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MOST RECENT VISITS
And Other Updates

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK--Sheesh Mahal
Jul. 29, 2014: The new Sheesh Mahal on N. May Ave. just north of Interstate 44 is the second Pakistani restaurant I have found in this neighborhood, and it joins the list of several very good South Asian and Middle Eastern restaurants in close proximity.

Sheesh Mahal's famous blackboard menu
Sheesh Mahal's menu is written on a blackboard

For those who are familiar with Indian food, Pakistani cuisine has similar flavors and many dishes have the same name. At Sheesh Mahal you order from a menu (as opposed to the buffets that most Indian restaurants serve), so my many trips to Indian buffets came in useful in helping me decide what to order here.

Pakistani food seems to be mostly meat dishes, though (while Indian cuisine is one of my favorites for vegetarian items). Over time I will probably explore the differences between Indian and Pakistani cuisine, but for most people it is probably enough to know that if you like one you will probably like the other as well.

The food at Sheesh Mahal can be spicy or non-spicy, and they will answer any questions you have about the menu (including making recommendations if you wish).

The karahi chicken I ordered on my initial visit was quite good, and I think is worth a try if you want something fairly spicy.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK--Alfredo's Mexican Cafe
Jun. 12, 2014: The new Alfredo's in Warr Acres makes a total of four in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, but this was the first one I was able to visit. The Internet reviews for Alfredo's have been better than most, and this was what persuaded me to try it. Although I found some areas of disappointment at the restaurant, I have to say that it is does seem to be better than most.

Alfredo's in Warr Acres
Alfredo's in Warr Acres

There was not as large a choice of authentic dishes as there would be in restaurants such as Abel's, but if the street tacos are any indication the available dishes are quite satisfying. Out of several very good street tacos in the city, I would say Alfredo's tacos are set apart by their flavorful tomatillo sauce.

The best feature about Alfredo's, though, was the consistent quality of all the items including the chips, salsa, tortillas, and side dishes (not even Abel's comes as close to meeting my expectations in this regard). Alfredo's even gives you real butter (and not a margarine spread) to put on the tortillas.

The setup at Alfredo's is American style, with large portions, rather high prices, and the obligatory cheese sauce as an appetizer. For flavor, though, I think Alfredo's really has an authentic Mexican taste.

As part of the authentic Mexican experience, I really want to point out the large selection of side dishes that are not available at most other restaurants. The Mexican mashed potatoes were most impressive, and the list of other possible choices was quite long.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK--Tommy's Italian-American Grill
May 26, 2014: The new Tommy's opened in May 2014, and many people still have fond memories of the original Tommy's in Northpark Mall (where Rococo is now located). This was my favorite place in town for pizza at a time when I had begun to experience what was available in Chicago and other large cities. On my first visit to the new Tommy's there was no question about what I would order-- I had to try the pizza, and it did not disappoint.

Tommy's on Memorial Rd.
Tommy's on Memorial Rd.

I do not know the full history of why the old Tommy's closed and the owner concentrated his efforts on his other restaurant, Bellini's (only to end up selling Bellini's a couple of years ago). The new Tommy's has elements of both of the old restaurants, but maybe most importantly it has brought back Tommy's pizza. I was told that the restaurant's wood fired oven was an upgrade from the oven at the old Tommy's, and if anything this has to give a better crust than ever (although I do not remember the old crust clearly enough to make the comparison).

To me the crust was quite notable, with the wood fired cooking method being evident in its texture and flavor. Equally impressive, though, was the fact that the pizza was not greasy and had a light, clean taste.

Even though I have not yet tried the other menu items, everything about the restaurant impressed me as being worth going back for more visits. Probably most importantly the prices did not seem outrageously high (and you certainly do not spend much for a pizza considering the quality and quantity that are delivered).

Tommy's seems to be doing things in stages, having somewhat of a "soft" opening before word got out to the general public about the new restaurant. The outdoor patio was still not open when I went, and other features may still be on the way. At this stage I would say that the old Tommy's is back and is better than ever.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK--Sweet Spirit Foods Hot Salsa
Apr. 30, 2014: It appears to be pure coincidence that this week's Oklahoma Gazette has an article on salsas, and it is probably a coincidence that the one I am featuring is not included in the Gazette article. I do not specifically remember trying any of the ones in the Gazette article (Dorian's Foods, Towhead Salsa, Mittie's Kitchen, Ace In the Bowl Salsa, Livesay Orchards, Dreamcatcher Farm, and El Rancho Salsa), but just about all of them look better than the ones I am usually able to find in the grocery stores.

One very good salsa I have been able to find, though, is the Hot Salsa from Sweet Spirit Foods. Sweet Spirit Foods is an enterprise by the ladies in a local church who use their family recipes for several types of salsa and barbecue sauce. I would encourage readers to check them out at Sweet Spirit Foods.

I was surprised to find out that every ingredient listed on the jar was something I could pronounce, and most are foods people keep in their kitchens all the time. Even though it is apparently a simple recipe using natural ingredients, I thought they were put together in a very good blend. So far this is just about the best version of a jarred salsa I have found in Oklahoma City.

Sweet Spirit Foods Hot Salsa
Sweet Spirit Foods Hot Salsa

I used to go to just about every grocery store in El Paso and Las Cruces to find new and different salsas that would disprove my theory that you can't get good salsa from a jar. I found three or four that I thought came very close (I think all of them were made in New Mexico). The one from Sweet Spirit Foods in OKC comes very close to the best ones from New Mexico (with the assumption, of course, that the New Mexico salsas offer a good yardstick for this type of comparison). The Sweet Spirit salsa has a natural flavor like the best ones from New Mexico, and it kept tasting good after I refrigerated it.

The Sweet Spirit Foods Hot Salsa would not be considered very hot by New Mexico standards, but this is not a criticism-- only a guide to let others know what they are buying. The flavor is very good, and I thought it was hot enough for my taste.

Besides ordering from the web site, Sweet Spirit Foods products are available at the OSU Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings at their location on Portland Avenue near N.W. 10th St. in Oklahoma City.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK--Mexican Restaurant Lent Specials
Apr. 18, 2014: At this late date an article about "Lent Specials" is mostly information to save for next year, since six Lenten Fridays have already passed, and only today remains for this year's season. Still, I wanted to give a report that may be of use later.

My interest in Lent restaurant specials started in El Paso when I saw the elaborate preparations made by some of the restaurants of traditional meals for the season. They are served on Fridays during Lent (and I am not sure about other days such as Ash Wednesday). Mexican Lent meals always have a vegetarian, fish, or seafood main dish (no meat is served). El Paso restaurants usually have a vegetarian lentil soup (lentejas) and capirotada for dessert (this is a bread pudding that tastes very good, but the ingedients also have a religious significance for the season). The quality of the food varies greatly among restaurants, and I believe the main reason is that some cooks do not get enough practice with dishes which are only prepared a few times during the year. In El Paso it seems that horchata is the most popular drink with these meals, but I am not sure if this is the case throughout Mexico.

Most Oklahoma City restaurants have the type of seafood or vegetarian dishes on their menu that would be appropriate for a Lent meal, but they are lacking in the "special" dishes that I usually associate with the season. One time I was able to get capirotada at Birrieria Diaz in Bethany (and it was quite good), but I have gone several times when it was not available. Nevertheless, here is a photo:

Capirotada at Birrieria Diaz
Capirotada at Birrieria Diaz served as a Lent special

Birrieria Diaz does have Lent specials, though, including fish and seafood dishes which are not included on the regular menu.

For regular menu choices, at least on the north side of Oklahoma City, I think Abel's, San Marcos, and Casa Perico are all good choices (and there are probably other good restaurants as well). I mention these three because I think Abel's has the best enchiladas (get the Mexican style ones for Lent, not the Tex-Mex style which would have chile con carne on top), San Marcos has the best fish dishes, and Casa Perico has good fish tacos. In fact, all of these restaurants have several good choices, and I also like a number of items at Birrieria Diaz.

I am not an expert on south Oklahoma City, but I believe this is where a number of restaurants with Lent specials will be found. A possible alternative would be an ad I saw for La Aguascalientes Market at 3005 S. Western, which offers "Platillos de Cuaresma" and sells capirotada by the pound. In any case, I am gradually finding more choices for this type of food.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK--Billy Sims Barbecue
Apr. 5, 2014: With 30 locations in three states, Billy Sims is doing something right when it comes to barbecue. It might be easy to think that this a tourist trap or typical "chain" food, but I have found it to have very decent barbecue (against some stiff competition).

The 'Sooner Schooner' in front of Billy Sims Restaurant
For a while the "Sooner Schooner" was parked in front of Billy Sims Restaurant

The ribs and pulled pork are especially good at Billy Sims, and I think these are among the best I have tried anywhere in Oklahoma (I can also add the chicken as being one of the best in the state). I am not fanatical enough about ribs to go on Tuesday night for the all-you-can-eat rib special they have, but I have seen enough customers partake of this to know it is a really good deal.

Some other very important features of barbecue restaurants, at which Billy Sims excels, are the iced tea (both sweet and unsweet) and the sauce (of which the regular sauce seems to be especially good). The free pickle which comes with each dinner is better than I have had at other "Q" restaurants, and the "Okie" toast is just about the best in town (at least it is the best I have tried so far).

Although I like several of the side dishes, the selection is really pretty small, and this is especially true when it comes to desserts. To me this is really not important, especially when Billy Sims' potato salad is just about the best I can find anywhere. Unlike many (or actually most) barbecue restaurants, Billy Sims is open on Sunday.

All restaurants have strengths and weaknesses, but Billy Sims has more than the usual amount of items that are important for great barbecue.

EDMOND, OK--House of Hunan
Mar. 26, 2014: House of Hunan in Edmond is another of the city's long-time Chinese restaurants that seems to have changed hands. The tip to me was the fact that it no longer had the "Chinese menu" that I liked so much on my previous visit. The previous Chinese menu had Cantonese style dishes similar to the ones served at Chow's or the Asian District, and I thought this was what set House of Hunan apart from a large number of other suburban restaurants.

The menu now mostly seems to be comprised of spicy dishes that are not at all what I associate with Cantonese food. In fact, while I cannot say that the food is not authentic, it did seem to be mostly the American favorites that are on the menus of most Chinese restaurants.

The dish I ordered from the "regular menu" (which is the only menu they have) tasted very sweet and "American style" to me. My point of comparison is the old Lotus Mandarin in Warr Acres where the previous owners used to prepare some of the dishes "Chinese style" for me, and I found them to be less sweet and with a more balanced flavor than I typically find in Chinese restaurants.

Setting the overly-sweet flavor aside, though, everything else was good at House of Hunan. The ingredients were satisfying, and they had a really good chile oil sauce which I used to add spice and flavor.

They seem to have cheaper prices if you go at lunch on a weekday (I did not make it at that time, though). I would say that this would be an especially good time to try out House of Hunan if you have not yet done so.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK--Travel By Taste
Mar. 13, 2014: Travel By Taste in Warr Acres specializes in Persian style Middle Eastern food, and is the only restaurant of its kind I have found in the area. It is easy to miss, with the building being set back from MacArthur behind another restaurant. Even the sign "Travel By Taste" does not give an indication that this is Middle Eastern food. In my opinion, though, this is some of the best in the city.

The market has a large assortment of Middle Eastern style packaged items, fresh fruits, nuts, and groceries. The nuts and trail mix are some of the freshest and best I have found. I have to admit, though, that most of my spending has gone toward their large selection of cookies.

For dinners I especially recommend the "Specialties" section of the menu which includes many of the Persian dishes they prepare so expertly. After several visits my favorite dish is the Grilled Chicken with Turkish Salsa, but I can state that several other dishes are just as good (I would say the Ghormeh Sabzi in particular).

If you want hummus, falafel, or other light lunchtime dishes, Travel By Taste is about as good here as anywhere in the city. At times I have thought Travel By Taste has the best falafel in Oklahoma City, but occasionally I have a better one at Nunu's or other restaurants. I just have to say, then, that Travel By Taste takes it place among the best for Middle Eastern food in general.

The hot tea Travel By Taste serves in a big plus for me (cardamom flavored tea with as many refills as you want). Travel By Taste is a family run operation with all the advantages and disadvantages that entails (it closes at 8:00 P.M.). Most of all, though, it really tastes as if you are getting home cooked food.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK--Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill
Feb. 28, 2014: Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill on Northwest Expressway east of Meridian is one of the newest restaurants in this small chain (I think the one in Edmond is even newer). The "fresh and healthy" concept of this restaurant is somewhat like Panera, although to me the Middle Eastern cuisine served at Garbanzo makes it even better.

The food at Garbanzo seems to be traditional Middle Eastern cuisine (not that I would really know what is authentic, but it comes close to the food served at Camilya's, Nunu's, and other restaurants in town). Garbanzo does not have as large of a variety as these other places, but the quality is pretty good (particularly on the soups and vegetables, where many Middle Eastern restaurants really fall flat). The hummus at Garbanzo is a spread, and I would say it is not as traditional as the ones at Camilya's and Nunu's, but I thought it was good.

I am not raving about Garbanzo, because I think there are a lot of better choices in the city. At the same time, though, I think Garbanzo is excellent for a fast food restaurant (and a chain, no less).

DENTON, TX--Rudy's Country Store & Bar-B-Q
Jan. 31, 2014: Over the holidays I had a chance to try the brisket from Rudy's Bar-B-Q in Denton, Texas, and this gave me a good chance to compare it with Rudy's in Oklahoma City and in El Paso. Although Rudy's is a chain (with the headquarters in the San Antonio area), I believe some of the restaurants have differences in terms of the food.

The brisket from the Denton Rudy's had a very flavorful smoky taste that I thought was quite a bit better than in Oklahoma City. The meat was more moist, and I just thought it tasted more like the barbecue I remember from Texas. It is not a matter of one being good and the other bad, but it was a matter of the Denton barbecue being one I would make a point to seek out, while the one in Oklahoma City faces several competitors which I think are better (and for all I know, there may be better barbecue in the Dallas area also).

I do think, though, that anyone traveling on Interstate 35 would probably have a good experience at Rudy's in Denton. Of course, I think the same would be true farther south in the San Antonio area, but I have not yet tried any of the locations there.

To me, if I enjoy barbecue as much as I did this time from Rudy's, it does not matter a whole lot if I could have found something better somewhere else. The one from Rudy's in Denton seemed very close to the best I have had.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK--Nunu's Mediterranean Cafe
Jan. 16, 2014: There is a rather significant concentration of Lebanese restaurants in the area around Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Wichita, and Springfield, Missouri, and this is something I miss when I am in certain parts of the country. I think a very good place to get a taste of Lebanese cuisine is at Nunu's in north Oklahoma City near Quail Springs Mall (at 3131 W. Memorial). This is a small family run restaurant, market, and catering business which specializes in Lebanese food (but also has a few added items such as the PoBoy sandwich copied from Cedar's Deli in Tulsa).

Nunu's serving counter
Nunu's serving counter at Christmas

Nunu's is not only one of OKC's best restaurants, but I think it has recently gotten better. One very good change has been a switch from paper plates to traditional plates and silverware. This happened about a year ago, and I have been enjoying the restaurant a lot more since this change took place.

I think the falafel has gotten better recently (the quality is more consistent), and my perception is that other items have improved including the pita. Nunu's is my favorite place for lentil soup, cabbage rolls, baklava, tabouli, fatoosh, and houmos (the latter three are all new additions to my list). Nunu's and Camilya's are really my top places in town for Lebanese style Middle Eastern food. While Camilya's has a long list of items that are my favorites in OKC, there are a number of reasons I also like to go to Nunu's including the eggplant casserole special served every other Thursday.

I have seen prices go up in the past year or so, but not to the point that it changes anything that I order. Nunu's is still a fairly inexpensive place to get a very good Middle Eastern style meal in a casual setting.

To start my "New Year's" articles I could not think of a better restaurant than Nunu's to highlight.

NEW FEATURE--Steve's Restaurant List
Dec. 30, 2013: Steve's Restaurant List is a project which has come through spending hours researching restaurants on the Internet and putting the information down on one list. Specifically, the research began by evaluating different web sites and resources to determine what I thought was credible information about good restaurants around the United States. The next step was to decide which restaurants (out of the many good ones) should be included. I have tried to develop a list which people can use in traveling to various places in the country to find a good place to eat (without going to the usual tourist traps).

The philosophy of "Steve's List" is the same that governs the reviews posted on this web site--try to find places that are interesting, have good food, and often are ones serving ethnic food or regional specialties. I am trying to list both the best food and interesting food which I might not find on other sources.

Of course I have done a lot of editing to keep the list from becoming unwieldy (and I am afraid it is already approaching that point). However, the only real factors that will keep a place off the list are if it does not seem to have especially notable food or if there are many other restaurants serving the same type of food (one or two restaurants of a certain cuisine are usually enough).

I hope to make periodic updates, but for now I just want to let everyone know that this list is available and may be of use to some people.

To get started, the list covers the following states: AZ, AR, CO, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, LA, MI, MN, MO, MT, NE, NM, ND, OK, OR, SD, TX, UT, WA, WI, WY. The list is concentrated on the states I know best, such as Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, and Washington. If I can get a good list of restaurants compiled for any additional states, they will be added later.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK--Casa Perico
Dec. 13, 2013: Casa Perico is one of the successful "hybrid" Mexican restaurants in Oklahoma City which offers both decent Tex-Mex food and good quality authentic dishes. Items on the menu marked with a parrot (perico) are Casa Perico's recommended dishes, and tend to be authentic Mexican style food. I definitely believe the parrot symbols are an indication of the restaurant's best food, and not just an attempt to sell customers the more expensive items.

Puerco verde at Casa Perico
Puerco verde at Casa Perico

The puerco verde is one such "parrot" item which was flavorful and just about the way I would expect to find it in Mexico. Probably the most significant thing about the green chile was that it was piquant, but did not go over the line where I would find it to be overly spicy. The fried potatoes and Mexican corn were excellent accompaniments to the meal, and were some of the best side dishes I have found in Mexican restaurants. This was a moderately priced dinner, and one which I enjoyed.

Another important feature of Casa Perico is that the chips, salsa, rice, tortillas, and sopapilla are all pretty good. I know just about every Mexican restaurant includes these items in the meal, but at Casa Perico they were more enjoyable than most (especially because the chips did not have a noticeable corn oil taste).

Casa Perico has two locations, and both were in operation for a number of years before I tried them. Now I am thinking, "Why did I wait so long?" Oh well, I can always try to make up for lost time.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK--City Bites
Dec. 6, 2013: City Bites has grown into quite a sizeable mini-chain of sandwich restaurants, with over a dozen locations in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area and one in Wichita, Kansas. It is also one of the oldest sandwich restaurants in the city, with most of the other restaurants seeming to be newcomers in comparison.

Looking southeast from City Bites at Hefner and Rockwell
Looking southeast from City Bites at Hefner and Rockwell

The "build-your-own sandwich" concept at City Bites has both advantages and drawbacks. The choice of bread and toppings is quite flexible, and it is easy to construct something I really enjoy. It is also easy to create something of a disappointment, though, when I venture into unfamiliar territory with sandwiches I do not eat very often. At least at hamburger places such as Johnnie's I always know I will like the hickory smoked sauce, but with sandwich restaurants I am still mostly in the experimental stage.

Maybe an easier choice is to order one of the daily specials. These are generally grilled or cooked items which I have liked pretty well, but my favorite was the Baja chicken tacos. Of course each special is only served one day per week, and my strategy is generally to show up whenever I get the opportunity and hope that the special that day will be something I like (but also being prepared to order a sandwich from the menu).

Having a number of good sandwich restaurants is one good point about the Oklahoma City dining scene, and sometimes it is hard to choose the one I enjoy most. At this point I like all of the ones I have tried, but some things that set City Bites apart are the very good breads (and the number of choices available), the excellent sauces (although I did not care for the chipotle), and I would have to say certain sandwiches such as the mesquite chicken. I haven't tried enough of the daily specials to know whether they would be one of the restaurant's outstanding features on a consistent basis, but I have liked what I have tried so far.

BETHANY, OK--Swadley's Bar-B-Q
Nov. 23, 2013: I consider Swadley's Bar-B-Q to be one of the top three or four chains in OKC in terms of barbecue quality (and so far the independent restaurants I have tried have been at about the same level as the chains). Actually Swadley's only has about four locations, and I believe each one is managed by one of the family members. I have seen their headquarters near Rockwell and Wilshire where it looks as if the meat is smoked, and I would say the food at Swadley's tastes just the same as a local restaurant even though the food might be transported several miles each morning.

Swadley's on Rockwell just south of Route 66
Swadley's on Rockwell just south of Route 66

The Swadley's in Bethany is the original restaurant (moving from its first location near N.W. 23rd and Council several years ago), and this particular building would probably rank as the most comfortable barbecue place in the Metro for family dining. Of course I do not really rate restaurants on the building, and I like the food here very much as well. One of the main attractions here is the variety of items (including some non-barbecue choices) which I really do not see at very many BBQ restaurants. I always think this is one of the best places for vegetable choices (Oklahoma Station is very similar in this respect). The choice of meats, though, is probably greater at Swadley's than anywhere else.

The most popular meats at Swadley's probably compare favorably to just about any restaurant in town. Nothing really stands out, but I like just about everything I have tried. The only real down side is the inconsistency I have experienced on different visits, which is common to barbecue restaurants but may be more pronounced here. Still, I have not experienced anything I did not enjoy (I might make an exception for the hot links, which has nothing to do with the quality of the ones served here-- just my taste for them).

As explained in the review my least favorite feature at Swadley's is the sauce, but on the other hand I really like the fact that it does not give me a MSG reaction as I experience at some other restaurants (but whether it is actually caused by MSG I am not sure). In any case I do not want to build Swadley's up into something it is not, but I do think it has pretty good barbecue, and I think it is even better when considering the whole meal experience customers can get here.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK--Margarita's Mexican Restaurant
Nov. 15, 2013: Margarita's move into its new building directly across the street from the old one signals several improvements-- not only is the new restaurant more comfortable than before, but I think the food has improved as well. This is not to say that the change is very drastic, but there now seems to be a larger choice of authentic Mexican style dishes (which provides a greater choice of items which are of the most interest to me).

The new Margarita's Restaurant
The new Margarita's Restaurant on the west side of May Avenue

While the old restaurant had several traditional dishes from Zacatecas, the new restaurant has several Aguascalientes style offerings. Aguascalientes is the home of "Calvillo" cuisine, and is the origin of the food served in quite a few Oklahoma City restaurants including Abel's, Birrieria Diaz, and Los Amigos. Margarita's does not have as great a selection of traditional dishes as some of the other restaurants, but the quality matches up pretty well (with the proviso that I have only tried one dish at Margarita's). Photos on the wall show points of interest from Aguascalientes, giving patrons a pictorial as well as a culinary tour of this Mexican state.

The "regular" (Tex-Mex) menu seems to be about the same as before, and there are a few of these items from Margarita's that I like as well. The traditional Mexican dishes, though, are the ones that really get me excited about this place.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK--Dot Wo Garden
Nov. 2, 2013: Dot Wo Garden is the newest Dot Wo restaurant, with others located in Edmond and south Oklahoma City. I understand that Dot Wo Garden is actually the old Dot Wo Restaurant on N. Portland which has moved to a new location with a larger and more modern building. The original Dot Wo Restaurant on Portland apparently has new owners and no longer has any connection with the rest of the Dot Wo group.

Although I have enjoyed Dot Wo for a number of years, I believe the new Dot Wo Garden is the best one I have tried yet. It seems to be an improvement over the former restaurant on Portland, at least in the flavor and quality of the food I have tried so far.

My first visit to Dot Wo Garden had the type of Chinese food I would seek if I were on the west coast or in a very large American city, although Dot Wo Garden is still a little bit limited on its menu choices compared to this theoretical west coast restaurant. Still, I am quite happy to find a restaurant like this in Oklahoma City.

Dot Wo Garden
Dot Wo Garden

Dot Wo Garden does not add MSG to any of their dishes, and this is one indication that moving to the new building involved a total revamping of the restaurant including the way the food is prepared. Several other new or remodeled Chinese restaurants are also serving very high quality food, and Dot Wo Garden seems to be part of this trend.

Dot Wo Garden specializes in Hong Kong cuisine, and I find that when it is done right this can be one of the best styles of Chinese food. There are some spicy dishes from other regions, and one thing I like about the Dot Wo restaurants is that they offer a good variety of choices.

My review gives more details about Dot Wo Garden, but my main recommendation is just to try the restaurant-- it seems to be pretty hard to go wrong there.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK--Caffe Pranzo
Oct. 18, 2013: A recent visit to Caffe Pranzo convinced me that it has numerous similarities to Moni's Pasta & Pizza, and that it would be a good idea to write back-to-back articles about these two restaurants. Caffe Pranzo has been in The Village, a suburb of Oklahoma City, for a number of years. Moni's is about five miles north of Caffe Pranzo on May Avenue, and recently expanded from the original restaurant in Arlington, Texas. The food seems to be similar at the two restaurants, and both are "neighborhood Italian restaurants" (I suppose in contrast to restaurants which are more expensive and concentrate as much on the atmosphere as the food).

Caffe Pranzo in The Village
Caffe Pranzo in The Village

One thing I have found that Caffe Pranzo has in common with Moni's is that my favorite dish so far has been a pasta dish. At Caffe Pranzo it was the linguini alla marinara, while at Moni's it was the spaghetti.

Both restaurants have very good salads, but at Caffe Pranzo I would rate it as excellent (although the dressing is of equal outstanding flavor at both restaurants).

Pizza is a specialty at both restaurants, and I have many times found the pizza at Caffe Pranzo to be among my favorites in Oklahoma City.

Caffe Pranzo may not be among the most fancy and high priced Italian restaurants, but to me it is one of the most enjoyable for the relaxed atmosphere, good food, and good service. Both Moni's and Caffe Pranzo show that you do not always have to pay the highest prices to get some of the best food.

EDMOND, OK--Moni's Pasta & Pizza
Oct. 17, 2013: Moni's Pasta & Pizza is a new Italian restaurant in far north Oklahoma City which has become quite popular for providing high quality food at prices which are not as high as other restaurants. Some people have described it as a "neighborhood Italian restaurant," which I interpret as being good enough that you would want to return often and inexpensive enough that you are able to do so.

Moni's on May Ave.
Moni's on May Ave. a couple of miles north of Quail Springs Mall

The bread and salad (which come free with dinners) are items that I would definitely want to return for. The salad dressing was quite good, and I understand that it is home made. I usually save my descriptions of the food for the review, but these items were much better than average, and worth mentioning as a reason people might want to visit Moni's to try it out.

The eggplant parmigiana was something I would rate in the middle of the pack for Oklahoma City. Not having tried other dinner choices, I don't know how Moni's stacks up overall for its Italian food. I'm not sure eggplant is the best indicator, since even some of the best restaurants fall short when it comes to this particular dish.

The pizza was not my favorite in Oklahoma City, but it was better than average. Again, this is not the dish I normally use to judge Italian restaurants, but it is one that I frequently order.

Surprisingly good was the Stracciatella Romano soup, an item which so far I have not found at any other Italian restaurant in Oklahoma City (but I was not looking for it until the waitress at Moni's suggested that I try it). I would also suggest trying it for something different and an excellent treat.

I considered the highlight of the meal to be the spaghetti, and I thought the one here was probably the best in OKC (tied with Vito's). To me this would be enough to consider Moni's as one of the better Italian restaurants in the city, but the soup, salad, and bread reinforced the notion.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK--Mai Thai Closes
Oct. 8, 2013 (Part 3): Jang from Mai Thai says that they are looking for another location to re-open the restaurant, so apparently this may happen sometime in the near future. It would be very good news to find out that the food from Bangkok/ Thai Stop/ Mai Thai is not gone for good.
Oct. 6, 2013 (Update): I just found out that Mai Thai Restaurant at 14101 N. May in Oklahoma City has closed. In its place a second location of Panang Thai Restaurant has opened (the original Panang is in south Oklahoma City). I have heard good things about Panang, and I hope this will be a good addition to the north OKC dining scene.

Hopefully I will be able to find another version of lemongrass tofu similar to the one I got at Mai Thai. This was a unique dish that really added to my Thai food experience. I have similar feelings about the hot and sour soup that was served at the old Bangkok Restaurant on North MacArthur, and continued to be made available at Mai Thai.

More importantly, though, I really enjoyed the people at Bangkok, then Thai Stop, then Mai Thai (three versions of the same restaurant), and I wish them well in whatever they do.

Oct. 3, 2013 (Original Post): Asian cuisine is replete with ingredients that have had little exposure to most North Americans. One reason Asian restaurants have become so popular is that most people feel that they will be safe from strange, exotic, or repulsive food items which may be quite acceptable in other lands but not here.

My focus is not to unknowingly subject readers to such unfamiliar food, but to either identify items I think people would like if they tried it or to identify them for those from these countries who are used to this type of food. Reporting on authentic ethnic restaurants is not the same as recommending them, but when I recommend foods not familiar to most Americans it is because I believe many people will like these items if they try them.

One item which seems to be a foundational element to Southeast Asian cooking is fish sauce. I know that some Vietnamese restaurants in suburban neighborhoods (and probably some Thai restaurants) use Americanized versions of this sauce. For those who prefer the restaurants in the Asian District, the use of a more authentic sauce is probably one of the reasons. "Fish sauce" is a pretty generic term, and there is a whole range of sauces made with different kinds of fish and seafood, as well as different qualities. I am more concerned that a sauce be good than that it be authentic.

Lemongrass tofu at Mai Thai
Lemongrass tofu at Mai Thai

I was very impressed with the flavor of the sauce at Mai Thai across from Quail Springs Mall (which was formerly known as Thai Stop). The lemongrass tofu dish I ordered had the definite taste of a very good Southeast Asian style fish sauce, the type that gives some of the distinctive flavors to Thai food in larger cities where I have experienced it. In fact, it was the same type of flavor I have found in certain Oklahoma City restaurants, but mostly Vietnamese restaurants in the Asian District. I will not go out on a limb and say that certain restaurants are authentic and others are not, but Mai Thai certainly tasted like the very good authentic Thai food I have found elsewhere (in restaurants reputed to be high quality as well as authentic).

In the desire to expand one's horizons with different cuisines, I believe a very good Thai or Vietnamese restaurant is an excellent place to start. My most recent experience at Mai Thai is a good indication that this restaurant falls in that category.

BETHANY, OK--Thai Orchid
Sep. 25, 2013: Thai Orchid is the new name for the restaurant formerly known as Thai Sweet Basil Express. Located on College Avenue in downtown Bethany, Oklahoma, the name change is just a new phase for the same restaurant that was here before (with the same owners). It seems that another Thai restaurant in Norman had a name that was so similar the restaurant in Bethany decided to change its name. This is actually the fifth name for this restaurant that I know about, but at least the change to "Thai Orchid" does not signal a change in the delicious food that has been served here since the current owners took over in 2009.

Thai Orchid in Bethany
Thai Orchid is the new name for Thai Sweet Basil Express

Thai Orchid has prices that I consider to be high for Thai food. The restaurant, though, is what I would put in the "special occasion" category, with service which matches the food. (Some people may think that the Thai music videos which are played makes this more of a casual restaurant, but the volume is not loud and I happen to like this kind of music, so for me the setting here is quite comfortable).

In any case, there are some great Thai dishes here that I think offer more in terms of flavor and authentic Thai ingredients than will be found in many restaurants. My favorite for dinner is the Pad-Ped (which comes with a choice of meats). The "Chef's Specialties" menu section also includes various lamb, salmon, duck, and other dishes which go well beyond the selections found on most Thai menus.

For lunch there is a good selection of noodle, curry, and stir-fried dishes. What makes this one of my favorite places, though, is the special "combination plate" deal Thai Orchid offers which adds two appetizers for about a dollar extra. The choice of appetizers is quite large, and many of them are excellent such as the soups, dumplings, salads, and pot stickers (and since it comes with a choice of two, I usually get both the soup and the dumplings).

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK--Big Truck Tacos
Sep. 19, 2013: Big Truck Tacos is based on N.W. 23rd Street in Oklahoma City's Uptown district, but mobile trucks are being sent to different neighborhoods throughout the city. The one in the photo is parked at N.W. 122nd St. and Rockwell most Fridays at lunch time (I think they sometimes do not come when the weather is bad). San Marcos Mexican Restaurant is on the opposite corner of this intersection, but I think the food and setup at Big Truck Tacos is so different from San Marcos that the two really do not provide a lot of competition with each other.

Big Truck Tacos mobile truck
A Big Truck Tacos mobile truck may be in a neighborhood near you

I would call the tacos at Big Truck Tacos "non-traditional," as opposed to the very authentic tacos served at Taqueria La Original and some other restaurants around town. I liked Taqueria La Original better, but there is ample room for both types of Mexican food in Oklahoma City. Big Truck Tacos has such good quality tacos that I certainly enjoy them regardless of how "authentic" they are. After eating many tacos in Mexico that ranged from very good to pretty bad, my feeling is that the high quality meat and ingredients used by Big Truck Tacos is a much more important factor than whether they are truly authentic or not.

One thing Big Truck Tacos has that I have not found in other restaurants is a very tasty and high quality vegetarian taco. In fact, this may be my favorite item available from this taco truck (although there are a few things I have not yet tried).

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK--Gyros Etc.
Sep. 12, 2013: Gyros Etc. has such a small building I was thinking there must be something special about it that has kept it in business for so long, and this turned out to be true. One of the biggest attractions is the gyros, which I thought was one of the best around.

Gyros Etc. in Oklahoma City
Gyros Etc. at Rockwell and Northwest Expressway

Another good item is the falafel sandwich. I usually go to Nunu's or one of the other sit-down restaurants for falafel, but I thought the one from Gyros Etc. made a very good take-home meal, and I especially liked the fresh pita bread and the flavorful sauce (the falafel was also fresh with a good flavor).

The restaurant has a picnic table outside, but otherwise it is a take-out only place. Everything here tastes good, is healthy, and comes at a good price (qualities that I increasingly appreciate as time goes on). The menu is somewhat limited, but both the gyros and falafel (which seem to be the most popular items) were quite good.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK--Hunan Wok
Sep. 7, 2013: Hunan Wok is one of the most popular Chinese buffets in Oklahoma City, and seems to be even more so since their remodeling which was completed in February 2011. Their customer base does not exist just because some other Chinese buffets in northwest Oklahoma City have gone out of business, but I believe Hunan Wok's quality and prices were big factors in causing some of the competition to close.

Hunan Wok in Oklahoma City
Hunan Wok on Northwest Expressway in Oklahoma City

My personal experience at the "new" Hunan Wok has been in ordering items from the menu (but this has convinced me that the buffet must be pretty good). At the "old" Hunan Wok I tried the Mongolian grill enough times to decide this was my favorite part of the buffet, but some new items have been added to the now expanded buffet that may offer some attractive alternatives. Hunan Wok has not been the best restaurant to find authentic Chinese food from the menu, but for American style food I think it falls in the middle to upper range of Oklahoma City restaurants.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK--Rudy's Country Store & Bar-B-Q
Aug. 31, 2013: Rudy's has two locations in the Oklahoma City area, but most of the restaurants are located in Texas where Rudy's originated. My memories of Texas barbecue from when I lived in Austin were that the brisket is almost always the best thing to get, and I think this is true at Rudy's. The "Country Store" part of Rudy's has quite a few grocery items including a large selection of soft drinks, and the restaurant even fits into the scheme by selling meat by the pound when you order a dinner (making it as convenient to order take-home as it is to eat in the restaurant). The large awning in front of Rudy's covers the gas pumps, which are another feature of the business.

Rudy's on Memorial Rd. in Oklahoma City
Rudy's on Memorial Rd. in Oklahoma City

One thing I like about Rudy's is the fact that they have a large variety of side dishes, and other items that can make a meal besides the standard barbecue (Oklahoma City really has a lot of choices if all you are seeking is barbecue). Green chile stew made New Mexico style was one interesting meat choice available at Rudy's, and it can either be a side dish or a meal if you get a larger order than I did. The green chile was mild enough that I think most people will find it in their comfort zone, and the flavor was pretty good. I really enjoyed finding a dish that was very close to the way it would be made in New Mexico (the heartland of green chile).

Also for soft drinks, the selection here was about the best I have seen outside of Pops in Arcadia.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK--Lotus Mandarin
Aug. 27, 2013: Lotus Mandarin in Warr Acres has recently had a change in ownership, and a lot of changes have been made to the restaurant. What has not changed is the fact that they have a lunch buffet, and many of the menu items are the same as before.

Lotus Mandarin in Warr Acres
Lotus Mandarin in Warr Acres

The menu selections have been scaled down, though, and Lotus Mandarin no longer offers some of the dishes I used to order. Also they no longer serve smaller portions (I used to order these for lunch, but I think they were available for dinner also). I thought the food had a different flavor than before, but this is harder to describe definitively than the obvious changes I noticed with the menu.

I think I first started going to Lotus Mandarin about 1982, and I have enjoyed it through about three or four different owners since that time. The big attraction for most customers has been the buffet, although when I first started going in the 1980's I remember seeing a rather extensive lunch menu in place of a buffet. I tried the buffet a few times after it became a feature at the restaurant, but I kept going to Lotus Mandarin for the same lunch and dinner items that have been on the menu since the beginning.

The current owners have changed the menu, and I am not sure how attractive the restaurant will be going forward from here. I mainly went for the more "Chinese style" dishes, which are now mostly gone. My review gives a few more details, but in case anyone is interested I have made an archived copy of the "old" Lotus Mandarin review along with a copy of the old menu.

Although I concentrate on writing reviews, I am also trying to provide historical information about restaurants. Lotus Mandarin certainly seems to qualify as one of the city's more historic Chinese restaurants.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK--Chelino's Mexican Restaurant
Aug. 23, 2013: Chelino's on Northwest Expressway near Rockwell is the newest location of this mini-chain to open in the Oklahoma City area, but it is actually the result of Chelino's taking over the old Nino's chain (and in this case Nino's former building). Chelino's closed its former location at Northwest Expressway and Council Road, and moved into the building at 6509 Northwest Expressway (the former Nino's), so this is actually just a relocation rather than a new restaurant.

Chelino's on Northwest Expressway
Chelino's on Northwest Expressway

Chelino's has a "100% Estilo Mexico" section of the menu which offers more authentic Mexican dishes than the larger Tex-Mex portion of the menu. Because of this I think Chelino's is moving in the right direction compared to some restaurants which stick solely to Tex-Mex cooking. I have found the authentic dishes at Chelino's, though, to be hit or miss, and I generally think that for the prices that are charged I can do better elsewhere.

The waiters at the Council Road restaurant were very helpful in steering me toward good dishes, but so far I have had less luck at the new restaurant. I hope this is not a trend, but I did find the new restaurant to be busier, so this may be part of the problem. I will admit that Chelino's is not my favorite Mexican restaurant in Oklahoma City, but the experiences from the Council/ Northwest Expressway location have helped to give me a better impression of it than I had in the past.

EDMOND, OK--Wa Ha Ha Asian Diner
Aug. 22, 2013: Wa Ha Ha Asian Diner has a name which in Chinese is supposed to sound like laughter, and of course this translates into English as well. To me it is a little bit funny to find such a good Chinese restaurant in a building that looks like an old Taco Bell or fast food pizza joint, but inside Wa Ha Ha they are serving some serious authentic Chinese food. Wa Ha Ha's specialty seems to be noodle dishes, so in a sense you could say this is Chinese "fast food" (but forget about the big trucks delivering frozen food as you would in a typical fast food place-- here things are freshly made including their handmade noodles).

Wa Ha Ha in Edmond
Wa Ha Ha in Edmond

In a way I think Wa Ha Ha represents a trend in Oklahoma City Chinese restaurants. From the outside this looks like an average suburban Chinese restaurant. These restaurants typically offer American style menus so that people can order what they have come to expect in Chinese restaurants (sweet and sour, broccoli beef, etc.). Unlike most suburban restaurants, though, this is not the main menu at Wa Ha Ha. Instead they have noodle dishes, soups, and a pretty large selection of other authentic items. People seem to be flocking to Wa Ha Ha mainly because of their authentic food, and this is why I was impressed that this may be a sign of other similar Chinese restaurants to come. Szechuan Bistro has already shown that authentic Chinese restaurants do not have to be clustered in the Asian District to be successful, and personally I am more than ready for small suburban restaurants to offer this same type of food (as Wa Ha Ha has already shown can be popular with the public).

I will judge this trend to have taken off when I can no longer individually identify or personally visit every restaurant in the city that serves authentic Chinese food because they will have become too numerous. When this happens it will mean that we can start talking about different styles of Chinese cuisine rather than just the fact that certain restaurants serve authentic Chinese food. Personally I believe Wa Ha Ha is a definite sign that the suburban Chinese restaurant scene has already begun to change for the better.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK--Pho Kim Long
Aug. 17, 2013: Pho Kim Long in the Asian District is one of many choices for Vietnamese food, but I think for pho (beef noodle soup) it is one of the better choices. In fact, I was surprised that this soup was not only very different from others, but I almost thought this was something other than pho. It seemed to be at a higher level than I had normally experienced with beef noodle soup, and I almost thought I had discovered a new Vietnamese dish (but in fact there is a wide variety of methods for preparing beef noodle soup).

Beef noodle soup
Beef noodle soup

The soup pictured was a take-out order brought to me by a friend, so the bowl and placemat shown are not from Pho Kim Long. The soup was from this restaurant, though, and it really had a depth of flavor that surprised me. The main thing that stood out was a star anise flavor, and although this is a standard ingredient for Vietnamese soup, Pho Kim Long seemed to bring out a flavor I had not experienced before. On top of that, the meat was also excellent, and in fact the whole thing was excellent. The bottom part was covered in broth, and although it was probably a smaller volume that I normally see in pho (the generic name for Vietnamese beef noodle soup), the flavor in the broth was enough to completely soak into the noodles and other ingredients.

There are a lot of pho restaurants in Oklahoma City, but Pho Kim Long offers a flavor and quality that I think offers a rather unique experience. I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed it.

EDMOND, OK--Heritage India
Aug. 10, 2013: Heritage India in Edmond is a relatively new Indian restaurant in the Oklahoma City area, and I would say it is much more than relatively good. The fact is that I like all of the Indian restaurants I have tried in the OKC area, but Heritage India is especially impressive for its flavors and for the freshness and quality of the food.

Lamb biryani from Heritage India
Lamb biryani from Heritage India

Biryani is apparently the specialty of Heritage India, and the reason I am unsure is that so far it is the only thing I have tried. Sometimes, though, I taste things that seem to be the standard by which I should judge similar dishes at other restaurants, and this was one of those times. The biryani pictured was a take-home order from which I had removed the cover. There was a large quantity of lamb inside that is not visible in this picture, and it was quite good. The lamb may not have been my first choice except that the restaurant recommended it, and now that I have tried it I think it will be my first choice in the future. If anyone is normally on the fence about ordering lamb, I would say that Heritage India is an excellent place to try it.

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