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.
Ajanta Cuisine of India
12215 N. Pennsylvania
If you’ve got a problem, yo, let the eatery solve it. (Now, check out the hook while my DJ revolves it.)
Case in point: my visit to Ajanta Cuisine of India. I’ve been going to Ajanta for lunch for years. It’s one of the first Indian buffets I visited in Oklahoma City and it was, in a bygone era, pretty close to my office.
right, Tandoori chicken
The buffet fare is pretty standard: chicken tikka masala, tandoor chicken, palak paneer, plenty of naan and a few other assorted Indian favorites. It’s not revolutionary, but it’s good, solid Indian food.
For dinner, the buffet disappears and the menus come out. This is where the adventurous sort can find new treats to tickle the palate. This is also where the uninitiated can get nervous. What if you choose the wrong thing? What if you’re stuck with a plate of food too spicy to eat? Heaven forfend!
And Ajanta is different, so even fans of Indian food might find new dishes to explore. Like paneer kulcha ($2.75) — a bread stuffed with cheese and golden raisins. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d enjoy it, but I’m glad my wife ordered it. It’s a little salty and a little sweet, and one bite made me want to take about 18 more.
Naan ($1.95) doesn’t come with the meal, by the way, so order some if you’d like.
While the plain naan was good, more chewy than crisp, I was pretty taken with the garlic naan ($2.75). That’s the sort of bread that would make any sandwich better.
right, Mango lassi
But man cannot review on bread alone, so I tried some other stuff. The mulligatawny soup ($2.95) was disappointingly thin and a bit too starchy. The malai kofta ($11.50) — veggie dumplings in a cream and almond sauce — tasted good, but the portion was small. Or maybe it was the right portion (three dumplings), and I just wanted more of it.
The fish tikka masala ($13.50) is charcoal-grilled fish, with a similar brick-red color to tandoor chicken, but with a much milder taste. This is a nice, light dish without an overwhelming flavor or heat.
For more flavor, the fish bhuna ($12.95) is sautéed with chiles, onions, green peppers (for a kind of grassy taste) and some spicy curry sauce. This had a little heat, but if you want more, be sure to ask for it.
That’s what I did with my lamb vindaloo ($14.50). Vindaloo, if you don’t know, is a spicy curry sauce with meat — lamb, in this case — potatoes and chiles.
Mine came out sweet, with spice flavor, but no spice heat. When the waitress inquired how everything was, I could have held my tongue, said, “Fine,” and left unsatisfied.
right, Tikka masala
But that would be stupid. I told her it lacked the heat the menu advertised. She took it back and the manager delivered me a much spicier version. The lamb had great flavor and the potatoes, soaking up the sauce, got my nose running.
There’s a lesson there: You don’t get what you want if you don’t ask for it. Personally, I’d rather leave happy and full. And I did.
Oklahoma Gazette’s restaurant review policy is to highlight the positive aspects and include constructive criticism regarding food, ambience or service when appropriate.
Photos by Mark Hancock