A Food Lover’s Guide to Oklahoma

One of life’s greatest comforts? A delicious and hearty meal. Luckily, Oklahoma is teeming with those, and we explore 17 must-tries from restaurants in our two major metros. From spicy ramen to sea bass, waffles, burgers and even some venison, the food you’ll find in Oklahoma defies all expectations. We also showcase some hidden gems and brunch hotspots, and provide you with a few ways to help restaurants during the pandemic.

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By Brian Schwartz and Amanda Simcoe

Photo by Stephanie Phillips

Veal chops 

Polo Grill, Tulsa

This rich, hearty dish with asparagus risotto and mushrooms satisfies with its lovely balance of flavors. “The wild mushrooms yield an earthy umami,” says chef Omar Galban, “and the freshness of the asparagus plus the sharp parmesan adds complexity and crunch. It’s all brought together with a veal demi-glace that takes five days to make. We first made this dish as a special to satisfy a longtime patron’s craving for veal. It sold out fast and everyone loved it, so we put it on the menu full time.” – BS

Photo courtesy Barrios

rib tinga chalupa

Barrios Fine Mexican Dishes, OKC
The chalupa is surely one of the most popular menu items at this south-of-the-border restaurant from A Good Egg Dining Group. Enjoy queso cotija, pickled jalapeños and onions, refried black beans, kale slaw and guacamole on a crispy flour tortilla. Pro tip: this dish pairs perfectly with a frozen avocado margarita. – AS

Photo courtesy Sheesh Mahal

Butter chicken

Sheesh Mahal, OKC
Since 2014, this family-run restaurant has offered delicious menu options for both devoted fans and newcomers to halal Pakistani and Indian cuisine. The butter chicken served in a rich and creamy curry sauce will make you want to return to taste your way through the entire menu. – AS

Photo courtesy The Summit Club

Half chicken roulade with wontons

The Summit Club, Tulsa
Bill Lyle whips up stunning French-inspired dishes at the Summit Club. For this recipe, he stirs some local flavor and rural memories into the mix. “It marries the bounty of Oklahoma’s harvest season with the nostalgia of late season hay rides through New England orchards,” says Lyle. “The chicken is sourced from Prairie Creek Farm, the pecans and butternut squash from the farmer’s market and the sage from our garden. The cider is from a Vermont cider mill that I would visit every autumn growing up.” – BS

Photo courtesy Nic’s

Original cheeseburger

Nic’s Grill, OKC
Yes, the cheeseburger at the original 15-seat Nic’s Grill is every bit as good as the hype. With lettuce, tomato, pickle, mustard, mayo, American cheese and their signature grilled onions, the only thing that could make this burger better is a side of curly fries. – AS

Photo courtesy Freddie’s

Ribeye dinner

Freddie’s Bar-B-Que and Steakhouse, Sapulpa
Order a steak, any steak. They’re all delicious. And long before that steak hits the grill, a cavalcade of yummy dishes arrives one by one at your table. There’s a hummus and relish tray, then a sprightly tabouli. A Lebanese cabbage roll is next, and then an enormous basket of barbecued ribs and bologna. There’s more too, all scrumptious, and finally, when you think you can’t eat another bite, a big sizzling steak arrives to perk your appetite right back up. – BS

The Struggle is Real, but You Can Help

This year has been difficult for small businesses across the state, and restaurants are no exception. With the changing regulations over the months, the hospitality industry has seen some of the harshest losses. Two Oklahoma restaurant owners share how customers can keep them afloat. 
Chris West, chef-owner of Lassalle’s New Orleans Deli in Tulsa, has felt the heat.
“One of the things that helped was a side project born in the kitchen during the pandemic,” he says. His new OklaNola Hot Sauces and spices, all made in-house, have brought in retail sales to help make up for limited service capacity.
Chef-owner of OKC’s Cafe Cafe D’Lasie, Vuong Nguyen, says the most important thing we can do is spend our dining dollars locally, and remember to keep supporting your favorites. 
“Go have fun and grab a bun – or two,” he says. 
How to help:
 Pick up your to-go order rather than use a third-party delivery service. The fees hurt an already tight margin. 
 Gift certificates or house-made retail items make great holiday gifts. 
 Consider catering-in group lunches with your co-workers. One big group order can impact a small restaurant’s week. – AS

Photo by Stephanie Phillips

Tenderloin of red fallow venison

Amelia’s Wood Fired Cuisine, Tulsa
Before Andrew Donovan found fame in New York City, he grew up in rural North Carolina. Bursting with the tastes and smells of a country autumn, this urbane sophisticated dish recalls both. “We glaze the plums with local honey,” says Donovan, “and a splash of red wine. The hunters sauce is made with demi glacé as its base, fortified with mushrooms and shallot. Venison is rich yet lean, so it lends itself well to be paired with slightly sweet fruit. The mushrooms and truffle help round out some of the acid with a nice earthiness.” All ingredients come from small-scale farmers and foragers, and the deer were raised in the Texas hill country. – BS

Photo by Amanda Simcoe

Coconut pandan waffle

Super Cao Nguyen, OKC
One of the best kept secrets for weekend eats is found, along with many other delicious options, in the Super Cao Nguyen market’s front entryway. Coconut-pandan waffles made fresh behind the counter are take-out only, so they are perfect for bringing home and serving with butter and coconut syrup (not included, but highly encouraged). – AS

Photo courtesy Cafe Kacao

Friends with Benedict

Cafe Kacao, OKC
Chef-owner Veronica Zelada, a native of Guatemala, serves up some of the best breakfast and lunch options in town at her family-run eatery. The Friends with Benedict features French baguette, black beans, asada steak, tomato, poached eggs, house-made hollandaise, house-made guajillo sauce and fresh fruit. Try it and thank me later. – AS

Up & Eat ‘Em!

Everyone loves a good brunch hotspot. Before the panic of ‘Where shall we go?’ sets in, try these choices: 
OKC
Kitchen 324 – My must-haves include the Prairie Mary (made with house-made yellow tomato Mary mix) and the scrambled egg sandwich with double-smoked pastrami. 
Grand House Asian Bistro –  For a traditional dim sum experience, select from an assortment of small plates presented tableside by servers. I like to choose several and share. Favorites include pork and shrimp shumai, barbecue steam buns, crispy pork and roasted duck.
Tulsa
Oren –  Don’t miss the Benedict. Poached eggs, creamed spinach, aleppo hollandaise, toast and potatoes. Delicious. 
The Bramble Breakfast & Bar – I’m always torn between the pancakes. They have several great options, but my favorites are the blueberry and lemon curd; and the white cheddar and jalapeno. Get both and share them with a friend. – AS

Photo courtesy Choate House/Good Egg Dining

Gulai ikan kuning

Rendang Indonesian, Tulsa
Gulai ikan kuning is a traditional dish from the Minangkabau region of West Sumatra. You won’t find it in all that many cities outside that remote region, and one of them is Tulsa. A whole pomfret (a butterfish native to the middle east and southeast Asia) is fried and served in a mild citric curry made with turmeric. It’s spectacular and delicious. This is just one of the many masterpieces to come out of chef Indri Bahar’s magical kitchen. – BS

Gnocchi with wild mushrooms

Osteria, OKC
Osteria, the Nichols Hills collaboration between chefs Jonathon Stranger and Fabio Viviani, serves various handmade pasta, pizza and other Italian goodies using local ingredients. One of my favorite foods this time of year is mushrooms, and this dish adds pillowy gnocchi, black truffle cream sauce, truffle oil and crispy shallots. – AS

Spicy miso ramen

Gorō Ramen + Izakaya, OKC
Gorō Ramen + Izakaya is up and running in its new home in the Paseo district, and the spicy miso ramen is as perfect as ever. Rich chicken broth, miso, corn, pork meatballs, sesame, scallion, marinated bamboo and soft egg create the ideal combination. Don’t forget the house-made garlic chili bomb for some extra kick! – AS

Photo by Jeff  Chanchaleune

Al Fresco All Year

Even though it’s getting chilly out, outdoor dining is still a great choice with some top-tier patios.

The R & J Lounge and Supper Club: This OKC favorite offers their homage to the classics of the 1950s, both indoors and on their screened and heated patio. Their extensive list of classic cocktails and daily drink specials offer something for everyone.

O Bar: Situated at the top of the Ambassador Hotel, this rooftop lounge offers overhead heaters to keep you comfortable as you enjoy stunning views of downtown OKC, along with cocktails and a wide variety of small and large plates. 

Doc’s Wine & Food: Darin Ross’ longtime Brookside hotspot has a cozy covered front patio area complete with heaters to keep you warm whether you are enjoying a romantic dinner or Sunday brunch with friends.

R Bar: Another Tulsa favorite (right down the street from Doc’s), R Bar offers extensive patio seating, heaters, and American grub to warm the belly. – AS

Fried mushrooms

Hideaway Pizza, Statewide
Hideaway Pizza is famous, not surprisingly, for its pizza, and it should be. But their other dishes are worthy of your attention, too. One delicious dish they do is the fried mushroom appetizer. Asked to describe it, Hideaway co-owner Brett Murphy simply responded: “Yummmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!” Every batch is made fresh from scratch – crispy golden brown on the outside, hot and juicy on the inside, and they’re perfect to dip in Hideaway red sauce or the homemade Hideaway ranch. – BS

Photo courtesy Hideaway

Hidden Gems

Pop ups: There are lots of genius chefs you’ve never heard of. Most don’t have their own restaurants; several places have installed side rooms with kitchens set aside for them, with an ever-changing roster of cooks doing a gig every two weeks or so. The huge and architecturally dramatic American Solera brewery in Tulsa does this, and so does Mother Road Market nearby. At the former, you might find Bic Nguyen, born in Vietnam, who cooks amazing pho under the name of Jackrabbit, or accomplished cooks Joel Bein and Amanda Simcoe serving inventive tacos every second Tuesday.
Food trucks: There are a lot of them, and many house chefs who really deserve their own restaurants. Broken Arrow’s Dr. Kustom features Brazilian sandwiches crafted by the former executive chef of Texas de Brasil, and 1907 Barbecue in Tulsa will show you that one of the city’s best BBQ joints is aboard a very big truck. In OKC, Taqueria Sanchez has acquired a an incredibly passionate fanbase. And Oh My Gogi, offering Korean barbecue and Asian fusion, is a can’t-miss. – BS

Take home: 

Some of Tulsa’s finest chefs, both new talent and veterans, offer food to take home and reheat one or two days a week. Teri Fermo does Filipino haute cuisine; Raqaun Bennett offers Caribbean; Hope Egan sells delectable dishes with totally local ingredients, and longtime caterers Josh Vitt and Josh Baker sell whatever they’re in the mood to make. – BS

Off the Grid:

Famed restaurateur Jenny Vergera runs an underground supper club that features secret multi-course dinners cooked by the best chefs in Tulsa. Some are famous, some have yet to be discovered. You sign up and receive invitations. If the dinner interests you, you join a lottery and only the winners can attend. Yes it’s secret, but hundreds have gone. We can’t tell you any more – visit testkitchenok.com. – BS

Pollo di Napoli

Ti Amo Ristorante Italiano, Tulsa
Here is a dish that’s light and healthful yet delivers a heavy load of rich, hearty flavor. The chicken breasts are skinless and boneless. The sauce has garlic and white wine, and there’s no cream or butter. Roasted almonds add crunch, Kalamata olives and roasted bell peppers add flavor. It’s delicious and satisfying. And, says owner Mehdi Khezri: “It’s got garlic, it’s got olive oil – it’s Italy!” – BS

Photo by Stephanie Phillips

Only in Oklahoma

You may have seen TV show host Andrew Zimmern walking down a cobbled alley in a mountain town in southwest China, searching for a food stall serving that rare and gloriously fragrant dish of spicy pig brains with tofu. But he could have saved his plane fare and found it in Tulsa. Most people think the “only in Oklahoma” category applies only to regional American delicacies. But, while you can find some marvelously cooked calf fries at Lazy Fisherman in Bixby and enough questionable yet yummy concoctions to bust your belly whenever the state fair opens, there are a few restaurants that serve food from far away that you’ll have a hard time finding anywhere else.
Tulsa’s Mandarin Taste, which sometimes features those pig brains, has a number of dishes the owner found inside China, including a rich, savory beef brisket stew that gourmets fly in from Dallas to try.
Golden Saddle, which looks like a standard American diner in Tulsa, can produce a huge spread of Iranian food on request, sometimes including kale pache, a breakfast stew that features sheep’s eyes, feet and stomach.
And, you can Google some of Little Venice’s weekly specials and you might find some hits only from northern Italy, right here in Broken Arrow. 
The same can be said of OKC’s Patrono, which focuses not on one area of Italy but on traditional Italian ingredients and techniques.
You can get your fill of Ethiopian food at OKC’s Queen of Sheba, which offers traditional dishes with a twist like the messob (beef, chicken and beef alicha), tibbs (chopped lamb) or kitfo (lean beef with mitmita and butter).
On the hunt for some Honduran goodness? OKC’s Fonda K-Tracha serves up everything from brochetas de camaron (shrimp skewers) to green bananas and ground beef.
And Del City’s Chibugan Filipino Cuisine can fill you up with tocino (cured pork), sinigang (pork sour soup) and bulalo baka (beef soup). – BS/MWA

Photo courtesy Little Venice

Pan-seared sea bass

Nola’s Creole & Cocktails, Tulsa
Nola’s food and ambiance perfectly evokes the New Orleans of yesteryear. Their new executive chef, Eliel Perezt, raises the bar and brings diversity into the mix, as shown in this dish, with French (green pea coulis) and Egyptian (pistachio dukkah) ingredients used to enliven Perezt’s favorite fish. The fish comes with roasted fingerling potatoes, rainbow carrots and pumpkin puree. “Sea bass has the perfect light flavor,” he says. “It can be cooked in almost any way imaginable and the spices for it are endless.” – BS

Learn to Make Voodoo Chicken with Chef Eliel Perezt

Lamb chops

Zam Zam Mediterranean, Warr Acres
It’s a combination restaurant and hookah lounge with delicious options all across the menu. Try the grilled lamb chops, served with a veggie skewer and your choices of two sides, such as hummus, baba ganouj, grape leaves, tabouli, a variety of salads and much more. – AS 

Pasta pomodoro

Mondo’s Ristorante Italiano, Tulsa
Fifty years ago, when Lou Aloisio built the first Mondo’s, he did it himself with the help of friends and neighbors. He probably won’t do that again when, a few weeks from now, work begins on the big new Mondo’s building, complete with outdoor and rooftop dining. The homey ambiance will be the same, though, with two smaller dining rooms. “Don’t worry, it will still be quaint,” says Lou’s eldest son Mike. And the food, too, will stay the same, popping with rich earthy flavors. Mike’s favorite is the pasta pomodoro. “It’s light yet flavorful,” he says. “There’s olive oil and garlic, fresh basil and diced tomato … perfectly balanced. If you enjoy eating, this is your dish, because you can eat a lot of it and it won’t fill you up. – BS

Photo by Stephanie Phillips