When Asma Bayunus moved from a small town in Minnesota to Austin 20 years ago, there were few halal options available to her. “When I arrived here, I only found three halal restaurants: Shalimar, Byblos and Alborz,” she recalls. “These are gone now but it seems there is now an option for almost every craving within a 30 minute drive.”
Asma Bayunus at Inchin Bamboo Garden (Photo by Yasmin Diallo Turk)
“The food table is a common denominator – everyone likes to eat – and when I go to places that have options that I can eat, I feel like they’ve built a bigger table, and I appreciate it.” – Asma Bayunus
Bayunus, who grew up in the Gulf country of Oman, has always eaten exclusively halal food, which includes meat products regulated by a set of rules designed to ensure the health of the animal to be slaughtered and the compliance with Islamic religious guidelines. This practice is also known as zabihah. “It was something that was very important to my parents. It was always the only option in our house growing up,” she says. Although there are many practices she did not carry over from her conservative Muslim upbringing, she continued to champion halal food as an important bond with her parents, which she also passed on to her teenage son. “For me, I was fine when there were only three halal restaurants, but when I had my son, I realized it was also important for him to have more options. We have lucky that not only are there halal restaurants, but there are also traditional restaurants that offer halal options The food table is a common denominator – everyone likes to eat – and when I go to places that offer options that I can eat, I feel like they built a bigger table, and I appreciate that.”
While many places with limited halal offerings do not necessarily advertise their brisket, burgers or premium steaks as halal, there is a loyal community that researches halal options and shares this information on the internet, including through the Zabihah website. com. Founded by former Austinite Shahed Amanullah in the 1990s, Zabihah is the largest outsourced halal options site across the country and the world.
The website led Bayunus to his current favorite spot, the Indo-Chinese fusion restaurant Inchin’s Bamboo Garden in Round Rock. The franchise’s current owners are a husband-and-wife hospitable team; their chef-in-law cooks fresh in the back. Bayunus’ go-to choices on the Inchin menu are Chicken 65, Chicken Lettuce Wraps, Tandoori Wings, and Mongolian Beef.
While Bayunus has seen strong growth in Austin’s halal food scene over two decades, Sana Khan is a Chicago transplant who’s lived here since 2019. She grew up eating exclusively halal and says, “In Chicago, you can get premium halal steaks. or pretty much whatever you wanted.” When she moved to Austin, she took to Instagram to find halal spots to try but couldn’t find much. Relying heavily on Zabihah.com for finding what was available, she began documenting her journey by exploring Austin’s halal offerings on her Instagram account @AustinHalalEats, and is an administrator for the Halal Food Austin group on Facebook.
Sana Khan (Courtesy of Sana Khan)
What Khan appreciates most about Austin’s halal offerings is the wide variety. While it’s common in Chicago to have plenty of options for cuisines originating from Muslim countries, Austin offers more variety with Pakistani-Mexican fusion at Urban Turban, Texan-style barbecue at Alzer, and the halal chicken and waffles at Longhorn Chicken. What she would like to find is authentic Mexican, Korean and Indian Hyderabadi food.
Nora Altiti at Usta Kababgy, with lahmajun (Photo by Yasmin Diallo Turk)
In addition to customers like Bayunus and Khan who are absolute about halal food, others like mother of two Nora Altiti prefer to eat halal when available but don’t eat it exclusively. Born in Austin, Altiti spent her teenage years living in Jordan with her extended family. When Altiti wants the taste of Jordan’s comfort food, she places an order at Usta Kababgy: “It’s the flavor of family gatherings and time with my tayta [grandmother].” Located in the Lamar/Rundberg neighborhood, known as Austin’s international district, Usta Kababgy markets itself as a halal barbecue destination. Although the Arabic term for how the food is prepared, mashawi, can be translated By barbecue, food is cooked using a charcoal cooking method closer to the grill.
The Adana kabab (l) and Turkish coffee at Usta Kababgy (Photo by Yasmin Diallo Turk)
Nora’s favorites on the Usta Kababgy menu are lahmajun (thinly rolled flatbread with a generous layer of well-seasoned ground beef) and Adana and Iraqi kababs (both made with a mix of lamb and beef). Although she usually orders her food to take away, when she eats out her meal isn’t finished until she has had a cup of their Turkish coffee. It is a strong coffee that can be enjoyed sweet or unsweetened, and with a thin layer of foam on top; the bottom of the cup has a layer of grounds that should be left in the cup. The food is served casually on paper plates with plastic utensils, but the Turkish coffee is served beautifully in tiny zamak-covered cups.
Inchin bamboo garden (Photo by Yasmin Diallo Turk)
The owner of the Bamboo Garden franchise in Inchin, Arfan Ahmed, said he saw a 35% increase in the number of customers at his establishment specifying halal over the past two years, with about half now asking for halal. “Besides religious reasons, halal meat is cleaner and healthier. We have a growing Muslim population in Austin with fewer halal options compared to big cities like Houston and Dallas, so a halal menu is important to serve the community. “, he says. Austin has an estimated Muslim population of over 30,000. Many of them prepare for Ramadan (daytime fasting month) in April, and Eid al-Fitr (celebration of the end of the fasting month) in May. Ahmed says he expects an increase in takeout and dine-in orders this first Ramadan because Austin’s COVID risk guidelines are currently low.
This Ramadan, Bayunus expects to frequent several of Austin’s halal spots. As she reflected on the expansion of halal options today compared to when she arrived in Austin two decades ago, she says, “I feel like there are so many great choices in Austin right now. want to.”
Five Halal Menu Recommendations in Austin
Almarah Mediterranean cuisine (Courtesy of Sana Khan)
• Almarah Mezza tray at Almarah Mediterranean cuisine (12129 RR 620 N. #450, almarahgrill.com)
• Kabab Adana to Halal BBQ Usta Kababgy (9717 N. Lamar Ste. C-2, ustakababgy.com)
• Chicken 65 to Inchin bamboo garden (3107 NI-35, bamboo-gardens.com/austin-tx-2)
• Chicken Tikka Tacos Urban turban (4257 Gattis School Rd., Round Rock, the-urban-turban-halal-restaurant.business.site)
• Meat eater pizza at Arpeggio Grid (6619 Airport, arpeggiogrill.com)