Going out to eat, ordering in, and even grocery shopping for a home cooked meal are all things easily taken for granted by those without dietary restrictions. With so many different dietary restrictions today, it is unrealistic to expect restaurants and grocers to cater to everyone. It is, however, notably more difficult for many American Muslims to find halal meat options.

The rising halal food market provides an increasing number of food options for American-Muslims, yet, on a daily basis, many still struggle to find meals that include meat.

Halal meat for Muslims is tantamount to kosher meat for Jews, as both come from an animal that has been slaughtered in accordance with religious texts. The Qur’an and hadith stipulate that in order for meat to be halal, the animal must be hung upside down, allowing the blood to drain out, while Allah’s name is spoken. These religious criteria make it difficult for American-Muslims to find meat in not predominantly Muslim areas.

Students at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) often find themselves repeatedly eating the same foods, as they do not have time to venture to halal markets and cook daily.  This, consequently, compels them to eat out.

One student said, “Sometimes it’s a source of conflict when I’m making plans with friends… I can’t always eat some of the foods my friends choose to enjoy.” Many echoed the difficulty in experiencing new cuisines because of the lack of halal options outside of Mediterranean food.

A few American-Muslims admitted to accepting kosher foods in lieu of certified halal meat. The majority, however, did not accept this alternative, preferring instead to find certified halal meat.

Students also cited the financial burden of forgetting to pack a lunch and paying more for seafood or vegetarian substitutes: “Sometimes you are forced to pay more than you can afford. At McDonald’s it always costs more to get a fish sandwich than a chicken sandwich or a burger.”

One student even experienced health issues resulting from the lack of halal options in her busy day-to-day life. “It’s hard for me since I work and go to school, I end up limiting myself on what I can eat and now I’m on medication for having low iron,” she said.

As a recent graduate, current intern, and someone who holds a nearly full-time job, I can relate to simply lacking time to prepare food and thus having to go out to find some.

Luckily, the number of dining establishments that offer full or partial halal menus is on the rise. Places with Mediterranean, Indian, American, Greek, French, South Asian, Persian, Palestinian and many more cuisines now offer halal meat throughout the city of Chicago.

The Jordanian owner of Sultan’s Market located in Wicker Park (2057 W. North Ave; (773) 235-3072) sells Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. A manager at Sultan’s Market noted, “It just works, it’s Middle Eastern food and that’s what people who come in expect: halal food.” Sultan’s Market offers a wide variety of options ranging from salads, starters, rice and soups to sandwiches, kabobs and shawerma. It should be noted, too, that those with a sweet tooth can head to this Wicker Park location and find a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean inspired dessert bar. They also have a second location in Lincoln Park (2521 N. Clark St.; (312) 683-9151).

Mughal India, located in the Near West Side neighborhood (560 W. VHan Buren St.; (312) 431-8029), serves Indian cuisine with an entirely halal meat menu. Mughal India’s manager explained that the restaurant opted to serve halal meat not only to accommodate customers with particular religious affiliations, but because many non-Muslims find that the food tastes better. This stems from the idea that the meat tastes better because of how the animals are drained entirely of their blood. Mughal India offers a wide variety of dishes infused with Indian spices and flavors.

For those who want to enjoy traditional American cuisine on the go can head to Brother K’s, in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood (6659 S. Wentworth Ave.; (773) 488-6659). Brother K’s offers a wide range of foods from American cuisine. Food options include cheeseburgers, chicken wraps, Philly cheese steak sandwiches, hot dogs and chicken nuggets. They even have gyros, tacos and some Cajun inspired choices. Their website provides a full menu and coupons.

Jubrano’s is another great option for halal American cuisine. Located in Little Italy (1519 W. Taylor St.; (312) 666-8681), Jubrano’s offers burgers, chicken, wings and wraps. They also offer salads, side orders, fish and gyros. I would personally recommend Jubrano’s burgers, as they are both delicious and affordable!

I Dream Of Falafel, located in the Loop (331 S Franklin St.; (312) 913-9660) offers Middle Eastern cuisine. You can visit their website to view their menu, more locations and to sign up to receive coupons and find out about monthly specials.

Olive Mediterranean Grill, located in the Loop (1001 W. North Ave; (312) 274-5525), offers a Mediterranean menu. Olive Mediterranean Grill provides a wide range of Mediterranean ingredients and allow you to create your own unique meal each time you visit. Visit their website to check out their menu, view additional locations or to order online.

There are many more restaurant options throughout Chicago and the Chicagoland area but it is advised that you always ask about their halal status. Oftentimes halal foods and Middle Eastern or Mediterranean foods are used interchangeably. Several times my halal-only eating friends have come across great Middle Eastern or Mediterranean restaurants with mouthwatering menus only to find that none of their meats are halal. Be sure to not confuse cuisine with halal and always ask places if their meats are halal. Look out for restaurant windows boasting certified halal signs, there may be some unique halal cuisines out there waiting to be discovered. If you find any great halal places or just wish to share your experiences about your favorite halal restaurants, feel free to add your thoughts in a comment.