When it comes to dining, “cheap” can be a deceptive descriptor. If you look around, the metro is home to plenty of places that serve high-flavor, good quality food even though it doesn’t put a ding in the wallet. And given the temperatures that are on the horizon with the advent of summer, sometimes cooking is out of the question … so here’s a little compilation of some of our staff favorites that will give you and your palate a solid bang for your buck.
• Nic’s Grill (pictured above)
The Spot: 1201 N Pennsylvania
The Fare: Cheeseburger combo – massive onion burger, curly fries and a drink. I’ve spent a few years now happily, and industriously, trying to figure out the source of this burger’s magic, and I think it’s partly the immediacy: taking the first bite while it’s still steaming after watching and smelling it cook, and waiting impatiently to sink my teeth in it.
The Damage: $10. There’s cheaper beef out there, but you can’t beat the appeal, and you definitely won’t leave hungry.
The Service: It runs so smoothly it’s hard to believe this is only a two-man operation. Nic cooks, Javon keeps drinks refilled and tables bussed, everybody wins.
The Takeaway: It’s cash only, has a mere 16 seats and is only open 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on weekdays, but it has hands-down one of the greatest burgers in town. It’s more than worth braving the lengthy lines. Go. Go now!
• Grill on the Hill
The Spot: 324 SW 25th, just west of S Shields
The Fare: Breakfast is served: sausage/egg/cheese breakfast sandwich, chorizo burrito, “haystack” hash browns, which are broken up and fried crispy for extra texture.
The Damage: $16, which included coffee and a couple of cinnamon apple fritters. Not remotely shabby.
The Service: There’s a very old-school diner vibe to it, which makes sense: Regulars are greeted by name, refills are plentiful and smiles abound.
The Takeaway: Come early, come often. It’s easy to reach from the city center and completely worth it, even if you don’t get a commemorative T-shirt.
• Egg Roll Express
The Spot: 1529 S Boulevard, Edmond, located in Edmond Plaza East
The Fare: Beef and broccoli, combination fried rice with beef, chicken and shrimp, egg rolls … some of the greatest hits.
The Damage: $16 for a whole mess of deliciousness
The Service: You won’t go overlooked in this well-lit, open space. Just try to have your mind made up before going to the counter to order; there’s a posted menu, but you don’t want to risk holding up the line.
The Takeaway: They aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel in terms of Chinese food, and sometimes getting something familiar executed to perfection is more satisfying than a hit-or-miss experimental fusion dish. If you have a little cash handy (they don’t take cards), this is a great option to keep in the back of your mind.
• Oklahoma Station
The Spot: 4331 NW 50th, located in Springdale Shopping Center
The Fare: Sliced brisket sandwich that was nice and tender, apple cobbler with just enough cinnamon
The Damage: $11.30 total
The Service: Cafeteria-style ordering and payment, down to the plastic tray. Multiple people did ask how we were doing, though, and there’s something primally satisfying about naming a meat and watching a guy carve slices off a giant haunch of it.
The Takeaway: It’s worth going for the beef – especially with a bit of red onion from the condiment bar – and the vibe of an old train depot is pretty cool, too.
• Rocky Mountain Grill
The Spot: 231 S Coltrane, Edmond
The Fare: I’d love to recommend the pancakes, given that they’re fluffy and delicious and also huge. But I can’t; it wouldn’t be fair to you, because you need to get something that features the spectacular trademark green chili sauce. Try a breakfast burrito – also huge, it has scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausage and cheese. And maybe get a pancake on the side.
The Damage: $4.25 for three pancakes, $5.50 for a smothered burrito
The Service: Excellent. Owner and cook Scott clearly loves what he does, often taking time to chat with diners, and the relaxed camaraderie extends to the staff, as well.
The Takeaway: I could hardly recommend it any higher – the only downside is that I don’t live close enough to make it a more regular habit.
• Cous Cous Café
The Spot: 6165 N May
The Fare: A vegetable tagine with a savory tomato base served on a bed of couscous in a shallow clay bowl, kefta kabob with rice
The Damage: $18
The Service: Our waitress was polite but a little timid, as though she wanted us to have a good day if that was all right with us. It’s a nice little spot, though, that doesn’t feel like you’re on one of the busiest stretches of May.
The Takeaway: If you’re in the mood for Mediterranean/Moroccan fare that includes a bevy of vegetarian options, this is a prime spot for flavors and portions that are both ample.
• Pho Ca Dao
The Spot: 2431 N Classen Blvd, Uptown
The Fare: Rich, savory broth with rice noodles and thin slivers of beef. You don’t have to impress anybody by getting the tripe. Augment it to taste with lime, basil and chili paste, and remember that shrimp or pork spring rolls set it off nicely.
The Damage: A medium, which generally gives me enough and then some, is about $8, and a pair of spring rolls runs half that.
The Service: They’re happy to leave you in peace while you eat, so if you need a refill or a to-go cup for leftovers, don’t wait too long to make eye contact with the lady at the register.
The Takeaway: I’m a pretty recent pho convert, honestly, so I don’t know how refined my palate might be for it … but this stuff is delicious. It’s also basically a superweapon when cold and flu season rolls back around, so tuck that away for October.
• Four Js
The Spot: 2920 S Agnew, east of S May
The Fare: This little café does Thai and Laotian specialties: We had the brightly tangy larb with ground chicken, lime, mint, cilantro and who knows how many other spices, and the weeping tiger. Come on, it’s a dish called the Weeping Tiger! It’s good, too: It’s a salad topped with morsels of marinated steak and a red chili sauce that delivers a pop of acidity up front and a sneaky spice payload. You might well be tearing up by the time you’re done eating.
The Damage: $20 for the pair
The Service: Completely great. We were there at the end of the lunch hour, and the owner came out to chat a couple of times about each dish, how the diner’s doing so far and whether we could possibly eat anything else.
The Takeaway: I’m really glad to have heard about this place. It’s a little outside my usual orbit, but Laotian food is, it turns out, delicious.
• Coney Island
The Spot: 428 W Main, Downtown
The Fare: Chili dogs. Click.
The Damage: Three chili dogs with onions, cheese and mustard is under $5, and sometimes that’s all I could want out of a meal.
The Service: Nothing about this place screams haute cuisine, but that’s as it should be. The owners seem like good people, though, and while they’re not fond of cell phones, chess games are another story.
The Takeaway: It isn’t trying to be someplace it’s not, and it’s perfect for what it is – I’m glad to know there’s still room in the downtown landscape for little spots like this. Have an inexpensive bite and contemplate OU’s record over the years as expressed in the season-by-season football scores papering the walls. P.S. It’s cash-only.
• The Diner
The Spot: 213 E Main, Norman
The Fare: The 2x2x2 is a classic diner-style breakfast with pairs of pancakes, eggs and bacon or sausage. And speaking of classics, the Diner’s justly renowned beef chili (no beans, so you’re welcome, purists) fuels one of the better Frito chili pies you’ll ever have.
The Damage: 2x2x2 is $7.75 if you spring for blueberries, which you should, and the chili pie is $6
The Service: Speedy – The Diner is a Norman institution and also not very big, so you might have a little wait to get seated, but they’ll take care of you quickly once you’re settled.
The Takeaway: It is an institution, and for good reason. The menu is filled with hearty tastes, and since nothing is over $10, exploring it should be a breeze.
• Beef & Bun Mr. Catfish
The Spot: 2741 NE 23rd
The Fare: Catfish basket – four fresh hot filets of what’s probably the best catfish in the city, along with fries and a bit of bread. It makes for a somewhat monochromatic lunch, but it’s seriously great.
The Damage: $8.25
The Service: It’s a converted fast-food restaurant, so the interior isn’t particularly fancy, but the owner and staff are outgoing, as well as great cooks.
The Takeaway: The barbecue’s tasty, too, especially the ribs. Be aware that it’s only open Thursday-Saturday, and don’t forget the cobbler if there’s any left, it goes fast.
The Spot: 914 W Main, Norman
The Fare: A calzone stuffed with sausage and cheese, the lunch pizza combo
The Damage: $6 for the behemoth pizza pocket, $3.50 for a slice and green salad
The Service: It’s counter service, and if you go at a peak hour there will be a line since it’s right across from Norman High. But it moves quickly, and management is prone to boisterous wisecracks, which is a plus.
The Takeaway: Excellent value on the calzone, since it’s more than enough for one – this is a great choice for a quick lunch.
• Tacos San Pedro
The Spot: 2301 SW 44th
The Fare: A gordita that’s got something of a tamale’s cornmeal softness in disc form, stuffed with tender shredded beef and queso fresco, plus an order of chicken flautas that includes five crunchy-fried little tubes of tastiness.
The Damage: $11. Verdad.
The Service: Order from the broad counter up front and seat yourself – the interior is especially well done and welcoming, thanks to the tile inlaid tables, big paintings and cheery color scheme.
The Takeaway: An extremely solid choice for Mexican food, with a broad range of possibilities from quesadillas to menudo, and nothing’s over $10.
The Spot: 6447 Avondale
The Fare: It’s entirely possible you’ve only visited this new spot in Nichols Hills Plaza – or the original east of Edmond on Route 66 – in order to stock up on unusual sodas. But the food is good stuff too, like the Arcadia burger’s bleu cheese, bacon and house-made barbecue sauce with a side of crispy onion rings.
The Damage: $9.50 for this comparatively high-end combo, and the sodas tend to run about $2 apiece or so.
The Service: Quite good, whether you’re seated at the big curved bar or booths – although it can get fairly noisy during peak hours, you shouldn’t have to work to get served.
The Takeaway: Part of the reason it’s often noisy is that it’s a great spot for kids and families; the menu’s variety gives everybody something to savor, and the soda coolers’ immensely varied riots of colors and flavors are natural attractions.
• Good Gravy Diner
The Spot: 8014 N Western
The Fare: The Good Gravy (when a dish is named for the restaurant, we take that as a recommendation) – two eggs, hash browns, breakfast meats and a pair of biscuits served with a choice of four gravies. Yes, this is a diner that specializes in gravy. U.S.A.!
The Damage: $7.50, although you can always add on some extra gravy options.
The Service: Find a table in this bright, bustling Nichols Hills-adjacent stopover, and a cheerful waitress will be right with you.
The Takeaway: How can this not be a great idea? There are nearly four dozen gravies in various combinations, ranging from sausage to Denver (ham, bell peppers and onion) to chocolate on weekends. They have lunch options too, but the odds of me ever ordering a salad here are remote, to be honest.
• Someplace Else
The Spot: 2310 N Western, Uptown
The Fare: Deli goodness – the pastrami on dark rye is a classic and only gets better with provolone and mustard, and even something as uncomplicated as a turkey sub is a solid choice. Plus, the baked goods are uniformly excellent.
The Damage: Sandwiches are less than $5 apiece, a side of tabouli is only $1.25 and cookies average 50 cents each.
The Service: It doesn’t take much time to put a sandwich, so you won’t be waiting at the counter long, plus they’re admirably accommodating about customer indecision re: number of lemon bars vs. snickerdoodles vs. white chocolate macadamia nut cookies. Um, I’ve heard.
The Takeaway: The classics never go out of style. For an uncomplicated sandwich that barely makes an impact on the wallet, duck inside.
The Spot: 3502 Newcastle Road, just east of S Portland
The Fare: Let us now praise spiced ground beef heaped on or in or around tortillas. Any combination thereof – nachos supreme, tacos, burritos, chalupas – is going to turn out tasty, and they make their own hot sauce, which should be good for an extra point.
The Damage: Nacho supreme? $1.80. Tacos that are more than six inches long? $1.30. You’d really have to work to run up much of a tab here, as practically the entire menu is under $5.
The Service: It’s a bustling spot with counter service where they call you back to the pickup window when your food’s ready, so while the staff is happy to see you, you probably won’t interact with them much.
The Takeaway: Hey, it’s called Tacoville, not Taco Frills. This venerable little hole in the wall might not look like much, but it’s ideal for getting a bunch of food without much outlay. Oh, and they don’t take cards, but there is an ATM on site.
• La Cueva Grill
The Spot: 409 N Walker, located in the retail strip below Avana, Downtown
The Fare: Nachos, pulled pork torta
The Damage: $6.25 each
The Service: Outstanding! The first time I went they were deserted and about to close, but the owner insisted on staying open for me anyway, and we wound up having a pretty nice conversation. And the complimentary salsa/queso bar while you’re waiting is a great touch.
The Takeaway: Convenient location, good quality, budget friendly – I don’t know why you’d do fast food Mexican instead.
• Red Cup
The Spot: 3122 N Classen Blvd
The Fare: The apple, onion and jack cheese panini (yes, really), Frito chili pie (see this month’s cover)
The Damage: $7 for the tantalizingly unusual sandwich combination, $8 for the big bowl of vegan chili, chips, onions, tomatoes, olives and cheese.
The Service: The staff has that big happy family vibe – I still remember the time years ago they closed early to carpool to Texas for a concert, but that was more entertaining than frustrating.
The Takeaway: If your diet swings that way, bear in mind that RC has been voted best vegetarian restaurant by our readers for three years and counting. It’s good enough that even carnivores will have no trouble finding plenty to enjoy, from the coffee on up.
• Red Horse Grill
The Spot: 2205 W Main, Norman, located in Merkle Creek Shopping Center
The Fare: Chicken strips – hefty and with pepper in their breading – and some quality onion rings, a nice and simple (and fried) meal. And speaking of frying, they do catfish filets on Fridays if you’re in the neighborhood. Just follow the line.
The Damage: $5.25 for three chicken strips w/ toast and gravy, $4.50 for a big basket of onion rings, $8 for a four-piece catfish dinner ($13 for all you can eat)
The Service: I remember reading once the owner saying something like, “We don’t do fast food, but we’re still pretty fast.”
The Takeaway: It had probably been almost 15 years since I’d been through these doors, and the décor has been updated, but it tastes like I never left. I’ll have to guard against the nagging feeling I have a paper due about the history of World War I, but it should be worth it.
• Sheesh Mahal
The Spot: 4621 N May
The Fare: Mixed vegetable curry in a spicy cream sauce, chicken biryani, garlic naan
The Damage: Lunch for two with more food than two could eat, $15.
The Service: Love the presentation, down to the little complimentary cups of spiced tea that came with our meal. There was even a cricket match playing on TV. And the waiter thankfully took a patient approach to walking us through the posted menu’s options.
The Takeaway: There’s only one thing on this menu that’s more than $8, and that’s an entire grilled chicken. Go fill yourself full of Indian and Pakistani food!
The Spot: 1437 NE 23rd
The Fare: Very, very good fried chicken, a breaded pork chop, biscuits and cornbread and yams and cabbage and green beans and sweet corn and potatoes mashed to order and mac and cheese that I could have kept eating for multiple servings.
The Damage: Right around $20 for everything listed above
The Service: Who ever heard of a soul food place where they didn’t treat you right? It’s not a great choice if you’re in a tearing hurry since it takes a little bit to cook, but food like this should be savored anyway.
The Takeaway: Delicious, and filled with unexpectedly potent sense memories for those of us who grew up in the country eating this kind of “grandmother’s kitchen” goodness. I can see why it’s been around for six decades.
• Lake Hefner Golf Club Diner
The Spot: 4491 S Lake Hefner Drive, just off N Meridian
The Fare: The menu is posted on a pillar, and above it the pillar is a separate sheet that proclaims, in a much bigger font, “House specialty Eggs Benedict … the best in town!” Naturally that’s our recommendation. The burgers and chili are pretty good too, but the writing’s literally on the wall.
The Damage: The mere pittance of $8.50
The Service: More comfortable than country club in style, you can feel its age while immediately understanding the appeal that keeps bringing regulars back.
The Takeaway: Crowds of people regularly come to this golf course specifically for the food; that should tell you something by itself. Whether or not you plan to hold a club at any point during your trip, it’s well worth a visit.