Vendor Project.

“It is a business for me, [but] it’s also a hobby that I love,” Jiannetto said in a Vendy Awards video. “The secret to success is loving what you do.”

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