To live adventurously in the age of a pandemic is to live dangerously.
That means we probably won’t be exploring the streets of Oaxaca anytime soon, eating our way through toasted tlayudas and memelas in a nirvana of Latin street food.
Nope. Touching down on the tarmacs of our dream destinations is on hold for the foreseeable future.
But hey, that’s okay.
Can’t live adventurously? Eat adventurously.
Undiscovered pockets of cuisine surround us – worlds of exotic culinary treasure – and we don’t need a plane ticket to discover them.
Yes, even though Oklahoma is cattle country – a land of steak and gravy and biscuits – there’s more to the Oklahoma City food scene than the typical beef and beer fare you expect.
No, I’m not talking about the trendy places everyone visits, tweets, tags, and hashtags. I’m talking about the other places – the unglamorous, unpretentious, blink-and-you-might-miss-it places in strip malls and lesser-known food districts. The places that serve meals that won’t cost you a fortune and don’t require a reservation. The kinds of places you can brag to your friends about because you’ve gone the way of Bourdain and Fieri – a road less traveled. Or in this instance, a restaurant less Instagrammed.
Ready to jump outside your comfort zone? Good. I have a few places for you to try the next time your stomach growls and your wanderlust roars and you have $20 burning a hole in your pocket.
El Super Torta El Chavo
(Mexican Tortas and Authentic Mexican Food – official website)
Are the giant, authentic tortas (Mexican street food sandwiches) at this restaurant the best-kept secret of the OKC food scene? Maybe. This colorful, festive little dive on SW 29th street makes you feel as though you’ve been transported to the vibrant culture of Mexico from the second you walk in the door. It’s not a place trying to be “authentic”, it simply is.
From the quirky TV show inspired decor to the parrot in the corner and Latin music, its kitschy ambiance will charm you. The staff is friendly and the owner will come over to chat you up as he helps you select the torta of your dreams.
You can tell this place is a local favorite because the second you enter, you are surrounded by smiling regulars enjoying the authentic Mexican cuisine. If you crave a meat-laden treat, start with the torta Cubana. It’s pretty massive, so bring a friend and share it over cold beers.
(West African Food & Grocery Store – @mamazsokc)
This unique eatery off of NW 16th street is so well hidden you wouldn’t notice it if you were driving by it. It’s the African grocery store attached to the restaurant that caught my attention. I stayed for a quick lunch. The spartan decor may not inspire you but the food is an adventure. I’d say check it out with a buddy for lunch. Start with jollof rice (stewed in tomato broth/spices) and ayamase stew (rustic stew with goat meat) served with tender fried plantains. Sample a malta drink (at least to say you have) and peruse the attached supermarket for items like plantain chips and exotic meat.
Creperie & European Cafe
(Creperie with select European dishes – FB page)
What a surprise it was to discover a creperie in Midwest City, just two doors down from a jazzercise studio (or to realize that jazzercise is still a thing). This well-liked little eatery has been around for years. Genna, the owner, isn’t French but she is European and her crepes are beautiful layers of perfection that she cooks for her customers daily.
Choose from sweet or savory options. This is the kind of small shop where regulars are known by name and you can enjoy a casual vibe as you satisfy your crepe cravings. If this shop was in one of the trendier districts with a mimosa brunch, I doubt anyone would ever stop talking about it. I’ll be back to try shepard’s pie and sample new crepe flavors. Maybe I’ll even sign up for a jazzercise class while I’m in the neighborhood.
Queen of Sheba
(Ethiopian – @queenofshebaokc)
You’ll have to order carryout for now but when the doors open again, this is one exotic little destination you will love. I enjoy the food at Queen of Sheba so much that I took an Ethiopian cooking class.
First visit? Start with the Messob platter to sample multiple meat and vegetarian dishes. My favorite thing on the menu is Kay Watt stew with spicy berbere seasoning (but you must be able to handle some heat).
Make sure you try the injera bread (a fermented slightly spongy bread). It’s not going to be what you expect but it’s part of the authentic experience so don’t shy away from it. It’s also traditional to eat with your hands. Use your injera to scoop up your food and savor the flavor of a faraway destination.
(Cuban – official website)
Did someone mention Cuban food? Oh, wait. Yeah. I did. Now Okies can enjoy the cuisine of the picturesque island beloved by Hemingway. Visit Paladar to try authentic dishes like ropa vieja or ham croquettes. My recommendation is the Cuban tamal with extra mojo. This isn’t the kind of tamale you know from local restaurants. The main ingredients are mixed within the masa and the addition of tangy mojo makes me wonder why all tamales aren’t made this way.
Note: Be aware that Cuban food isn’t spicy so don’t expect bold flavor or spice.
El Fogon de Edgar
(Columbian – official website)
Start with arepas and empanadas and explore the authentic tastes of Columbia at this hidden, family-owned eatery located in a little strip mall in South OKC.
What are your favorite hidden food spots in Oklahoma City? Drop me a comment below with your recommendations.