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Oklahoma City Restaurants


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#31 Chris Hennes

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Posted 09 May 2009 - 07:13 PM

Benvenutis Restaurante (non-chain, 105 W Main St., Norman, OK)

I don't know why we hadn't tried Benvenutis before: my thought had always been that it didn't look that promising on the outside, and I kept putting it off. It turns out that was something of a mistake: so far, this is the best Italian I've found in Oklahoma. It's a little higher-end than the other places I have tried, and a fair bit of their menu isn't really Italian, but the few things I've tried there have been pretty good. The beef carpaccio tasted excessively of the mayonnaise-based sauce they heavy-handedly applied, and it had nearly a full salad's worth of lettuce on top, so I wouldn't recommend it. The mussels were quite good, however, if a little sweet considering the fact that their house bread is also sweet: I would have thought either a neutral bread or a saltier broth would have worked better. The lasagna was so-so, but the lobster "ravioli" was very good, and my wife said the pizza was OK. The wine list was reasonably extensive, and reasonably priced, with many bottles under $50, and quite a few available either by the glass or as a flight. The atmosphere is relaxed and elegant (for Norman), the service was unobtrusive, and the prices are good all things considered. I find it inexplicable that the University frequently takes guests out to Legend's when they are looking for something "nice," with Benvenutis under a mile from campus and head-and-shoulders better on every dimension.

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#32 RobertCollins

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Posted 10 May 2009 - 09:17 PM

As I read these reports I keep wondering why a person would eat seafood in OK.

I will be there [OKC] next Sat. to watch a Triathlon. I read this hoping to find a few non-Applebee's for a good meal. From there on to mid Missouri, which I know has at least places to buy limited but good food; so the reviews of OKC eateries seem to fit most of my mid west restaurant experiences.


I just find my self totally surprised at the seafood portions of these reviews. As I say this, I remember my surprise at finding Fresh Cooper River Salmon at [I think the spelling is correct] Schnuck's in Columbia, Mo. It was fresh too! That, though, is my only time.

I guess, if someone as knowledgeable as Chris and his bride find at least eatable seafood there, my expectations need to be reviewed.

That said, the best food I have ever had in the Heart-Lands has been at someone's home.

I told my son, the triathlete, about this review search; his remark was he was taking his own food with him. I won't eat what most of these athletes eat so I was searching for me.

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#33 Chris Hennes

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Posted 10 May 2009 - 09:23 PM

That's the beauty of overnight shipping :smile:. What I find most distressing about the food in Oklahoma is the near-impossibility of finding good steak: I thought it would be a mecca! How wrong I was... the nice thing about things like lobster, oysters and mussels is that they are shipped live, so it's a bit easier to guarantee freshness.

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#34 Chris Hennes

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Posted 18 June 2009 - 06:24 PM

Avanti Bar & Grill (non-chain, www.avantibarandgrill.com, 13509 Highland Park Blvd., Oklahoma City)

We had dinner tonight at Avanti, a relatively new Italian restaurant in North OKC (just south of Quail Springs Mall): it was definitely sub-par. It took a number of back-and-forth sessions with the waiter and eventually the bartender to get our drink order in, which ultimately was not what I wanted due to a missing ingredient in their bar lineup (no bitters = no Manhattan). We started with a "lamb samosa" appetizer which actually turned out to be ground lamb egg rolls: these were relatively flavorless and generally underseasoned. After a competent but overdressed house salad, I had the veal Saltimbocca. The veal was overcooked to my liking, but not terribly so. The downfall of the dish was the seasoning: it was dramatically overseasoned, to the point where all you could taste were the herbs and pepper, in everything. The vegetables, the gluey mashed potatoes, the veal, everything. My wife reports that the same was true of her dish. I had ordered a glass of wine a few minutes before our entrees arrived that showed up after I had finished my meal, with an apology that the bartender was slow (I had seen that glass of wine sitting on the bar for almost ten minutes, suspecting it was mine). So, part of the problem can be blamed on our individual incompetent waiter, but the overseasoning is of course coming from the kitchen. All told, I can't recommend anything about Avanti, and I strongly doubt I will be returning to give them a second chance.

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#35 Chris Hennes

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 07:40 PM

Nonna's Euro-American Restaurant and Bar (non-chain, www.nonnas.com, 1 Mickey Mantle Dr., Oklahoma City)

In an attempt to recover from last night's disaster at Avanti, we tried another new (to us) restaurant tonight, Nonna's, in Bricktown. Much, much better. Shy of "awesome," but still very good, and certainly worth going to. We started with a cheese plate that, unlike every other cheese plate in Oklahoma, actually had several very interesting, unusual, and highly tasty cheeses on it. I then had the "Bleu Cheese Tart" which was a theoretically blue-cheese-flavored tart with a salad on top. It was good, but it was not very "blue-cheesy." I then enjoyed the Filet en Croute: the sides served with it were generic toss-off sides (exactly the same ones were served with my wife's Tilapia), and the plates were garnished with rosemary of all things (a little to pungent to serve as a garnish, IMO), but the filet was perfectly seasoned and well-cooked (rare), with a well-executed béarnaise and a sort of toss-off Cabernet sauce that was unnecessary given the béarnaise. Still, it was a very good steak if you just ignored the superfluous sauce. By this point we were full, but we felt it was our duty to try the strawberry shortcake: thankfully served on a cream biscuit rather than poundcake or something of that nature, it was quite good, if a little sweet. Overall, the service was competent (though the timing was a little rushed between the salads and the entrees, the rest of the pacing was good), the food quite good, and the ambiance was very nice. It's pricey (with tip and two glasses of wine each we were about $250, a bit high by OKC standards), but for special occasions, etc. you could do far worse.

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#36 Chris Hennes

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Posted 27 June 2009 - 11:49 AM

Mr. Pho (non-chain, 1133 NW 25th St, Oklahoma City, OK‎)

Mr. Pho is located in the lobby of the Super Cao Nugyen supermarket, so we've stopped there on a couple Saturdays when we hit SCN around lunchtime. We've had a few different phos, plus the egg rolls. Surprisingly, the fried eggs rolls are particularly good here, or are at least the best iteration I've encountered so far in the OKC area. More Vietnamese than generic Chinese-American, they are a much smaller diameter, with a different (and very crispy) wrapper. They have a good flavor and texture to whatever the filling is, and they are served with plenty mint (not sure the variety, though I've bought it at SCN many times...) that makes a good accompaniment. The broth in the pho is pretty good, a bit better than the other pho place I reviewed above (in Moore). Nothing amazing, but not bad either. I discovered here that either their tripe and meatballs are crappy, or I don't like tripe and Vietnamese meatballs: I don't know which, unfortunately. The tripe was very chewy and basically flavorless (it tasted like the broth), and the meatballs very, very squishy: it could be that this is intentional and "authentic," but I didn't care for it, for whatever that is worth. The rest of the meats were fine—again, nothing to write home about, but for like $6, worth the price of admission. I wouldn't seek Mr. Pho out, but since I routinely do seek SCN out, the location is pretty damned convenient.


Swadley's Barbeque (local chain, www.swadleys.com, 304 N Telephone Rd, Moore, OK)

OK, maybe I just don't get Oklahoma barbeque: where is the damned smoke?!?!? This is the third local BBQ place I have tried, and the third that I find myself complaining about the lack of smoke flavor at. I tried the sampler platter of brisket, pork, turkey, and sausage, and the only think I could really taste the smoke in was the turkey (which was white meat! and dry!). The brisket was chopped quite fine, as was the pork: the basic beef and pork flavors were fine, but I really had a hard time detecting any smoke flavor. The sausage was a collagen-cased commercial variety with a very fine texture—not what I think of when I think of BBQ sausage: no snap to the casing, and too smooth inside. It tasted fine, but nothing remarkable. The ribs were mediocre at best: the meat was too sweet, and again, where's the smoke? The fried okra was quite salty and otherwise unremarkable, and the mac'n'cheese could have been Stouffer's. We were comped an order of the house fries when I told the woman at the counter we had never been there and were trying stuff: tasted like salt, pepper and onion. Not bad, but equally unremarkable. I only tried one sauce, the "hot" variety, which was OK, and must have had a bit of liquid smoke in it, because in the end the only was to get my smoke fix was to dip the meat in the sauce. The fact that the sauce is essentially required to me means failure. I should note for the record that Swadley's has a large and loyal following, so maybe I am just missing the point of OK BBQ. Or maybe they are falling into the "90% of everything is crap" theory and their followers just have never had anything better.

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#37 Chris Hennes

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Posted 27 June 2009 - 12:17 PM

I continue to refine my opinions of the various places I eat at; here are some additional comments:

Tarahumara's (first reviewed here)—I think it may be that I lucked out and ordered the best thing on the menu the first time I went (the carne asada tacos). I've eaten there a number of times since and I frequently leave feeling vaguely disappointed. I set them up in my memory as this great Mexican place, and it just isn't so. There are some real winners on the menu, but a heck of a lot of losers too. Right now I'm thinking that Ted's is a better choice for Mexican. I've also tried some hole-in-the-wall places in OKC but I want to give them a few more visits before I weigh in.

The Wedge (first reviewed here)—I must be getting jaded about pizza (I spend too much time reading about it from the obsessives over in the NYC forums :smile:). The last couple times I've been to the Wedge I've been underwhelmed. I still love the Wedge Trio, but I've strayed into some of their simpler, more classic pies, and come away quite disappointed. In particular their Pizza Margherita was very poor: it really exposed how much they undercook the pies there. I'm going to given them a few more chances, maybe with instructions to give me the pizza "well done," but I'm losing the faith here...

Flip's Wine Bar and Trattoria (first reviewed here)—I went again and sat at the bar this time: they really do have a very good selection of base spirits. Their mixers leave something to be desired, however, and like most places in OKC, they don't carry rye. This time I had the lasagna, and ate at the bar. It was a good rendition of the standard Italian-American lasagna, and a pretty good value, too. I've only been there twice now, but my second visit was quite a bit more favorable than the first, so there's hope.

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#38 Chris Hennes

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Posted 01 July 2009 - 07:39 PM

Misal of India (non-chain, misalofindia.com, 580 Ed Noble Pkwy, Norman, OK‎)

Misal is a small Indian bistro just off Interstate 35 in South Norman: I usually go for dinner. I've been there once for their lunch buffet and was underwhelmed by the selection and quality. For dinner I like them much better: it is not a buffet, but a rather simple two-page menu with good descriptions of each dish (which helps a lot if you are not familiar with the names of dishes). They have a good bottled beer selection and a short low-end wine list: all of the alcohol is priced reasonably. I cannot speak to the authenticity of any of the food having never been to India or to an Indian restaurant that any of my Indian friends didn't think was absolute crap: I hear the same thing about Misal from the few Indians I know here... in general, those I've talked to don't seem to care for it. That said, I've gone maybe a half dozen times, and for the most part enjoyed the meals. Their appetizers are good, particularly the vegetarian samosas and the pakoras. I am also a big fan of their curry vindaloo: its spiciness is just enough to satisfy my craving for pain without actually causing me to break down in tears. Which is to say, Indians probably think it's for sissies, and I think it's great. I've also tried the lamb kabobs, which are so-so, and the chicken biryani, which I liked. The nan here is OK, but nothing to write home about. The prices are reasonable, with most entrees in the $10-$15 range (the vegetarian options are cheaper, more like $5-$10, but I haven't tried any of those yet). This is another one of those "don't go out of your way" kind of places: there are probably thousands if nearly-identical Indian restaurants in the US, but the food is pretty good. And if you live in the area and are looking for something new to try, give it a shot.

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#39 Chris Hennes

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Posted 29 August 2009 - 11:26 AM

Big Truck Tacos (non-chain, 530 NW 23rd St., Oklahoma City)
Big Truck Tacos is the newest entry into the OKC "serious" dining scene, and an attempt to update the humble taco for a more contemporary palate. Open 7:30am-7:30pm every day except Sunday, they serve both breakfast and non-breakfast tacos and burritos: I have not tried their breakfast yet. Certainly not strictly "Mexican" or even "Tex-Mex," the non-breakfast tacos range from the traditional Tacos al Carbon to the modern "Flaming Lips" (hickory-smoked tongue with what I believe is a sweet potato Pico de Gallo). I have had those two, as well as their "Fifth Amendment," which at least today consisted of an unidentifiable protein (tasted beefy, but could have been a well-done non-chicken poultry element) with a heavy dose of avocado and a crumbly fresh cheese. I ordered them all on corn tortillas, though the Flaming Lips showed up on flour anyway. The corn tortillas themselves were lackluster store-bought offerings with little flavor or texture, and at least today (Saturday) were definitely past their prime. The flour was... well, a flour tortilla. Not much to say about it! Not the best in the city, nor the worst, but did not appear to be house-made at any rate. On to the fillings: the Fifth Amendment was quite good, with well-balanced flavors and a good level of seasoning overall. There was nice textural contrast between the protein and the avocado, though I definitely found myself wishing the tortillas were fresher, since that would have added a welcome additional textural element. The Tacos al Carbon were one-dimensional, the beef had a bit too much bite, and they had no textural contrasts going on at all. A weak offering that I would not order again, considering the high quality of TaC available elsewhere in the city. The Flaming Lips were an intriguing flavor combination, but ultimately unbalanced by the shear quantity of the relish/pico/whatever they are calling it. The meat was succulent and perfectly cooked, and though a bit over-seasoned had excellent flavor when eaten on its own. In the context of the taco, however, most of the flavors lost out to the sweet potatoes (or yams? not sure here) which were present in far too much abundance. The flavor combination, if balanced, could have worked well, so this taco may be worth giving a shot on another day. I thought the heat level was good, and the smokiness of the lips was a nice touch, it just has some execution issues.

Overall, although it has been hyped like mad, I thought that BTT was only good, not great, on this visit. I'll visit again, since I drive by a lot, but for my money Taqueria los Comales makes a better taco. Maybe once BTT has matured they will improve, however: they are still very new, and may have some kinks to work out yet.

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#40 misstenacity

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Posted 31 August 2009 - 08:52 PM

For what its worth, I really enjoyed the Onion Burgers and buttermilk pie at Johnnie's Grill in El Reno.

Outside of town in Meers I also devoured a gargantuan Meers Burger. Less than two hours after Johnnie's. Hehe.

Oh, and in the northern 'burbs I ate AYCE sushi at Sumo, which was "fine". I was loading up before my race the next day, so it served the purpose.

This site has helped me tremendously: Eat Around OKC

Oh yeah, there was a custard place, too. Bodensee. Pretty good stuff. I think custard is the "new gelato" - we just got a new shop here in Albuquerque.
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#41 Chris Hennes

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Posted 01 September 2009 - 07:04 AM

I agree about the folks at Eat Around OKC, they seem to be a good bunch. I find that even better than the reviews on their website are the quick recommendations you can get by adding #eataroundokc to a Twitter post looking for someplace to eat.

I admit, I haven't braved any of the sushi in OK yet...

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#42 Chris Hennes

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Posted 18 September 2009 - 07:02 AM

An update on the breakfast food at Big Truck Tacos: very good, but almost entirely build-your-own, which is a little disappointing. The regular menu at BTT is full of fascinating and generally tasty flavor combinations frequently involving off-the-beaten-path ingredients and combinations, and unfortunately the breakfast menu does not take the same tack. The taco selection is simply a list of ingredients: the combinations are up to you, and they are all basically conventional breakfast taco ingredients (chorizo, potato, cheese, eggs, etc.). So, if you know what you like you can put together a good taco, but it's not going to be anywhere near as interesting as their lunchtime fare. I've also given the Huevos Rancheros a shot, and they are among the best in the city (bear in mind that I am a huge sucker for Huevos Rancheros). The sauce is basically perfect, the ingredients well-balanced, and the overall flavor was excellent. My mom thought it was weird that I was taking her out for tacos for breakfast when she was here to visit, but even she came away impressed.

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#43 Peter Green

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Posted 02 November 2009 - 11:51 AM

A quick request.

I have dinner tonight at Charleston's in Norman. Any recommendations on the place and what they do well?

I can't find it mentioned here or in Eat Around OKC

Thanks,

Peter

#44 Chris Hennes

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Posted 02 November 2009 - 01:28 PM

I've avoided Charleston's because I lump them in the same category as Perkins and Old Country Buffet, rightly or wrongly. So I can't give you any suggestions, but please do weigh in with your experience after your visit.

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#45 Peter Green

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Posted 02 November 2009 - 08:59 PM

Thanks, Chris. For once, I'll get things done in a timely manner.

Charleston's - Norman, Oklahoma


We went to this as part of business, so I approached it pretty much naked. Sometimes these things can be good, sometimes bad, sometimes indifferent.

My first impression wasn't positive, but I would say that's partially my bias against restaurants located on the feeder roads of Interstates. The building design relies upon that mix of comfortable old wood homestead, set off by giant red neon. The neon is pretty much part and parcel of the interstate theme, luring motorists like unwary mosquitoes off of their flight paths.

Inside it has that "sameness" that (I think) you're alluding to. Lots of dark wood, low lights, but fairly simple seating. The staff are dressed in 'noughties standard solid black, which I think they believe may make them invisible, somewhat like the bunraku puppet masters (more on service in a bit).

On the bright side, they don't pack their walls with odd rummage sale stuff. It is fairly clean.

The menu is fairly small, which is a good thing. A small set of appetizers, some pasta, chicken, catfish, and - today - a nice blackened tilapia and a good looking halibut.

For four-footed protein, they had a short and sensible selection of steaks (center cut and prime rib, in two portionings), and a pork chop done up with caramelized apple and honey.

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I went for the pork chop. I'd had a porterhouse for lunch at Saltgrass, beside our hotel (again, no time for extensive choices, but I must say I had nothing bad to say about that piece of beef - no photos, sorry). To their credit, when I asked for the pig to be rare-medium rare, our waitress recommended that we go for rare, and we could always send it back if it needed more. The result was just about right, that twinge of pink in the middle that I want in good pork. And I do appreciate wait-staff that think ahead.

The side of mushrooms was surprisingly good. Plump, with a variety of fungi in there. I'd hoped to use these to perk up the fries, but they were a little too much on the shoestring side of things. Still they were good company for the pork chop.

The wine list was a pleasant surprise, too. Like the menu, relatively short, with the bulk of their offerings New World. They had an A-Z Pinot Noir from Oregon, which I thought would work with the rarish pork, and ordered that. It was a nice combination with the sweetness of the apples and the soft pork.

I avoided dessert, but one of our group did order the brownie.

First, let me say that I've been having problems with American portioning. I was raised to eat everything on my plate ("put that garnish down"), and it's hard to learn to say "no". But what arrived as a "brownie" was a lump of vanilla ice cream the size of my fist crusted with nuts and stuff on top of a brown slab of brownie about the size of my friend's head.

This did seem excessive.

All of this is well and good. Competent. Not the sort of thing you'd write home about ("what are you doing here, then?"), but competent enough. If I was a mosquito on the I35, I wouldn't mind being lured in here too much. Still, it rather palled in comparison to what I'd been eating for the last couple of months (yes, I will get caught up on my writing at some point).

My real complaints were three-fold.

First was the availability of their dishes. I was okay, but two at our table were told that the centre-cut had just run out. Then, at dessert, they were also told that the key lime pie was finished. This isn't an extensive menu, so it's odd that they'd be running out. But then again, things were quite busy for a Monday night.

Another issue was the support service. Our waitress was a bit over-stretched, covering a lot of tables, and so couldn't quite stay on top of our needs. That's forgivable, but when I tried getting some service in her stead from the bussers, they completely cold-shouldered me, giving that "I'm not paid to talk to you" feeling.

The worst problem was the noise. We'd come here for a business discussion, but the ambient noise was so high that we had to yell at each other. This probably goes back to the avoidance of table linen, and the straightforward design, with no real dampeners for the sound. But it made for an awkward meal at times (even the spelling of awkward looks awkward).

And a meal shouldn't be awkward.

My feelings, overall? Rather industrial, but not the "let's throw everything onto the menu" format I see elsewhere. It's not offensive (outside of my three complaints), but neither is it going to draw me back.

Touching on Saltgrass, it's a bit of the same. A good steak, but not an inspired steak. While I liked the porterhouse, I still have dreams of that 240 day grain fed rib eye roast that Paola did for us in Bangkok a couple of weeks back.

I rather wish I had another day here, as this is the second time I've been in Oklahoma, and it's not a bad place at all. I just need time to root through the places here on eGullet. But in this instance, I'm at the mercy of a schedule.

And so, with the refrain of Warren Zevon's the French Inhaler running through my head ("so long, Norman"), I settle down to bed with a Californian Ozeki nigori sake that I smuggled in from Houston.

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I guess I'm going to have to catch up on Houston, too, at some point.

#46 Chris Hennes

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 03:20 PM

Pho Hoa (901 NW 23rd St, Oklahoma City, OK 73106)

Oklahoma City actually has a very large (percentage-wise) Vietnamese population, and a ton of Pho restaurants to match. This is the one most frequently recommended, and having been there a few times, I think I agree with that. The broth is a bit richer and more flavorful than the other restaurants I've been to here, and the meat higher quality. In addition, their fried egg rolls are very good. One word of warning, however: they are cash-only, and I didn't see an ATM on the premises. The food is inexpensive, under $10 per person, so that shouldn't be too big an issue.

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#47 Chris Hennes

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 03:33 PM

Iron Starr (Norman location) (ironstarrbbq.com, 575 South University Boulevard, Norman, OK‎)

The Iron Starr folks recently opened up a Norman location just off the OU campus. The space is great: high ceilings, tasteful, understated decor, and decent parking options. I think the menu is the same as the original location in OKC, but don't quote me on that. I've eaten at the Norman location a half dozen times since they opened, and there are some clear winners and losers. I'll start with the losers so I can end this review on a positive note. Holy jebus their ribs are terrible. Like, absolutely awful, why did you let this leave the kitchen? kind of terrible. Maybe it's just a style choice and it turns out I hate this style of ribs, coated with a very thick, soft layer of... something. The meat is beyond tender and into soggy territory. Bad stuff. If I was you I'd stay FAR away from the ribs. Next up, while their pulled pork tastes pretty good, it looks like it's been through a food processor: all finely chopped, and looking a bit like sauced canned tuna. So, while the flavor is OK, the texture is bad enough to warrant a big thumbs down. On the plus side, the brisket and sausage are tasty, if not exactly the best in town. Both of their burgers are quite good, among the better in Norman. Among the sides their fries and onion/jalapeno mix are the best, IMO, but my wife likes their slaw. Overall, it's hard to beat the convenience of the location (if you are on campus), and as long as you choose carefully you can have a very good meal. Bonus points for a drinkable wine that runs $20/bottle. Makes everything taste better...

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#48 Scargo

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Posted 22 April 2010 - 07:58 AM

Golden Phoenix Restaurant

This was a delightful find for us. The cooked meats hanging in the case looked very good when we first walked in. There were lots of Asians dining there along with a few of us Anglos. There is a separate, closed-off room for smokers (seen in last photo).

I had a duck dish and we had spring rolls and another dish or two. I had Tsingtao beer. They have a small wine selection.
I can't remember specifically all of what we had, but we know it was very good food.
This area seems to be an Asian hot-spot. We saw many restaurants in the area.

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#49 joiei

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Posted 15 June 2010 - 06:51 AM

Golden Phoenix Restaurant

This was a delightful find for us. The cooked meats hanging in the case looked very good when we first walked in. There were lots of Asians dining there along with a few of us Anglos. There is a separate, closed-off room for smokers (seen in last photo).

I had a duck dish and we had spring rolls and another dish or two. I had Tsingtao beer. They have a small wine selection.
I can't remember specifically all of what we had, but we know it was very good food.
This area seems to be an Asian hot-spot. We saw many restaurants in the area.

From my experiences with Golden Phoenix, it is best to go with a crowd, that way you can order and tastes several different dishes when you sit at one of the lazy susan tables. Some of my favorites are a combo of the crispy duck, crispy pork and bbq pork, then the salted squid, the green papaya salad with shrimp, the green beans, and several other choices, oh the crispy pork spring rolls, still warm and crispy with the cool vegetables and noodles when you bite into it, and make sure you use the dipping sauce, I pass on the peanut sauce.
It is good to be a BBQ Judge.

#50 Chris Hennes

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Posted 30 August 2010 - 11:36 AM

A couple of updates based on recent trips:

Benvenuti's is my current go-to restaurant in Norman: the August specials were uniformly good, probably the best food in Norman right now. They changed their bread for the better, it's not so sweet anymore, so works far better with the mussels. When I'm hungry and can't decide what I want, this is where I end up, nine times out of ten.

Big Truck Tacos is still serving very good tacos. They've added chef-selected breakfast tacos (I previously complained about their lack), of which I am a big fan of The Zig and the Sam I Am. Unfortunately, the service here is really slow. They are slow taking orders, and slow pushing them out. So the place always seems busy, but that's partially because half the people waiting haven't gotten their food yet.

I've also stopped once at Grand House China Bistro for Dim Sum, but I'll hold off on a verdict until I try them again: especially with dim sum, where you can easily have some misses if you don't know what's rolling around. I have also visited RePUBlic twice and been reasonably pleased, I'll write that up shortly.

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#51 Chris Hennes

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 06:46 PM

Upper Crust (First Impressions!)

I ordinarily try to give a restaurant a few weeks before passing judgement, and certainly I try to visit more than once: so consider this a preliminary assessment, subject to further refinement. Upper Crust opened yesterday in their sexy new Classen Curve digs, right down the street from RePUBlic. Upper Crust sports two wood-burning ovens running at around 750°F, and burning a variety of different woods (you couldn't really smell the ovens, unfortunately: damn health codes forcing adequate ventilation!!). Hardcore pizza aficionados might suggest that temperature is too low, at least for a classic Neapolitan -style pie, and they would be right. But OKC is not known for its good pizza, so we take what we can get. I've been disaffected with The Wedge for some time now, so was really excited that some competition was moving in: my hope is that both places improve because of the rivalry.

Tonight we started with an order of the garlic cheese bread and the "anti-pizza" (like "antipasto" 'cept for coming before the pizza... GET IT?!!!). The garlic bread was generic, but not bad. The anti-pizza was a mediocre selection of deli-quality charcuterie (not exactly fra' mani here) with too few olives and too much greenery. So, on the whole The Wedge's "Wedge Trio" is the vastly superior appetizer.

We also had a bottle of wine: the wine list is pretty extensive here considering that this is a pizza joint, and very low-priced (hell, they had Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label for under 100% markup... show me THAT price someplace else in OKC!) . But you had damn well better like wine, because the beer list is pathetic. Maybe they would let you cruise over to RePUBlic to grab a pint...

For the pizza I figured I had better start with the basics, so I ordered the Margherita. What arrived was not a classic pizza Margherita, but here in OKC that is hardly surprising, I don't think anyone in town even knows what that means. The Wedge's Margherita is awful, so it would not have taken much to beat it: however, Upper Crust's was actually quite good. It was undercooked by pizza-phile standards, and displayed no cornicione to speak of: it's not ever going to make a list of "Best Margherita" (it has toasted garlic on it, and is not made with fresh mozzarella: are you serious? This is Margherita?), but it was a pretty tasty pizza.

So, is this the "best pizza in OKC"? hard to say without a couple return visits, but I'll say that at the very least they are giving The Wedge a serious run for their money.

(On a side note: I'm not sure if they were just training new staff, or were trying to prevent opening-day snafus, but holy cow there were a lot of servers there tonight. Service was very good, and quite polished considering how new the restaurant is. Usually it takes a few days or even weeks to really dial that in, and these guys were pretty on-the-ball already.)

ETA: Crappy cell-phone snapshots...

IMG_0085.jpg

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IMG_0087.jpg

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#52 Chris Hennes

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Posted 23 September 2010 - 11:07 AM

Nic's Grill (1201 N Pennsylvania Ave, Oklahoma City, OK 73107)

I'm always joking that Oklahomans measure quality in ounces: if it's bigger, it must be better, right? Nowhere is this attitude more evident than with the local love for beef. It is completely irrelevant whether the beef in question is high-quality, or tastes good. The only question to ask of a local burger joint is "how many ounces is your patty?" Nic's Grill is frequently cited as the best burger in Oklahoma City. The usually-dependable folks at Eat Around OKC rave about it, and Nic's gets some serious Twitter love, too. They have been featured on Food Network's "Diners, Drive-in's and Dives" for whatever that is worth, and there is always a line outside for lunch.

You can see where this is going, of course: Nic's burger is crap. Nic's fries are crap. Nic's parking is crap. (OK, I only added that last one to obey the "rule of three," parking is OK). I'm not exaggerating to counter all the orgasmic Nic-lovin' out there: the burger is not simply mediocre, it is actually bad. The fries probably slide a bit closer to the mediocre, but they sure as hell aren't "good." Here's the problem with Nic's burgers: in their ludicrous focus on size (they are gargantuan), they have sacrificed all sense of flavor or eatability. A burger that manages to be tasteless despite well over 1/2 lb of ground beef is sad. The trouble with a massive pile of beef is you must season it before cooking, and you must integrate that seasoning to the interior of the patty: there is no way to add salt and pepper to that massive burger after the fact, and Nic's had none. Hell, they didn't even try to salt after: there was simply so salt. NEWS FLASH: Salt enhances flavors! Use it! To that, add stupidly large amounts of low-quality toppings (bagged shredded iceberg, mealy tomatoes, way too much mustard, etc.) and what you wind up with is just plain garbage. And garbage that must be eaten with a fork; despite my best efforts there was simply no way to get the bun to stand up to the onslaught, the burger disintegrated out of my hands. I'm sure it makes for good TV, but it sucks to eat. The fries are single-fried rather than blanched and finished, are also served unsalted (though at least with fries that is easy to fix), and are basically undrained: their plate-life is approximately 30 seconds before the remaining oil soaks back into them, turning them into a greasy, soggy mess. For that thirty seconds, though, they are OK: fresh-cut and flavorful.

The best burger in OKC? Wow, I sure hope not...

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#53 Chris Hennes

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Posted 24 September 2010 - 06:02 PM

The Cow Calf-Hay (3409 Wynn Dr., Edmond, OK, 73013)

Looking for some redemption after yesterday's burger debacle, I hauled up to Edmond (I live in Norman) to try out another recent recommendation from Eat Around OKC. I figured it was important to determine whether we have fundamentally different ideas of the "ideal burger," or if our disagreement over Nic's was a fluke. Happily, tonight's burger was indeed very good. I'm still not planning on making the 35-minute drive on a regular basis, but if I find myself in Edmond on a weekday at lunchtime, The Cow is a contender (yeah, the only night they are open for dinner is Friday, and they are closed on weekends).

Let's start with the biggest difference between Cow and Nic's: the burger's size. I ordered the half pound burger, since my ideal burger is in the 1/3-1/2 lb range. I found this to be a well-proportioned patty: thick enough to retain some juiciness and thin enough to ensure that you had a good ratio of Maillardized surface area. The burger is served slightly overdone to my liking, but not terribly so, and I did not specify a doneness level (I don't know if you can, the waitress did not ask). The beef is plenty beefy: adding just a tiny bit of salt to the surface of the patty was enough to pull it to near-perfection. The lettuce was a large single piece of leafy green, which I vastly prefer to the shredded iceberg at Nic's. The tomato was unfortunately the same tasteless mealy crap you get just about everywhere these days: I guess I shouldn't hold it against them, but I believe that if you can't get an ingredient that tastes good, you should just leave it off. Of course, I could have requested that myself, but I hold this stupid, vain hope that someday I'll get a burger with a tomato slice that actually tastes like tomato. The pickle slices were large and not too thick, and the cheese was standard American and well-melted (which I liked a lot). The requested mustard was judiciously applied: enough that you could taste it, but not so much that you couldn't taste anything else. The bun was just thick enough to absorb all the burger's juices without falling apart: you could eat this burger with two hands, none of this "use a fork" BS. All told, a flavorful, well balanced, well proportioned burger.

The fries were unfortunately not quite so stellar: perhaps a tiny bit better than Nic's, but that is only due to my personal preference for the thinner cut at Cow: they were still that flaccid texture you get from a single fry. On the plus side, they were well-drained, and on the minus side, they were not quite as fresh. Call it a tie, and don't waste the calories. If you are still hungry, order another burger!

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#54 Scargo

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Posted 28 September 2010 - 02:12 PM

Chris,
You are a brave man. While I know OK city has some good food, I also know how bad to mediocre food can be. I worked, from time to time, in Perkins. Stillwater was pretty much a foodie wasteland. I have had a few good meals in OK city and quite a few in Tulsa.
Right now I wished you could point me to some good fried catfish! That they have in Oklahoma!
Banished from Chowhound; I like it just fine on eGullet!
If you`re not big enough to lose, you`re not big enough to win! Try this jalapeno, son. It ain't hot...

#55 Chris Hennes

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Posted 06 October 2010 - 12:19 PM

Upper Crust (website, 5860 N. Classen Blvd, Oklahoma City)

I previewed Upper Crust here, and ate there again last night. They've now been open for a few weeks and I think are fair game for a review. First off, here's what they say on their website:

Upper Crust is an uptown pizzeria and wine bar specializing in wood-fired, thin crust New York style pies complimented by a full menu and wine list that is synonymous with quality and also a reasonable price.

While the pizza is arguably more California-style than New York-style, that doesn't really detract from it. In terms of pizza taxonomy, it has a medium-thick leavened crust with no corniccione and little flavor. In this case the crust serves almost entirely as a vehicle for topping delivery: the very definition of a California-style pie, no? To a certain extent this is disappointing due to the use of wood-fired ovens. Honestly I had been hoping a Neopolitan-style pizza place would open up (very high heat, very thin crust, corniccione), but I can't hold it against Upper Crust that their goals lie elsewhere: only that it seems silly to use a wood-fired oven when a standard steel deck will give you the same results. So there you have my built-in bias: the "wood fired oven" schtick is just that: a schtick. But is the pizza any good?

Well... before I get to the pizza a few words about the appetizers and salads. As I mentioned in my original post, I thought the cheese bread was fine but nothing special, and the "anti-pizza" antipasto platter completely superfluous. The focus appeared to be on a price point, rather than a quality point. In the battle of the OKC pizzerias, The Wedge's "Wedge Trio" is so far superior to any appetizers on the menu here that there isn't really a contest. However, the saving grace at Upper Crust, somewhat perversely, is their salad. I'm not really a salad connoisseur, but both the salads I have tried were really very good, in particular the Caesar. Normally I'd expect a place like this to have a gloppy overapplied dressing on a soggy romaine/iceberg blend, but that was not the case here. The dressing was pleasantly acidic, judiciously applied, and the lettuce was a nice fresh romaine with a good balance of the thicker central portions and the leafy green portions. I definitely recommend getting a salad over any of the other appetizer options.

Finally, on to the pizza. This is a place whose (somewhat presumptuous!) domain name is "www.okcbestpizza.com", and their Twitter handle is @okcbestpizza. So it's clear that they are not aiming for the middle of the pack. Alas, I think that's where they land. There isn't anything wrong with the pies here, grand theoretical pizza taxonomy aside: they are focused on the toppings, and the toppings are good. Not stellar, or great, but good. All told, very comparable to The Wedge. Except that I think The Wedge's crust is better. Then again, the wine list at Upper Crust is nice, and very affordable: good pizza-pairing wines. And the salad was very good. But the apps... ah, decisions, decisions.

Really, you'll get a meal to be happy with at either place, and the price is right at both of them. But if you are pizza connoisseur from out of town... go find a steak place.

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#56 Scargo

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Posted 06 October 2010 - 01:46 PM

Hideaway Pizza on East 15th street is the only place I have eaten pizza in Tulsa. I thought it was decent. I'd say it was good pizza typical of what you get in OK and TX.
How would you say it stacks up against The Wedge or Upper Crust?
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If you`re not big enough to lose, you`re not big enough to win! Try this jalapeno, son. It ain't hot...

#57 Chris Hennes

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Posted 06 October 2010 - 01:51 PM

Hideaway has a strong local following here in the OKC area as well: I had their pizza once and was not impressed, but that was takeout, and was a couple years ago. Fifteen minutes in a cardboard box doesn't do anything good for anyone's pizza, so I can't really judge fairly!

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#58 Chris Hennes

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Posted 18 February 2012 - 01:43 PM

It's been a while since I've reported on anything new in OKC, but today while out shopping I drove past this place:

Mutts exterior.jpg

I had no idea what it was, so of course stopped. Inside, it has a very familiar vibe—and for good reason: it's operated by the same people as Big Truck Tacos. This bode well for lunch. As did the inclusion of duck fat fries on the menu. And behold, the duck fat fries:

Mutts fries.jpg

They were well-flavored, but single fried, so a bit limp. Still. Duck fat. I also had a hot dog (of course) with sauerkraut and mustard:

Mutts dog.jpg

An excellent, well-flavored dog. Perhaps a tad over-topped to my liking, but that's easy to fix at the table (easier to fix than under-topped, I guess). My wife had the chili cheese fries:

Mutts chili cheese fries.jpg

These were pretty good: the chili is clearly designed as a dog-topping and not as a standalone chili, but it's hard to fault them for that. I think my dog was about $5, as were the fries. So not cheap, but not expensive either.

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