- Barbara Seed
Norman, a friendly college town just south of Oklahoma City, is full of great restaurants that draw on global cuisines and local produce. The town was once populated by restaurant chains, but now more and more independent restaurants are popping up, giving choices of new flavors and dishes. We’ve chosen the ten best spots to visit during your stay, where you can expect everything from traditional Southern fried chicken to sushi.
This charming B&B is owned by French chefs Chinda and Rany Kchao, so it’s no surprise that the restaurant is at the top of their list of priorities. The menu is continental, from Norwegian salmon to French classics like crab bisque or ragout. The dinner is punctuated with nice touches like the freshly baked bread and the palate-cleansing sorbet served between courses. The dining room is quaint yet decadent, with a chandelier and French flourishes. The B&B is a little way out of town, near Thunderbird Lake, but is definitely worth the drive for an overnight stay, or for dinner and drinks.
Established by Angelo Dimas after emigrating from Greece, Greek House once served a fanfare of Greek food, but gyros, a traditional Greek dish of rotisserie meat served with tzatziki, tomatoes, and onions inside pita bread, proved to be the favorite. Now, the menu reflects just that as gyros is the only main dish on offer, either served as a sandwich, with salad or on its own. With great bang-for-your-buck portion sizes, you won’t mind the limited choice here. The kitchen is open, so diners can watch the chefs expertly cut and prepare the meat from their simple blue clothed table. And, if anyone is still hungry after a gyros, the dessert menu offers a perfect slice of sticky, sweet baklava.
Greek House, 768 Jenkins Ave, Norman, OK 73069, United States, +1 405 364 6300
Benvenuti’s Italian inspired, high-end menu uses local ingredients to create innovative meals. Chef Anthony Compagni creates Italian recipes with Oklahoma produce, such as shrimp sriracha, pork cheeks or quail Milanese. The restaurant is housed in an old building down by the train tracks, and has a patio out front so you can eat al fresco if the weather’s good. There’s also great vegetarian options, including the grilled vegetables and polenta platter. The desserts are also worth saving room for. Try the creme brulée with berries, or a chocolate pot with homemade graham crackers.
Benvenuti’s Ristorante, 105 W Main St, Norman, OK, United States, +1 405 310 5271
Serving traditional American dishes in a causal, cozy setting, Charleston’s is great for all occasions and mealtimes. Its decor of exposed brick walls and a high wood-beamed ceiling gives Charleston’s a real modern twist with a homely foundation at its core. Choose from an array of dishes, from light dishes such as its soup of day, sandwiches and salads, to the more filling fare such as burgers and steak. The starter of Cream Spinach Artichoke Dip served with freshly made Tortilla chips is well-raved about and as for it’s specialities, the slow-cooked Barbecue Ribs with baked beans and fries comes highly recommended, as does its Prime Rib steak. For dessert, the warm five-nut brownie with champagne custard is so good it has to be tasted to be believed.
Charleston’s Restaurant, 300 Ed Noble Parkway, Norman, OK 73072, United States, +1 405 360 0900
Scratch Kitchen & Cocktail
This downtown restaurant and cocktail bar is housed in a dark red-brick building, with exposed brick and modern artwork inside. Diners and drinkers sit on high wooden chairs to enjoy the selection of food and cocktails. Particularly good are the healthy twists on burgers, such as quinoa, potato buns, sweet potatoes and black beans combined with traditional quarter pounders. Scratch also serves both traditional cocktails and their own concoctions, many of which draw on Oklahoma sayings and culture, the Okie Connection (wheat, lemon, grapefruit and tequila) or the Ward Island (rum, bitters and Italian liquers), for example.
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180 Meridian Grill
Named after the geographical point where East meets West, 180 Meridian serves a fusion of Asian and European cuisine. The restaurant has an elegant, modern interior with bright red chairs and a fully stocked bar. It is housed in a large, standalone building just down the street from the Merkle Creek Shopping Centre. Items on menu re-imagine traditional dishes with Asian ingredients. Try the tempura-battered cheese fries, wasabi mayonnaise, stuffed jalapenos and Asian-style chicken wings. The szechuan beef, fresh sushi and phad Thai come highly recommended. For drinks choice there’s an extensive cocktail and saki-dominated drinks menu.
Juan Del Fuego
Husband and wife team chef Juan and Elayne Herrara run this authentic Mexican diner just off Main Street. They serve traditional American breakfast and lunch dishes with a Mexican twist. Hash browns and pancakes come with guacamole, chorizo, chili and pork tamales and for lunch, the quesadillas and toasts are a standout. Juan’s chefs cook with a flourish in the open kitchen so be sure to sit at the counter for the best show. The decor combines eclectic religious ornaments with bright yellow walls, and the dining area is small, so arrive early to avoid disappointment at peak brunch times.
Juan Del Fuego, 223 34th Ave S W, Norman, OK, United States, +1 405 310 2030
Tarahumara’s Mexican Cafe
This family-owned cafe, a Norman institution, serves Tex-Mex at its best, from delicately cooked ceviche (fresh fish marinated in citrus juices) to chips, salsa and fajitas. Housed in a cheerful maroon building near Frances Cate Park, Tarahumara’s is known as much for its margaritas and bloody marys as its food among locals, and always has a lively, buzzing atmosphere. Dishes are served in large portions with sides of rice and beans, homemade cheese sauce, guacamole and salsa to complement your chosen dish. Favourites are the enchilada plate, the Diablo Shrimp, the chile Colorado and for dessert, traditional Mexican sopapillas.
Ray’s Smokehouse BBQ
Famed as the best barbecue in Norman, Ray’s Smokehouse BBQ certainly lives up to its reputation. A low-key diner, where the brick wall interior is barely seen through the photos that adorn it, Ray’s is definitely the place to chill out for a relaxed meal. Choose your main, either Brisket, ribs, smoked turkey, sausage, pulled pork, pulled chicken, with a side of either fries, baked beans, collard greens or even fried Okra. They also have a wide variety of burgers and a salad bar, and the barbecue sauce is often raved about by local students.
Ray’s Smokehouse BBQ, 1514 W Lindsey St, Norman, OK 73069, United States, +1 405-329-4040
This downtown burgers and beer joint serves the best burgers in town. There’s a choice between beef, turkey and bison with a wide selection of toppings, and tacos or wings if you don’t fancy a burger. The fries are a meal in themselves, coming with bacon, sour cream, jalapenos or a generous helping of beef chilli. The restaurant itself has a friendly bar atmosphere, with quirky vintage signs on the walls and out front, bar stools around small round tables, and old-school pinball and video game machines. It’s a laid-back place to meet locals or watch some American football.
The Garage, 307 E Main St, Norman, OK, United States, +1 405 701 7035