Berkeley has several options when it comes to halal fast food. But a couple months ago, Wanted: Halal and Tasty came riding into town, serving some of the best halal platters and cheesesteaks in the county.
Wanted might be the Bay Area's — maybe even the state or the country's — only Western-themed halal restaurant. The giant sign, which owner Ashraf Fadel and his business partner, Mohamod Saleh, had made in their home country of Jordan, features the word "Wanted" in giant letters, flanked on both sides with images of cigarette-smoking cowboys with cheeseburgers and sandwiches. Inside, wood-paneled walls built by Fadel himself (thanks to his background as a former construction worker) hint at the Old West theme.
Fadel and Saleh are longtime friends who met when Fadel, a former boxing trainer, took on Saleh as a student. The two owned a video store in Amman for 15 years. Eventually, they lost touch. Both ended up moving to New York, where they worked in fast food restaurants. There, they reconnected and talked about owning their own restaurant one day, but wanting to escape New York winters and rent prices, they headed to Berkeley to open up shop. They named it Wanted as an homage to their love for movies, including Westerns.
Truthfully, there isn't much to the Western theme beyond the name and interior wood paneling. But if the name alone isn't enough of a reason to visit, then the food definitely is. Everything here is halal — even the bacon, which is made with beef — and it's all tasty, as the name promises.
When it comes to rice and meat platters, Halal Guys, the New York-based chain with hundreds of outposts including one in Berkeley, might be the biggest name in town. Its round to-go containers filled with rice, meat, salad, and pita bread topped with white sauce and hot sauce often draw lines of students to its location near campus. But for my money, Wanted does these meat and rice platters even better.
In fact, Fadel is quick to discount any similarities between his platters and the halal cart-style platters. The meat is barbecued rather than cooked on a flat-top grill, which imbues the meats with a hint of smoky flavor.
At Wanted, you've got three options for meat. The shish tawook, made with fresh chicken breast butchered in-house, was nicely charred on the outside yet juicy and tender inside. The kufta kebab was made with a blend of delicately seasoned ground beef and lamb. The shish kebab — my personal favorite — was made with chunks of lamb carefully grilled until just a hint of pink remained in the middle. I recommend going with the mix platter so you can try all three.
And then there's the rice. Badly cooked rice can ruin the tastiest of meats, but the rice here excels in texture and flavor, enhancing the already delicious meat. The long-grained rice was fluffy and cooked to an ideal al dente. And while Fadel wouldn't tell me the ingredients that make the rice so fragrant, the rich, full-bodied flavor reminded me of rice that's been flavored with meat drippings.
And finally, there's the sauce — the third part of the halal platter trifecta that needs to be perfect. The platter came with two sauces: a creamy, cooling white sauce and a mild red sauce dubbed "Wanted" sauce. The Wanted sauce was zesty, garlicky, and refreshing, thanks to a blend of what Fadel said is about 15 different fresh vegetables. Fadel said he eats two containers of Wanted sauce every time he eats a meal at the restaurant, and it's easy to see why — I found myself using every last drop of sauce every time.
Then there's the cheesesteak, straightforward yet impeccably done. The bread was crusty, light, and perfectly toasted. The beef inside was tender and thinly shaved, while grilled bell pepper and onions added sweetness.
Meanwhile, the American cheese sauce added creamy, gooey richness. All the ratios felt balanced: not too cheesy, not too meaty, not too bready.
It's worth the extra upcharge to get a combo, which gets you a drink and a heaping pile of seriously good fries. They're the standard seasoned variety, but they're carefully fried so that each fry has a thick crust that shatters upon biting into it, with a smooth, creamy interior.
While there are plenty of other restaurants serving chicken shawarma wraps, I was immediately struck by something that made Wanted's version different: It was wrapped in a tortilla rather than a Middle Eastern flatbread. Though I'm more accustomed to (and would probably prefer) a flatbread, the tortilla still worked, especially since it was nicely griddled until toasty on the outside like a dorado-style burrito. The chicken inside was flavorful and succulent thanks to seven hours of marinating. Meanwhile, olives, pickles, and lettuce added crunch and freshness, while the garlic sauce added robust, assertive flavors.
One item I'd never seen before was a sandwich called the Zinger — a wrap filled with fried chicken, turkey, lettuce, mayonnaise, and cheese. I assumed it was one of Wanted's creations, but I was surprised to learn that it's actually a popular fast food item back in Jordan. In Jordan, Fadel said, it's typically served on a hero roll without cheese, while Wanted's version comes wrapped in a tortilla and stuffed with a generous helping of melted American cheese. The chicken tender inside was crisp and juicy, and the addition of cheese never hurts.
But while I appreciated being able to try a hard-to-find Jordanian fast food dish, be sure not to miss the cheesesteaks and platters. These dishes are proof that when it comes to halal fast food, there's a new sheriff in town.