Lunch in the Age of Corona

By Eric Dang

182-26 Hillside Ave
Jamaica, NY 11432

At the mouth of a five-car-long dead-end street off of Hillside Avenue rests the humble flagship of Halalbee’s.  Established in December of 2018, the corner location’s broad windows and bright blue exterior embody the “before-times”—the days before COVID—when indoor seating and throngs of people would certainly have crowded the restaurant, looking for their quick burger and shake fix.  Today, with its locked doors, darkened and table-less interior, and single employee staffing the pickup window, it stands as a sad reminder of how much the world has changed in less than a year.  Tasting the food, on the other hand, fills the belly with hope for restaurant dining’s triumphant return.

Boasting 100% grass-fed beef and, as the name would lead you to believe, an entirely halal menu, Halalbee’s offers the classic American burger restaurant experience.  With ten burger options ranging from The Original—beef patty, lettuce, tomato, mild cheddar, and HB sauce—to the Triple Bee—beef patty, lettuce, tomato, maple beef bacon, blue cheese, and HB sauce—Halalbee’s is sure to have the sandwich to fit your burger needs.  The menu also sports assorted peanut-fried goodies, including fries, onion rings, and mozzarella sticks.  Halalbee’s  most popular items are the Lunatic Burger, with jalapeños, maple beef bacon, gouda cheese, and smoked ghost mayo, and their 12-piece Panko Chicken Nuggets.

As the clock neared three o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon, I was both hopeful and anxious that Halalbee’s might have a queue of eager burger-seekers at the pickup window.  Maybe even, as Yelp led me to believe, there would be a small group of socially distant outdoor diners.  Upon arrival however, the restaurant seemed lifeless as I gave a weak tug at the locked Hillside Avenue-facing door.  Even on the dead-end side of the restaurant, where barriers had been placed as though to support an outdoor dining area, there were no tables, chairs, or trash cans.  As I double checked the receipt in my email, I saw a solitary figure walk up to a window on the dead-end side.  The window slid open and voilà, human interaction. I excitedly picked up my Lunatic Burger Meal Combo and Chicken and speed walked back to the safety of my car.

Let’s start with the burger.  Crisp beef bacon spills out the sides of the burger, draped over the lettuce and tomato.  Underneath, the gouda spills over the sides of the patty.  The bun, soft and soaking in the ghost mayo and burger juice, is warm to the touch and visibly grilled.  The burger itself is well-done, but not dry by any measure.  The first bite brings the heat and crunch of the jalapeños hiding under the patty.  The second bite brings a sink and pull of the beef bacon.  Between bites, the French fries, thick-cut and tasty.  The chicken—white meat, a jumbo-sized reminder of the popcorn chicken from my youth.  Each nugget has a hint of spice and is aggressively breaded with a satisfying crunch in every bite.

While the home dining experience is now commonplace, enjoying the burger, fries, and chicken after a brief commute home is never going to be the same as in-restaurant dining.  However, finding a local restaurant with such rich food so close to the law school has brought back hope that maybe one day soon I’ll be able to take a stroll down to Hillside Ave with friends and sit down for a burger.  I never thought I’d be looking forward to waiting in line for a burger.

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