Even though NE 23rd Street is one of the most historical streets in Oklahoma City, many locals tend to forget that it’s also home to some of the most grassroots and homegrown eateries in town, the best having a specific focus on soul food, barbecue and old-fashioned Southern cooking. NE 23rd Street restaurants are OKC’s culinary history all in a few blocks and really should be revered as such.
Winning big can be hungry, thirsty work. We scoured Oklahoma’s casinos for your best bets on sustenance whether you are on a winning streak, holding, folding, walking away, running, or just down to your last five bucks.
I have a hard time saying Cafe Kacao without accenting the end like a loud, exuberant toucan. (ka-KOW!) But it somehow seems appropriate for this restaurant, which focuses on the savory, spicy flavors of Guatemala and southern Mexico.
Incidentally, I realized I loved this type of food while staying at a lodge in Costa Rica some years back that was renowned for its bird watching. The food of Costa Rica, which sits farther down the narrow snake of land that forms Central America, loses some of Guatemala’s spice, but the foundations are there: black beans, plantains, mango juice. Basically, the ingredients for true love.
The outside of Cafe Kacao looks pretty humble. But once inside, owner Luidgi Del Cid has successfully turned it into a simple, casual spot where the food is the star.
Del Cid comes from a culinary family. His mom, Alba Veronica, opened the nearby Cafe Antigua — another popular Guatemalan spot — but soon missed working in the kitchen when she sold it. At Cafe Kacao, she’s back in the kitchen turning out breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes.“She’s in charge of everything food-related, and I take care of everything that’s in the front,” Luidgi Del Cid said.
Del Cid said the menu, which boasts almost 50 percent breakfast dishes that are served all day, focuses on more than Guatemalan food.
“There are a lot of Guatemalan restaurants out there. We just bring a different take on a different area of Guatemala and Mexico that people are maybe not familiar with,” he said.
One example of that is the cochinita pibil ($7.99), a dish that hails from Veracruz, Mexico. “It’s pulled pork and we cook it in an orange sauce,” Del Cid said. But, like all of the generous portions at Cafe Kacao, it’s a lot more than that. The cochinita pibil comes with black beans, rice, onions, a plantain and handmade corn tortillas made with guajillo pepper.
I dropped in on a recent Saturday around 1 p.m., and the place was still busy. That says a lot about Cafe Kacao, where the in-the-know crowds have been flocking since it opened earlier this year. I’ve been for lunch and dinner a few times, but it’s the served-all-day breakfast that I really love.
With the ever-present Guatemalan xylophone (called the marimba) playing overhead to get me in the Central American mood, I couldn’t pass up the mango juice ($3). This is Capital M mango juice, smooth and almost creamy, with less acidity than its orange cousins. Plus, it comes in a goblet.
My husband tried the horchata ($2.25), a traditional cold drink made with rice, vanilla and cinnamon. It was ricier than we were expecting, but refreshing and creamy without being thick.
We also opted for some chips and guacamole ($3.99) to tide us over until the main dishes arrived. The chips were crisp and not loaded with salt, and the guacamole was fresh with a dash of lemon — delicious, but unless you’re super hungry or with a big group, it’s not necessary.
And then the migallas ($7.25) arrived. It was accompanied by a chorus of angels, but that may have just been in my head.
It’s scrambled eggs mixed with a delicious combo of onions, jalapeños, cilantro, tomatoes and crushed tortilla chips and a cup of green sauce to add a kick. On the side, refried black beans and those handmade tortillas equal make-your-own breakfast burritos, and there’s even fruit topped with a flavorful and tart passion fruit raspberry sauce.
My husband was equally enamored with his Izabal dish ($7.25), a mix of peppery, oniony sautéed potatoes and spicy chorizo sausage topped with two eggs sunny-side-up and a side of refried black beans.
Del Cid said a patron favorite is the Tikal breakfast ($9.99), which mixes scrambled eggs with thinly sliced flank steak and longaniza, or Guatemalan sausage, with a side of refried beans and fried plantains.
“It’s kind of a little bit of everything, which is why it’s a favorite,” he said.
The response has been overwhelmingly positive for this new spot, so much so that Del Cid recently added a Sunday brunch to Cafe Kacao. Check it out for yourself and join the growing fan base.
Oklahoma Gazette’s restaurant review policy is to highlight the positive aspects, and include constructive criticism regarding food, ambience or service when appropriate.