Among the countless street carts that peddle grilled meat in Midtown Manhattan, three entries lead the field–though chowhounds disagree on which ones win, place, and show.

The cart that feeds throngs of nighthawks till 4 a.m. at 6th Avenue and 53rd Street is known to some as Chicken and Rice, or just “The Cart”. It’s the one with the daunting lines and the fan website; they sure come through with terrific lamb gyros and chicken, in rice plates or pita sandwiches. E Eto says subtle seasoning allows the meat flavors to take the lead. He also notes that the lines–and resulting continuous turnover–mean the food doesn’t sit around drying on a hot grill, as it does at many other street carts. Rice and salad are mediocre, though. For vinouspleasure, the appeal of this place lies in texture: tender chicken, slightly crispy lamb, velvety white sauce.

There is huge praise for their sauces, especially that white sauce; it’s creamy, yogurty, just about perfect. The hot one is searing and, some say, lacking in depth. The barbecue one is skippable.

The Kwik Meal and Kwik Gourmet carts on 45th Street turn out the best street-legal lamb in Midtown, says vinouspleasure, who faults only smallish portions compared with rival vendors. They, too, season their meat with restraint, says E Eto, though a pleasing pepperiness sings out. Also appreciated by hounds: pinpoint timing on the grill, tasty chicken thigh meat, and real lamb (not pressed gyro meat). The default hot sauce is fruity, vinegary, and nicely piquant; chile heads can opt for a hotter hot sauce, but be warned–it’s combustible. Beyond chicken and lamb, the Kwik Meal carts offer tiger shrimp and fish specials like salmon or grouper.

The Trini-Pak Boyz at 43rd and 6th go heavier on the spice, producing the best-seasoned chicken in Midtown, says E Eto. Here, too, high turnover pays off in freshly cooked meat. Rice and vegetable accompaniments are uncommonly tasty, and the hot and white sauces are on par with those at 53rd and 6th. The Trini part of the menu includes curries, jerk, and roti that vinouspleasure rates good but not great.

Street vendor [Midtown West]
a.k.a. Chicken and Rice
53rd St. at 6th Ave., SW corner, Manhattan

Kwik Meal [Midtown West]
45th St. at 6th Ave., SW corner, Manhattan

Kwik Gourmet [Midtown West]
45th St. at 5th Ave., SW corner, Manhattan

Trini-Pak Boyz [Midtown West]
43rd St. at 6th Ave., SE corner, Manhattan

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