We are currently, happily swirling about in a tornado of authentic Mexican tacos.
Given the situation, it’s totally understandable that Hali Boyz in Black Rock might get pigeon-holed as ‘just another taqueria,’ a phrase, by the way, that would have sounded ridiculous only two years ago.
However, like the brothers that own and operate Hali Boyz, the story is much more complicated than a basic first impression.
Half-Lebanese, half-Mexican and raised Muslim — the Mazeh brothers are really just a couple of dudes from Los Angeles who recently decided to open a fast-casual restaurant based on their diverse background.
While you might be ‘woke’ to their tacos, don’t sleep on Hali Boyz killer grilled subs. In addition to being raised both halal and on their Mexican mother’s home cooking, it turns out, the brothers also have years of experience managing a cheesesteak joint back in LA.
“We’re different. We’re not your average, regular Mexican place,” Nour Mazeh told me on my recent visit. “We’re traditional but, with American food — we put our own twist to it. People say we serve Phillys here. We don’t serve Phillys here. We serve french rolls with our mixed cheeses and our chicken and steak.”
The Hali Steak that I ordered had big chunks of charred meat that were cooked medium-well and provided a great texture contrast to both the chewy sub roll and the creamy cheese-veggie conglomeration that surrounded the meat.
“My dad always said the best way to eat a Philly is when the cheese is around the veggies and the meats, versus just having the cheese on top, which separates the wet from the dry,” Mazeh differentiated. “Well, you can take care of that by using shredded cheese and mixing it in. Now, it becomes like a goo, and then it becomes a real Philly cheesesteak.”
Of course, there are also tacos and burritos. Served on doubled corn tortillas, the two-bite tacos come with just steak, pulled beef, chicken shrimp or veggies — and cilantro. This means hitting up the self-serve salsa bar is a must unless you crave blandness, like some kind of Neanderthal. Options at the bar include jalapeños, sliced radishes, pico de gallo, limes, a fiery red salsa, and two kinds or green salsa, one with red tomatoes and one without.
Pro tip #1: The green salsa without tomatoes is straight crack. Smoky and pungent, you will be daydreaming about this for days after you try it.
Pro tip #2: The red salsa is not to be trifled with. Each fiery bite adds up, reaching suicide-wing levels of puckering hotness.
Like most places that serve tacos, burritos, and subs, Hali Boyz has very affordable prices. Malak Mazeh told me he expects foot traffic in Black Rock to be a significant part of his business, and that means sticking to an approachable price point.
“A Philly cheesesteak, the way we sell it, with the meats that we use, I could sell that for $9.99, but $9.99 doesn’t appeal here,” he said. “You might say that’s only two dollars, but two dollars is two dollars.”
Unlike most places that serve tacos, burritos, and subs, Hali Boyz closes at 10:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday — which is well before the bar crowd starts leaking out of nearby Amherst Street watering holes. Also, Hali Boyz is closed on Fridays.
Malak Mazeh said because the restaurant is currently staffed entirely with his family, it maintains family-friendly hours and closes for religious reasons on Fridays.
“For Muslims, (Friday is) our day of church, so that’s our worship day,” he said. “As a family, we work six days a week, so we wanted to make sure we not only have that day to worship The Almighty, but also have a day to reboot ourselves, to give people the reenergized attitudes that I believe are required in a restaurant.”
He added that he does plan to increase restaurant staff after working out the kinks in Hali Boyz processes, and as staffing levels increase — being open on Fridays and staying open late will become very real possibilities.
388 Amherst St, Buffalo, NY 14207
Hours: Sunday – Thursday 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Saturday 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., Closed Friday