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.
Pupuseria El Buen Gusto
2336 S.W. 29th
What works: the pupusas, all for an unbelievable low price
What needs work: It’s cash only, so a card reader would be nice. Unless you speak Spanish, sometimes communication can be difficult.
Tips: three words — horchata, horchata, horchata
I eat a lot of my meals alone. And, to make matters worse, I am self-aware enough to know why no one else wants to eat with me. It’s because when it comes to picking places to eat, I can be kind of a jerk.
While most of my super-cool hipster pals are dying to try that new swanky downtown-ish eatery serving Asian-fusion tapas, I am still itching to head over to the south side and hit up that hole-in-the-wall taqueria beside the abandoned tire yard whose gates are covered in gang graffiti.
Few people ever want to go to these places with me. I get all the typical comments about the cleanliness, the shadiness, etc. The only people I can ever seem to get to go with me are other adventurous souls who see food, not fear.
One such soul is Hilah Johnson of Hilah Cooking, a popular online cooking show based out of Austin, Texas. She recently visited with her husband, and I told her about this place with a “Comida Salvadorena” banner outside that I was dying to try. The south side has its share of Mexican places, but Salvadoran? Count me in.
Pupuseria El Buen Gusto is easy to miss from the street. It looks like a little brick-and-wood house. The inside is zero frills: a bare floor, a couple of tables and native rug art on the walls. And that’s fine with me. Décor doesn’t make a meal. I don’t need things to look at; I need things to eat.And things to eat were definitely there. Pupuseria El Buen Gusto’s main specialty is pupusas ($2.50-$3), which basically are thick, bready pockets of corn tortilla deliciousness stuffed with cheese and whatever else your heart desires. The selections were plentiful, so we ordered about one of everything.
Between the three of us, we ordered revueltas (a mix of pork and refried beans), chicharron (shredded pork), queso y frijoles (beans and cheese), queso con loroco (cheese and loroco, a flower native to El Salavador) and ayote con queso (cheese and ayote, which is a type of squash) pupusas.
Gusto was not chintzy with the fillings. Each pocket exploded with thick and melty mozzarella goodness, blending beautifully with each of our selected fillings.
As far as I’m concerned, I’d like to officially replace sliced bread in my diet with pupusas.
“I thought they were excellent,” Johnson said. “They all had a nice, crispy exterior, with a little bit of the fat from the filling coming through to make it extra-crispy. It also had a very nice masato-filling ratio, meaning very little masa actually, just enough to hold it into a patty shape. Compared to other pupusas I’ve had, these are probably best.”
Most pupuserias serve, as a side, a basic fermented cabbage salad called curtido, but Gusto goes a step further and adds a zesty flavoring, possibly oregano, that turns it from a simple garnish into an actual part of the meal.But pupusa goodness aside, the biggest surprise of the meal was the horchata ($2.25). For many places that offer this rice-milk beverage, it has a manufactured, almost uniform taste because too many eateries find it cheaper to make it from a mix or, worse, settle for a pre-made drink in a jug.
Gusto, on the other hand, made its fresh — it actually took a bit of time to reach our table — and I can honestly say I haven’t had horchata this good since I was back south of the border, gulping down cup after cup to beat the heat at a random roadside taco stand in the middle of nowhere.
It was sweet, it was milky and, even better, it was gritty. The cinnamon hadn’t even had time to sink to the bottom of the glass. This was Johnson’s favorite, too.
El Buen Gusto has made me a convert to Salvadoran cuisine, and I want more of it. It has since become my new weekly thing. But now that Johnson is back in Austin, I’m back to eating alone again.
Maybe I’ll see you there sometime.
Feel free to sit with me. The horchatas are on me.