Italian and Arabic foods are an unlikely combination. One is a staple on college campuses nationwide, and the other is sadly unfamiliar to far too many young scholars looking for a bite to eat on lunch break. This November, AU Dining decided it’s time to change that. Enter Halal Shack & Baba’s Pizza.

Elliott Parrish

But what is Halal?

Halal is Arabic for “lawful,” meaning that food labeled Halal is permitted by Islamic law. The idea here is akin to the Kosher offerings at District Pickle. This style of cuisine is especially popular in the Middle East and South Asia, but has recently gained a great fan base here in Washington, D.C.

Aside from humanely raised meats, Halal Shack focuses on rice, falafel, hummus, and naan. (For the uninitiated: naan is a delicious kind of flat bread, and falafel is essentially a savory ball of fried chickpeas.) Dishing up rice bowls and naan rolls for a meal swipe, the Shack offers a hearty value for hungry students at the MGC.

Elliott Parrish

Fabulous falafel

Doing its best CAVA impression, the Halal Shack swings for the fences when it comes to variety. At the grand opening, I tried a brown rice bowl with falafel, parsley, tomato, hummus, and shredded Swiss cheese. (I know that final topping is unorthodox, but it complemented the dish well.) The richly seasoned aura of the rice was on-point. Having grown up in a suburb abundant in Middle Eastern eateries, tasting this was a comforting reminder of home.

Elliott Parrish

White, hot white, red hot, tahini, and BBQ sauces grace the toppings menu at Halal Shack. I recommend the white sauce, which can act as a salad dressing for lettuce bowls or otherwise add fabulous flavor to your protein.

The falafel here comes steaming in a superbly crunchy shell—exactly how this specialty should be. Fans of Georgetown’s darling Falafel Co. will not be disappointed. Speaking of chickpeas, no visit here would be complete without trying the hummus. It complements the parsley salad especially well, cutting through the rich grains of this dish with a fresh burst of color.

Pizza, anyone?

Elliott Parrish

The university’s second pizza parlor, Baba’s Pizza is an east coast loyalist at its heart. Classic, crispy thin crust is the specialty here, best topped with zesty pepperoni bites and luxuriously stretchy mozzarella.

On its November 9th “soft opening,” students stared longingly at the Baba’s Pizza counter, which was blocked off from the general public’s orders. If you were lucky enough to snag one of the free samples that staff members surreptitiously distributed nearby, you were not likely disappointed. The slices here will surely be a popular carryout choice for study sessions and dorm lounge hangouts across campus.

Elliott Parrish

Aside from the ubiquitous cheese, pepperoni, and sausage, there are more intriguing offerings to be explored at Baba’s Pizza. Adventurous eaters can choose BBQ, pesto, or garlic in place of the usual red sauce, and even try unique toppings like eggplant, pineapple, or ricotta cheese.

As for myself, I consider garlic sauce, ricotta, and eggplant to be a winning combination. The vegetable is lightly fried, not charred, and makes a mild foil for the pungent dollops of ricotta. What’s more, the pizzas here are larger than those previously offered at Build Pizza on East Campus. This means you get more scrumptious pie to share with your friends—but you probably won’t want to.

What’s new at the dining scene at AU?

Elliott Parrish

The addition of these two restaurants changes the game for meal plan holders on campus. Those with ample meal swipes and Eagle Bucks can also expect a smoothie and salad joint to open where Build Pizza once stood. It’s also worth noting that made-to-order poke bowls are finally available in the Kerwin lobby. (The pre-packaged bowls just weren’t the same.)

There is no online ordering system in place at Baba’s Pizza nor Halal Shack just yet, and the digital kiosks don’t work as of my publishing date. But despite the long lines accompanying this grand opening, the wait times at Baba’s are faster than they ever were at Build—another reason why this addition to the Mary Graydon Center improves the AU dining experience by leaps and bounds.