New Yorkers Bring the Aroma to Pasadena

Family opens new chicken and gyro eatery
By EDDIE RIVERA, Editor, Weekendr Magazine
Published on Sep 15, 2022

New York City, for those who perhaps have never been, is a compendium of brief, wonderful fragrances. Street corners from the Village to Midtown to Upper Manhattan are marked by food cart vendors hawking soft pretzels or hot dogs or carmelized peanuts, ready to feed hungry workers and tourists.

While some items like roasted chestnuts are seasonal, spiced meats and gyros — in platters and in kabobs  — reign all year long, their spicy grilled aromas beckoning the hungry like sea sirens.

Moe, Sam, Hafiz and their father Habib Mehirdel, owners of the new New York Chicken and Gyros location on Green Street in Pasadena, have brought that flavor, spice and scent to the land of palm trees, mountains and beaches. And the Rose Parade.

“I always wanted to do this in California,” Moe said in an interview this week. “The weather, the beaches, all of that. I had to convince my father to come.”

Habib had come to the US in the early 80s, following the Communist invasion of Afghanistan. He was firmly planted in Queens, New York.

“We grew up in a blue collar family,” said Moe. “My father was always working at a restaurant. He came in here in 1981, not knowing a word of English. He went from Afghanistan to Europe to here. And when he got here actually,  through his travels, he started to understand food more,  too. He was always a foodie guy.”

But he still had to be convinced to come to California. Moe was already here and was working several jobs hoping to bring a bit of New York to California.

“Our food’s a mirror image of what you see in the streets of New York city, in the Halal carts [Halal being foods prepared according to Islmaic dietary laws].”

“Our rice is a special blend, to which we add cumin seeds for the smell and the taste, and it’s exactly what you get right off the New York city block. It’s our rice, our chopped up chicken and our chopped off lamb. That’s it.”

The brothers take those basic ingredients, and saute the meat with onions on the grill.

“We let the onions melt into the meat so we can give it a more juicy texture,” said Moe.

The chicken is marinated 24 hours before it hits the grill.

“We do that just to get all that nice Indian masala that we bring in imported straight from India, right into that chicken,” said Moe. “It’s embedded into that chicken. Once it hits the grill, you just start to see the juices and the smoke smelling so good.”

While the menu even includes burgers, the star of the show is rightfully the chicken.

A platter of chicken and lamb ( a mixture of lamb and beef), with salad, which will run about a very reasonable $10 or so, is more than enough lunch. Think of it as lunch-and-a-half.

The meats are served with their own white sauce, essentially their version of a tahini sauce, along with a spicy red sauce, which lands somewhere between ketchup and Siraracha, with a good distance from each.

This is bountiful and flavorful food, clearly served with love from a family that loves to celebrate food and family. It was their father, Habib, in fact, who told Moe and Sam, last Sunday, “Let’s open today. You’re ready. Let’s not worry about tablets and registers. Let’s open the door and give some away. Let’s see the reaction.”

When they were ready for their official grand opening last Friday, lines formed hours before the doors opened.

It must have been the aroma.

New York Chicken and Gyro is at 961 East Green Street, Pasadena, CA. (747) 201-7696.

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