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Halal barbecue shop in Ballston blends Maryland and Pakistani flavors into a Chesapeake ‘Bay-B-Q’ style

Arlington’s first halal barbecue restaurant is up and running in Ballston.

Hal & Al’s BBQ in Quarter Market, the food hall in Ballston Quarter, opened in December. It is best known at this point for its beef brisket, though it also serves beef ribs and turkey sausage and sides such as chili and mac and cheese.

All of the meats follow Islamic food preparation laws — meaning customers will not find pork on the menu.

Owner Mohsin Rehman was born and raised in Baltimore and his parents immigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan. Rehman incorporates his upbringing in his dishes by merging Baltimore and Pakistani flavors to create Hal & Al’s popular brisket.

“Deep down, I have my love for Old Bay,” Rehman said. “So we use kind of a hybrid of Pakistani spices and Maryland crab seasoning mixed together to create our brisket. It creates this kind of ‘Bay-B-Q’ vibe, a Chesapeake Bay barbecue vibe.”

Rehman believes it’s important to highlight flavors from different regions as part of the varied Northern Virginia food scene.

“We live in a world — such a diverse world with such a diverse palette — and just black pepper and salt really keeps you from showcasing what you could do with brisket,” Rehman said. “You’re not going to go to a fancy restaurant where they’re like, ‘We only use black pepper.’ They’re going to use a multitude of spices from all over the world. I try staying to my roots.”

Rehman started his venture into the culinary world in college where he was lovingly titled the “Italian grandmother” by his friends due to his love of cooking.

“I get a lot of joy from feeding people,” he said. “I’ve always really gotten a lot of pleasure from seeing people nourished and happy from what I put my time into. The nice thing about barbecue is it’s a very family-oriented community, it sparks a lot of memories for folks.”

In 2010, Rehman started a food blog and, he says, was the only halal food blogger who traveled nationwide as part of his writing. He was inspired to open Hal & Al’s BBQ in Quarter Market (4328 Wilson Blvd) after noticing a lack of halal barbecue spots on the East Coast.

“I found halal Italian places, halal Chinese spots, but not once did I find a halal barbecue place,” he said. “When I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, what theme I wanted to go with for the restaurant, there’s nothing more quintessential to being American than barbecue. But there’s also nothing more quintessential to being human than barbecue.”

Rehman’s big goal? To put his “Bay-B-Q” spin on the map.

“You have Texas barbecue, you have Kansas City barbecue, there’s Memphis barbecue, you go to Carolina and they have that vinegar barbecue, and you go down to Alabama and they have the Alabama white sauce barbecue,” he said.

“I’m hoping 20 years from now we’re going to have Bay-B-Q, which is going to be barbecue using Chesapeake Bay seasonings or Old Bay,” Rehman continued. “And it’ll be barbecue all based here in the DMV, up and down the mid-Atlantic.”

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