Favorite New Restaurants 2017
A roundup of what’s new to the table
Photos by Scotty O’Daniel
Photo courtesy Don Risi
We’re currently in the season for feasting, as well as expressing gratitude – and if that manifests as expressing gratitude for new places to do some feasting throughout our beloved city … well, this is the food issue. OKC’s ongoing expansion has prompted a wealth of fresh flavor options of every description (even as time and circumstances have forced the departure of some other longtime hits). We’ve put together a list of some of the metro’s newest standouts, so please consider this an invitation to feast on these recommendations.
One of Oklahoma City’s most well-rounded culinary power teams runs En Croute, including executive chef/partner Jonathon Stranger, formerly of Ludivine. Crosby Dyke, cheesemonger and operating partner, is largely responsible for giving shape to this combination bistro, wine bar and cheese counter. What is most noticeable at En Croute is how refined all the smallest details are, from the beautiful banquette to the art on the walls to the Le Creuset butter dishes to an absolutely perfect omelette.
En Croute has three menus: brunch, lunch and dinner. For brunch, the avocado and crab omelette is a must try, or the biscuits and gravy for more traditional fare. At lunch, the heirloom tomato and burrata salad is a delicious, light meal, or you can allow Dyke to choose cheeses and meats for you, accompanied by homemade jam, butter and bread, on the En Croute plate. At dinner, it’s the short ribs, or seafood cioppino, or the Eggplant Roma for vegetarians.
The sandwich business is in Eric Fossett’s blood – his family ran a deli in California called Big John’s, so when he left the energy industry and perceived a lack of outstanding neighborhood delis in OKC, it probably seemed fairly natural for him to take the plunge. The result is a bustling industrial Uptown spot named for his grandmother’s Scottish heritage but celebrating the best of Jewish, Italian and German delicatessens. Soups and salads are made from scratch, and they cure, smoke and cook their meats in-house. The classic combo of roast beef and horseradish makes the Wild Horses a winner, and the meatballs are excellent, too – but leave finding that out for your second trip, because the pastrami is an absolute must. Circle it, underline it, surround it with arrows; you flat-out need to have this sandwich.
After rebooting Iguana Mexican Grill, consulting chef Marc Dunham turned his attention to the building on the edge of the railroad tracks on NW 9th. Formerly Hillbilly’s and Pachinko Parlor, the space has not done well over the years. Thanks to the new quiet zone, though, the main issue of being along a railroad track at an intersection has now been solved. That meant Dunham was free to open a concept he’s been working on since falling in love with Nashville hot chicken: With the assistance of Steve Mason, he converted the space into Nashbird, a hot chicken joint.
If you’ve not had Nashville hot chicken, the name should give it away. Nashbird features four hotness levels: For the faint of heart and palate, the southern fried chicken has no heat, but even the most sensitive among us should be able to handle “chirp” level. From there, though, the heat accelerates dramatically, and “crazy hot” is appropriately named. Choose from white meat, dark meat, mixed, wings and tenders, but be advised that the wings and tenders are huge. The best way to soothe the heat is with the Moscato slushie – it doesn’t really help that much, but it is delicious, and the sweetness does complement the spice.
St. Mark’s Chop Room
Next door to En Croute, and sharing a kitchen with the bistro, is the newest concept from the same team. The name is an homage to sommelier/partner Drew Tekell’s father, and the “chop room” is a joke of sorts related to the size of St. Mark’s. In addition to Tekell, sommelier Eric Berumen oversees the wine list at St. Mark’s, and the by-the-glass list is one of the best in the metro. St. Mark’s is dinner-only, and given the size, reservations are highly recommended.
All the beef served at St. Mark’s is Wagyu from Iron Horse Ranch in Macomb, Okla. Before you get to the first course, though, your server will bring you popovers. Do not pass on the popovers! You can choose from four different steaks, or just let the chef pick a cut for you. All the beef is cut in-house, and the chef has the option of serving custom cuts. If steak is not your thing, St. Mark’s has chicken and seafood, as well.
Without being classist, it’s fair to say that many people were surprised when news broke that a wine bar was going into the Plaza District. The area was not exactly known for fine dining, after all, as bars in the area sold much more beer and whiskey than wine. Still, the team of Steve Mason and Aimee Ahpeatone believed the concept would work, and they made two very smart hires to aid The Pritchard’s success: executive chef Shelby Sieg and sommelier Mindy Magers, both industry veterans.
With the exception of brunch, small plates drive the menu – the idea being to share dishes while you work through the extensive, internationally diverse wine list. Much of the charcuterie is done in-house, and some is sourced locally from Native Meat Company. The fried chicken thighs are popular, as is the duck. The Cacio e Pepe is a perfect pasta dish, and for brunch, be sure to try The Buckle: skirt steak with eggs and chimichurri.
The Hall’s Pizza Kitchen
The food isn’t new; fans have been feasting on their Neapolitan-style pizza for a few years via the Hall’s food truck. It’s not surprising that they expanded, either, given how good the sausage-and-pepperoni Saturday Night is, or the excellent balance in the mustard barbecue sauce of the Okie. What is new, however, is this bright, spacious spot on Hudson, boasting plenty of elbow room inside and a rooftop patio that’s only one story up, but offers a surprisingly great view of Midtown. It’s a perfect spot for relaxing for a drink, or a bite of dessert, or just one more slice of pizza.
Baba G Mediterranean Grill
The “Mediterranean” moniker has become a catchall lately to describe food from that part of the world, and it’s terribly unhelpful. Italy is, after all, on the Mediterranean, as are Spain and Algeria. (Pro tip: Those cuisines are not the same.) What Baba G offers is authentic Arab cuisine from Moahz Dabbour’s family recipes, derived from his father, who operated a food stand in Kuwait. Dabbour is serving up what is essentially Arab street food, and he’s doing it at a great price point with exceptional service.
Flavor matters, and everything Baba G puts out is loaded with flavor, including the oft-pedestrian (in other restaurants) hummus. The spicy hummus is as advertised, so be careful if you are sensitive to heat. The place is called Baba G, so you are kind of obligated to try the baba ganoush. For a main course, the chicken or steak shawarma are both delicious, and you can get them on fresh-baked pita, on a salad or on a plate. Why would anyone say no to fresh-baked pita?
This dream has been a long time in the works for Justin Nicholas, with the operative word being “work” considering how much of his personal labor went into renovating the space on Robinson. And it shows: This is such a beautiful atmosphere it’s slightly disorienting to look at the menu. Because while he’s renowned – and very much deservedly so – as making one of the most outstanding burgers you’ll ever eat, this location allows Nic and crew more leeway to serve hearty, huge diner-style classics, from chicken-fried steak to sizzling shrimp. Be sure to take a look downstairs, too: The cozy, low-lit underground bar is a thing of beauty.
The atmosphere and immediacy of the original Nic’s Grill on Penn (which is still open, for the record) will always have a place in our hearts, but it’s inarguably nice to be able to find a place at the table, as well.
When Prairie Thunder closed permanently, you could almost hear the groans in restaurant kitchens around town. Locally sourced bread is a staple in area restaurants, so the demise of Prairie Thunder meant owners and managers had to look elsewhere. Don Mills has traveled extensively, and part of that time was spent in Germany, where he experienced classic German bakeries. The space previously occupied by Prairie Thunder proved an excellent spot for his experiment: Bring a German bakery to Oklahoma City.
Esca Vitae is both a commercial bakery and a café. The breakfast sandwich is brioche French toast with eggs, bacon, butter lettuce and tomato jam. It’s difficult to explain just how delicious a sandwich on French toast is. Why is this not the national standard? The morning buns are baked fresh daily, and, combined with an Americano or Cappuccino, it’s a great snack for the early morning crowd. Lunch consists of sandwiches on a wide variety of Esca Vitae’s delicious breads, and you’ll not want to skip dessert. The cakes, pastries and tortes are strategically placed to make saying no very difficult.
Small venue, small menu, impressively large temptation for lunch or a swing-through snack. Since day one, one of the best parts of the bill of fare at modern Korean smash Chae has been the impossibly soft, pillowy steamed buns stuffed with various kinds of deliciousness. This concept lifts that section off the Chae menu and drops it in a little nook next to the Tower Theatre, making it quicker and more convenient to pop in for your fix of pork belly with heavenly gochujang, pan-seared duck breast in a hoisin sauce, fried tofu, mushroom ragout, breaded pork loin, widely varying daily special … or any combination thereof, including optional fry-and-drink combos. Get in, get your mouth full of distinctive flavor, get on with your day. But don’t sleep on the house-made soft serve ice cream.
Another Good Egg Group concept, another triumph in dining. Keith and Heather Paul have an excellent track record of doing their restaurants right, and Heather took a personal hand in the design and décor of this Midtown cantina. From molten queso fundido to a decadent tres leches cake, the menu is packed with well-balanced Mexican flavors, and includes some pleasant surprises for those who think they’re tired of Tex-Mex – pay special attention to the hot chicken sopes and the outrageously good chili pequin shrimp fajitas. Don’t overlook the powerfully loaded drinks menu, either, and even though winter weather may be on its way, the covered back patio is equipped with fireplaces and heaters to give visitors a cozy, secluded-feeling hideout.
The Jones Assembly
Once upon a time, there was a Ford assembly facility on Sheridan and Classen; a building that hung around long after its original purpose had ceased. After a massive renovation by The Social Order dining group, the combination restaurant/bar/concert venue/other bar/semi-covered patio/private event space is a place for putting together special experiences and memories, and OKC aficionados are hoping it stays around a good long time. Chef Brittany Sanger oversees the menu that offers mainly American classics such as pizzas, salads, a house burger and hanger steak – not sure the chili-glazed octopus fits in that categorization, but it’s superb – and there’s plenty of room for your whole coterie. Even if you couldn’t get tickets to hear Willie Nelson right before Thanksgiving, the Jones Assembly is more than worth a visit.
Chick n Beer
The fine folks at Guernsey Park are dedicated to serving signature twists on Asian cuisine, but last December they helped launch a new way to provide diners with satisfied palates: by serving up Korean-style chicken wings. It could be considered a downside that if you’re not in the mood for wings and brews, they don’t offer much else, but on the other hand, the chicken (free range from Crystal Lake Farms in Arkansas) is top-notch. The bourbon teriyaki glaze is amazing, although so is the BBQ honey red curry, and they do make a hot gochujang – gosh, it would just be a shame if you had to eat a bunch of wings to try all the flavor profile possibilities, wouldn’t it?
How many restaurants can be packed into one four-block stretch of 16th? As far as we’re concerned, the Plaza District hasn’t become overstuffed yet, especially if the new additions are as tempting as this sunny, simply decorated early-morning stop. Chef Henry Boudreaux has whipped up a menu powered by locally sourced ingredients and filled with special touches, so whether you’re in the mood for savory (zesty arugula pesto and a runny egg make the open-faced BLT sing) or sweet (the tiramisu pancakes with crème anglaise are delightful), you should have no trouble finding something to linger over.
It closes around 2 p.m., so don’t sleep in too long before making your way in, and draw a mental circle around the surprisingly, invitingly secluded-feeling backyard area for next spring.
Offering sushi and tapas – and doing both well – Tomi Le’s Automobile Alley restaurant is a pleasure for multiple senses. The fragrance of the Brazilian meatloaf in the locomoco, the beauty of rolls such as the strawberry-topped Bombshell, the savor of … just about everything, really. The menu draws from culinary influences as widely scattered as Colombia and Chiba Prefecture, with enough variety to make it a solid bet that anyone can find something appetizing. Our recommendations would include the gyoza, the crab-based Banjo and/or salmon-based Wabi rolls, something from the cocktail menu and definitely a giant ball of tempura-fried ice cream. You might need some assistance from a second party to polish it off, but it’s completely worth the attempt.
El Toro Chino
The name comes from the restaurant’s penchant for fusing elements of Latin and Asian cuisines, as seen in such dishes as the carnitas eggrolls or nachos served on crackly wonton-skin chips – but tracing the sources of the individual flavors is honestly less important than appreciating the dishes coming out of chef Gerry Reardon’s kitchen. The salmon and its chickpea-chorizo succotash is a beautiful meal, the Akaushi brisket marinated in brown sugar and soy sauce is even better and though lunch is less ornate and more about customizable wraps, they provide plenty of room for enjoyment, too. Full disclosure: Our high opinion was almost certainly influenced by the house-made caramel and sea salt gelato served in an edible churro bowl. Yours should be, also.
Menu aside, it’s a nice space, and works nicely for a solo lunch, dinner date, group brunch, even cocktails and snacks while listening to one of the periodic sets from local musicians.
That address translates to “inside the Shoppes at Northpark” – it’s the restaurant space in the middle of the west side where CityBites used to be, and believe us that this is a vast improvement. Especially once spring allows for visitors to venture back out onto the brick-clad patio. The tab at Hacienda might be a trifle higher than you’ll find at some other taquerias around the city, but it’s hard to argue with their variety and execution. Standout flavors include the al pastor’s nice smoky flavor and pineapple; the barbacoa’s marvelous texture and lingering “mouthful of meat” feel; and the seared ahi tuna, which is a little less conventional but delicious, especially with its wallop of sriracha aioli. Throw in one of the house margaritas on tap and you should be all set.
One good way to enjoy your work is to make sure you’re doing something that you love, and it turns out that Sean Cummings loves making up new ways to utilize a certain theme ingredient. (Given his new restaurant’s name, we can’t give you any points for guessing what that might be.) Faddishly popular though bacon is, Bacon succeeds not on mere inclusion of the meat, but on the imagination and variety of the dishes’ various ways to incorporate it. And yes, the chef is quick to assert that every menu item, from sampler pack appetizers to salads to lasagna and meatloaf, includes bacon in some capacity. Even dessert, such as the fiercely recommended Triple Bacon Bypass cake. Sean Cummings went big on pig, and the results are a pure pork pleasure.
Moore has been growing by leaps and bounds of late, and the lion’s share of developers’ attention seems to be on adding more chains to the south side and west along 19th. That’s certainly not a bad thing – nobody’s complaining about having Fuzzy’s fish tacos or Hideaway pizza or Bad Daddy’s delicious burger monstrosities in their neighborhood – but it’s also heartening to find the occasional locally owned spot, especially on the north side, and especially one that serves Topeca Coffee-based beverages and an array of tasty-looking sandwiches. The gleaming, comfortable Boxcar also has an impressive collection of board games, if you and some friends are looking to dawdle a while.
More and more people are moving to the center of OKC and calling downtown home, so chef Bruce Rinehart decided to offer them – as well as office workers and passerby – a neighborhood bar. It doesn’t have a huge space nor an overly expansive menu, but it’s not intended to; this is a casual waystation to kick back with a well-built sandwich for lunch, oysters for happy hour, dinner pasta or weekend brunch. Oh, and a beverage or two anytime; there are more than a dozen variations on the namesake cocktail alone. And by the way, since this is a chef Rinehart project, Rococo’s crab cakes are definitely on the menu. Next time you’re in the neighborhood, head to the Oklahoma Tower and look for the raven.
After much anticipation – the idea was three years in the making – the new breakfast and lunch concept from the Hal Smith Restaurant Group is open for business. The menu is straightforward comfort food, but its quality is outstanding, thanks in large part to operating partner Michael Kraft’s and executive chef Brad Johnson’s commitment to making it from scratch (the biscuit recipe was inspired by Johnson’s mother’s). Diners can look forward to an excellent mixture of traditional and creative items – the pulled pork verde is worth the drive, as is the chicken sausage. Kraft is a barista in his own right, and the coffee service is top-notch, featuring Topeca coffee and well-trained staff. The lunchtime booze menu is also primo. It’s located on the southern edge of Edmond at NW 150th and Penn; go welcome them to the neighborhood.
► Coming Soon
Future flavors to put on your radar
► Out of Service
Local establishments whose kitchens are now closed
Deep Fork Grill
Dot Wo Garden
West in Bricktown