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.
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Abel’s Mexican Restaurant
5822 N.W. 50th, Warr Acres
What works: Consistently great flavor and variety of food.
What needs to work: The taco menu option needs to be advertised.
The tip: The fresh fruit with lime juice and chili powder is a must.
But against all odds, after hearing from friend after friend about Abel’s Mexican Restaurant, I discovered it was well worth the trip out of my comfort zone. It managed to be both a solid representation of what you’d expect from Mexican cuisine, as well as surprisingly original.
Located in Warr Acres with a second location on S. May Avenue, Abel’s has atmosphere and service typical of casual Mexican dining. Brightly colored murals of Mexican village scenes adorn the walls.
The food, however, surpassed my expectations and out-shined the decor. Every classic Tex-Mex dish is served, from enchiladas to fajitas, tamales and even Warr Acres nachos.
Of course, the meal begins with the obligatory chips, salsa and queso, but the flavor of all three is a cut above the usual. Abel’s chips and tortillas struck me as especially hot and fresh, retaining a strong corn flavor.
The entrées are rich and filling; in particular the tamales ($6.29), which have a thick, cake-like wrapper of masa drizzled in a sweet chili sauce.
For carnivores like me, there are several high-protein dishes like the Ramos Plate ($11.99), a generous, meaty helping of beef, chicken and shrimp marinated in Abel’s special salsa. Sour cream and guacamole serve as a refreshing counter to the spiciness, and most dishes come with well-seasoned rice and beans with just a hint of cinnamon.
This all may strike you as a successful take on typical Tex-Mex fare, but that’s only the beginning. For the more adventurous diner on the go, Abel’s is also a taqueria with a separate menu for authentic street tacos.
Take the tacos al pastor ($1.85), a tasty pocketful of spiced pork, cilantro and, as an added kick to the palate, pineapple. There are also several fruitinfused flavors of the classic summer drink agua fresca ($1.99), as well as spicy beer ($3.50) for the grown-ups.
Another of Abel’s specialties, horchata ($1.99), is a refreshing, creamy rice and cinnamon drink. But your meal is not complete until you’ve finished it with a heaping carton of freshly sliced fruit ($3.50).
It’s impossible to miss the fresh coconut, papaya and mango beckoning from a cooler as soon as you step inside, but this healthy dessert is elevated to gourmet heights if you get it garnished with lime juice and chili powder. Horchata may be called the “drink of the gods,” but Abel’s exoticfruit presentation is nothing short of divine.
Abel’s is a great value and clearly focused on the quality of its food, but its traditional street cuisine lends to a unique authenticity that doesn’t come from most Americanized Mexican restaurants. Although it fits comfortably into the Tex-Mex formula, it is at the same time original enough to keep you coming back.
So if some friends are nagging you about trying a new restaurant, trust them. In the case of Abel’s, they couldn’t be more right.
Whether you’re already among its ardent followers or your heart lies with another local Mexican spot, Abel’s is worth seeking out, as you’ll be sure to experience something new each time.
It just might make a regular out of you.
Oklahoma Gazette’s restaurant review policy is to highlight the positive aspects, and include constructive criticism regarding food, ambience or service when appropriate.