A green patch amid Oklahoma’s dusty plains, Tulsa has been a wealthy oil hub since the 1920s and is filled with exceptional museums and Art Deco architecture. Its dining scene reflects this blend of all-American traditions and stylish sophistication. Here are 10 great places to get a taste of Tulsa.
A green patch amid Oklahoma’s dusty plains, Tulsa has been a wealthy oil hub since the 1920s / Pixabay
For over 100 years, Ike’s Chili House has been making hearty chili using their secret family recipe. A favorite of Will Rogers and Martha Stewart, Ike’s Chili House is believed to be Tulsa’s oldest operating restaurant. It has moved to several different locations over the years, and has recently set up shop at 1503 E. 11th St. Inside, the low-key decor features photos of the restaurant’s long, and often interesting, history. The chili comes topped with red peppers, onions, jalapeños, saltines and cheddar cheese, and you can order it ‘straight’ or served over spaghetti, Fritos or a hot dog. The most popular dish is the ‘Three Way’ Chili, which is slathered over spaghetti and beans. Burgers, smothered fries, hot wings, and Frito burritos are also available.
Tally’s Good Food Café is famous for its chicken fried steak, Oklahoma’s most classic comfort food ubiquitously found at roadside diners along the famous Route 66. To prepare the dish the chicken is tenderized, breaded in seasonings, fried, and finally topped with a generous helping of cream gravy. At Tally’s this dish is served in a retro, 1950s-style ambience, alongside stomach-stretching portions of other unpretentious, down-home recipes. In addition to the iconic chicken fried steak, Tally’s is also known for its breakfasts, including the French scrambled sandwich: a croissant packed with eggs, bacon, mushrooms, cheese and hash browns. The restaurant offers daily specials, including steak and cabbage rolls on Mondays, meatloaf on Tuesdays, smoked brisket on Wednesdays, smoked chicken on Thursdays and grilled tilapia on Fridays.
Palace Cafe’s chef-owner James Shrader is a bit of a local hero in Tulsa. Over a decade ago, he took a run-down former antique store and transformed it into one of Tulsa’s most sophisticated restaurants. Located on historic Cherry Street, Palace Café serves a modern Asian/American fusion menu with an emphasis on fresh ingredients sourced from local suppliers. The menu features dishes like homemade lobster ravioli with fresh basil & fennel, and smoked pork tenderloin with grilled pineapple. The restaurant also offers a unique ‘bento’ menu of tiny pre-appetizers, and a special menu is available for vegetarians. Palace Café’s contemporary interior features rough slate walls, exposed brick and sleek grey accents. It’s one of the best restaurants in town to get a feel for Tulsa’s fine-dining scene.
A Tulsa landmark since 1949, Hank’s serves old-fashioned hamburgers with onions grilled right into the meat. In this close-quartered restaurant, it’s easy to watch your burger’s creation, from first contact on the griddle to the final dash of Hank’s secret seasonings. The Big Okie, a massive one-pound burger composed of four beef patties, four slices of cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and onions, is a local favorite. Burgers also come in single, double, or triple patties, as well as Hank’s Special: a single half-pound patty. Side options include corn dogs, onion rings, tator tots, and French fries, which can be served plain, with cheese, or with chili-cheese. Cap off the meal with a milkshake or chocolate covered peanut butter balls.
With its history of cowboys and cattle ranchers, no trip to Tulsa is complete without a perfectly grilled steak. In a city with plenty of steakhouses to choose from, locals almost unanimously claim that Mahogany is the best. Mahogany’s steaks are USDA prime, a meat that is known for its exceptional marbling, texture, and flavour. The steaks are broiled at 900 degrees to lock in the juicy flavours, and then served on heated plates to keep them hot throughout the meal. Set in an elegant interior furnished with leather chairs, Persian rugs and warm wood paneling, Mahogany also offers a delicious selection of appetizers, including bacon-wrapped scallops and crab cakes. Big-eaters have the option of adding one of the restaurant’s generously-portioned side dishes, such as creamed spinach topped with melted cheese, or au gratin potatoes. The service is friendly and knowledgeable, and the wine list is nothing to be scoffed at.
Soul food is an essential part of Tulsa’s culinary heritage, and thanks to its out-of-the-way location near Tulsa International Airport, Evelyn’s continues to be one of Tulsa’s best little-known soul food establishments. The restaurant’s most popular dish is fried chicken, which is lightly breaded and perfectly crispy. Evelyn’s also serves up other Southern comfort food classics, like baked turkey, grilled chicken breasts, fried catfish, and meatloaf. There’s an excellent selection of sides, including candied yams, mac and cheese, and smothered cabbage. The dishes are surprisingly fresh and light, yet always hearty and filling (as Southern food should be), and all is prepared by the manager, Wanda J Armstrong, who learned to cook from her mom, Evelyn, for whom the restaurant is named.
Pizzeria, Restaurant, Mexican, American, Fast Food, $$$
Oklahoma is well-known for its fantastic Mexican cuisine, and El Rancho Grande serves some of the city’s best. Set in a bright dining room, decorated with colorful tables and star-shaped Mexican lanterns, the restaurant’s cheery atmosphere is half the fun. El Rancho Grande’s claim to fame is the Night Hawk Special, which was named one of America’s five greatest Mexican meals in the book Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America. The Night Hawk Special consists of two cheese and onion enchiladas covered in chili con carne and cheese, along with a cheddar cheese taco dosed in chili con queso. Aside from this famous dish, El Rancho offers an extensive menu of Mexican classics, including enchiladas, tacos, burritos, tostadas. The restaurant also claims to serve ‘Tulsa’s Best Margarita’, as well as fresh tortilla chips served with salsa, guacamole or queso flameado to get you started.
The perfect place to try genuine Oklahoma pit barbecue, Elmer’s BBQ serves up real hickory-smoked meats cooked over a seasoned fire pit. All meats are cooked fresh and rubbed with Elmer’s signature spices, which are said to enhance the meat’s fantastic flavours without overwhelming them. Elmer’s most famous dish is the ‘Badwich’, a bun or Texas toast filled with rib meat, chopped beef, smoked bologna and sausage. Any two meals can be grouped into a combo, so you can choose your own mixture of ribs, pulled pork, sausages, chicken, or beef. The restaurant’s home-style food is complimented by its casual décor, which includes kitschy music memorabilia.
The restaurant also offers tasty seafood salads, fish sandwiches, and raw oysters | Pixabay
Nestled in a strip mall in landlocked Tulsa, you’d be forgiven for being skeptical about White River Fish Market & Restaurant. However, their hearty portions of family recipes will quickly remove any doubt, reaffirming the restaurant’s longstanding status as a Tulsa institution. Opened in 1932, this simple restaurant prides itself on serving fish as high-quality as any coastal eatery. While seaside restaurants tend to focus on regional catches, centrally-located White River Fish imports fresh seafood from both North and South America, making the restaurant’s distance from the coast the key to the diversity of its menu. Part raw fish market and part cafeteria-style restaurant, you can choose your seafood from the 12 foot display case in front of the restaurant and then have it prepared however you like: grilled, smoked, broiled or fried. The restaurant also offers tasty seafood salads, fish sandwiches, and raw oysters.