More likely than not, beef is what’s for dinner in Oklahoma City, and probably for breakfast and lunch as well. But there’s also a surprisingly diverse array of choices if your tastes veer more toward farm-to-table, Native American fare, sweet treats, or ethnic cuisine.
These are a few of the tastiest local flavors and dishes you’ll want to sample during a visit to OKC, and where you can order up some of the best interpretations in town.
Oklahoma City is full of quintessential old-school steakhouses worth bellying up to for a hearty slab of red meat grilled to perfection with all the traditional accompaniments, but it doesn’t get much more iconic than Cattlemen’s Steakhouse in historic Stockyards City. This OKC landmark has been in business since 1910 feeding hungry cowboys, ranchers, and a starry cast of visiting movie stars, athletes, musicians, and even a President or two. (Insider tip: the lamb fries are probably not what you think they are. You might want to ask the server for a description before you order.)
Or, step up to the dinner plate at Mickey Mantle’s Steakhouse for prime Wagyu beef and walls covered with memorabilia from the baseball great’s own personal family collection.
Chicken Fried Steak
For the uninitiated, chicken fried steak isn’t fried chicken or conventional steak at all, but a hybrid recipe that contains elements of both. Sometimes also called country fried steak, the dish starts out with a tenderized cube steak breaded with seasoned flour and pan-fried to create a crisp crust, then drenched in a scoop of creamy white gravy. Not a low-calorie option by any stretch of the imagination, but oh so good if you're in the mood to splurge. Ann’s Chicken Fry House on Route 66 and Cheever’s Cafe in the Uptown 23rd neighborhood are both solid destinations for sampling this Oklahoma signature entrée with mashed potatoes and maybe some green beans or fried okra on the side. Plan on factoring in time for a nap afterward.
Pho and Banh Mi
Visitors might be surprised to learn that Oklahoma City is home to a vibrant Asian community, particularly a large group of Vietnamese immigrants who settled here during the 1970s bringing along the customs, culture, and cuisine of their homeland. These days, adventurous eaters head to the thriving Asian District off Claussen Boulevard to feast on fragrant Vietnamese noodle soup at Pho Lien Hoa and Pho Ca Dao, or fresh banh mi sandwiches at Lang Bakery and Quoc Bao Bakery, along with a literal smorgasbord of authentic Thai, Chinese, and Japanese food.
Fried Onion Burgers
Another must-eat item when in OKC, fried onion burgers are exactly what they sound like—paper-thin onion slices pressed into a meaty beef patty, grilled to savory, lacy-edged perfection, and garnished with standard burger toppings on a toasted bun. Grab a pile of napkins and order one at Tucker’s Onion Burgers or Nic’s Grill to enjoy with a pile of fresh-cut fries.
What’s a burger without pickles? Founded in the Sooner State and headquartered in Oklahoma City, Sonic Drive-Ins have perfected the Pickle-O, batter-fried pickles with a sauce for dipping. Don't be deterred if you don't see them listed as a side option at the drive-through; they’re part of the franchise’s “secret menu.” Go crazy and ask for a pickle juice slushy while you’re at it.
Oklahoma City celebrates its agricultural heritage and regional harvests by highlighting the farms and food providers that supply the city’s restaurants. Seasonal and fresh are more than just buzzwords at Ludivine, where diners can order from a constantly evolving menu that features locally sourced meat, pork, poultry and produce at its peak of flavor. Meanwhile, the Red Cup caters to a loyal vegetarian/vegan clientele with stellar plant-based cuisine and outstanding coffee.
For a truly unique down-to-earth dining experience, foraging enlightens intrepid hunters as to the local plants, herbs, mushrooms, root vegetables, and other foodstuffs that often go unrecognized and underappreciated in their natural landscapes. Nonesuch brings these items front and center with 20-seat tasting menus composed of found ingredients augmented by strictly local ingredient building blocks. Even better, each creative plated course is every bit as beautiful as it is tasty.
For Oklahoma City natives and residents, pie is the answer to “what’s for dessert?” and everyone’s got their own personal favorite spot that can be counted on to dependably satisfy even the most stubborn sweet tooth. At Florence’s Restaurant, diners have been capping off soulful meals of fried spare ribs, smothered chicken, and oxtails with slices of pear pie since 1952. It’s not always on the menu, so grab it if you can. In the Plaza District, Pie Junkie fills flaky pastry and graham cracker pie shells with apples, berries, key lime, coconut cream, chocolate, pumpkin, bananas, and pecans to sell whole and by the slice. And of course, there’s a fried variation—Arbuckle Mountain stuffs sweet or savory fillings into circles of dough before a dip in the deep fryer to turn out delicious hand pies you’ll want to keep all to yourself.
Built on a base of Native American fry bread, Indian tacos showcase layers of meat, beans, cheese, vegetables, and salsa to create a hearty open-faced taco/pizza dish that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Oklahomans often prepare them at home to bring to potlucks and pitch-ins, and they’re a popular item at festivals and fairs, but they can be found at local restaurants if you know where to look. Tim’s Drive Inn keeps Indian tacos on its diner menu year-round, and the dish is a mainstay at The Press in the Plaza District. For lighter appetites, Picasso on Paseo assembles a vegan version topped with chili, tomato, and romaine lettuce.
Folks in Oklahoma love their chili, a spicy, saucy blend of ground beef or bison and beans that started appearing in parlors across the state in the early 1900s. Every recipe relies on the cook’s own tweaks and secret ingredients, from Mexican spices and cinnamon to coffee and cocoa powder. Taste-test the meaty goodness in a bowl at Ron’s Hamburgers and Chili, or atop a hot dog with cheese and a sprinkle of chopped onions at Coney Island.