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Best of OKC 2017: Write-ups 

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click to enlarge Desmond Mason with a newly painted American Flag guitar against an on going wall mural project in his Midtown studio, Oklahoma City.Photo/shannon Cornman - SHANNON CORNMAN
  • shannon Cornman
  • Desmond Mason with a newly painted American Flag guitar against an on going wall mural project in his Midtown studio, Oklahoma City.Photo/shannon Cornman

Best visual artist

Desmond Mason

One could say this local artist goes hard in the paint.

Texas native Desmond Mason first entered the local consciousness as a standout basketball star for Oklahoma State University (OSU). He was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics in 2000 and won the National Basketball Association Slam Dunk Contest in 2001.

Mason played some of his best seasons for the Milwaukee Bucks before landing in Oklahoma City in 2005 as a player for the Hurricane Katrina-displaced New Orleans Hornets. Mason was an instant fan favorite and a perfect NBA ambassador for the new fan base. He returned to Milwaukee for a year in 2007 but came back to OKC to play for the Thunder in its inaugural 2008-09 season.

But Mason’s work with a paintbrush has become almost as locally well-known as his athletic accomplishments. His popular D. Mason Art gallery can be found near James E. McNellie’s Public House in Midtown.

Mason’s work is best described as abstract expressionism in the vein of Pablo Picasso, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Mr. Brainwash. His murals and portraits often include many shades of bright, eye-catching color. His love for color can also be seen in his series of reimagined United States flags.

Though clearly loved in Oklahoma (his adopted home), Mason is also still popular in Wisconsin for his days with the Bucks. The artist was recently invited back to Milwaukee to paint a mural inside the basketball-centric Running Rebels Community Organization youth facility.

Fashion and apparel design has also been a long-standing passion. Mason currently sells a custom-designed line of OSU Cowboy-themed hats at 47brand.com.


click to enlarge ANDREA DILLINGHAM
  • Andrea Dillingham

Best local singer / songwriter

Kyle Dillingham

Those who still have not seen tender-voiced fiddler Kyle Dillingham or his gifted band Horseshoe Road in a live show are missing out on one of the state’s best musical experiences. The energetic folk, Americana and gospel blend is as gorgeously refined as it is holistically satisfying.

A tremendous and lengthy resume speaks for itself. Dillingham and Horseshoe Road have acted as musical ambassadors touring internationally while representing Oklahoma, the U.S. State Department and other diplomatic entities. In 2009, Dillingham earned the Oklahoma Governor’s Arts Award and was the youngest recipient of the prize in history. His playing has earned praise from documentarian Ken Burns and Public Broadcasting System (PBS) president Paula Kerger.

Horseshoe Road’s most recent album is Fear or Faith, a listen recommended for its spirited energy that closely replicates a live performance. The album’s title is inspired by the Bible verse Deuteronomy 31:6, which reads, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Dillingham has had the chance to perform in venues around the world, including Nashville, Tennessee’s historic Grand Ole Opry and for international crowds and dignitaries in Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Burma, Russia and more.

This year, Horseshoe Road performed at the 90th birthday party of former Gov. George Nigh. In September, the band will embark on a tour of China that includes dates in Xi’an, Dunhuang and Qingyang.


click to enlarge Bad Granny's Bazaar, Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017.  (Garett Fisbeck)
  • Bad Granny's Bazaar, Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017. (Garett Fisbeck)

Best thrift store

Bad Granny’s Bazaar

You can call Bad Granny’s Bazaar a thrift store, but the Plaza District store is really best described as a bazaar. Luckily, it’s part of the shop’s name.

Bad Granny’s, where the items are organized and customers are treated to friendly service and great prices, rises above all other metro-based thrift, vintage or resale shops. Once again, Bad Granny’s tops the polls for Oklahoma City’s best thrift store.

Stop by and you could find handmade items, pieces of art, furniture, vintage vinyl records, dishware, vintage prom dresses with puffy sleeves and ruffled peplum and other treasures untold.

The beauty of Bad Granny’s is customers never know what they will find. Whether on a hunt for a certain mid-century furniture piece, an “ugly” sweater for a holiday party or just an afternoon of shopping, Bad Granny’s is a must-try. Most any day, shop owner Diana Harris (the Bad Granny) is ready to show off the latest merchandise, from leather jackets to local art and children’s books to vintage brooches.

The store is open noon-7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.


click to enlarge Commonplace Books, Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017.  (Garett Fisbeck)
  • Commonplace Books, Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017. (Garett Fisbeck)

Best new retail establishment

Commonplace Books

1325 N. Walker Ave., Suite 138

Oklahoma Gazette: I’ve noticed your sign that says “Books and People” [located in the front window facing Walker Avenue.] What is behind that sign, and how is it behind the philosophy at Commonplace Books?

Ben Nockles: We are a values- and visions-based business. We have really strong ideals and philosophies for why we do what we do. The why is essential for any enterprise. If you can’t answer the why, the what, how and where is irrelevant. If we distill down the essence of who we are, it is book and people. What are we about? Books and people. I oftentimes joke when we say, “Books and people,” what we really mean is people. I mean that wholeheartedly.

I think a lot of places say they are all about customer service. For us, customer service isn’t in our vernacular because this is not primarily about a transaction. We think books are a powerful medium to connect people with one another and spread ideas that matter. That is at the core of who we are.

OKG: In 2016, The New York Times reported that independent booksellers are making a comeback in New York City and other cities. What was behind the decision to open Commonplace Books in Midtown and in Oklahoma City’s urban core?

Nockles: It’s my neighborhood. It’s what I know. It’s the place I chose to live. It’s the people I chose to live among.

There is that personal point about why the core and why Midtown; then there is the strategic element. Midtown is the most, in my mind, most mature of the districts in what the district represents with the redevelopment of the city. … It has seen the most development and investment; it’s reaching its critical mass earlier and quicker than anywhere else. The residential density, both in terms of historic neighborhoods and new residential, from a strategic standpoint, made a lot of sense.

What we were ultimately looking for [was a place where] we could really better ourselves in the life of the community and be special and unique but somehow normal and everyday.

We don’t think of ourselves as a novelty. Good neighborhoods have good bookstores. Good neighborhoods in vibrant cities have places where ideas are exchanged, where robust dialogue can take place, where there are civil discourse and knowledge and where culture is being created. This is an essential. I would almost call it a luxurious necessity, if you will.

OKG: For those that haven’t visited Commonplace Books yet, what would you say makes it different from, say, walking into a national bookstore retailer?

Nockles: I say this regularly. Because we are not trying to win, there is no competition. A question I get a lot is, “How do you compete with the Amazons of the world? How do you compete with the Barnes and Nobles of the world? How do you compete with audio books and e-readers?” I am not tying to win; therefore, I have no competition.

I am trying to do something completely “other than.” I don’t really fancy us as a retail establishment. We are more than a bookstore.

The singular experience that we want for people at Commonplace Books is what we call the unhurried wanderer. … What an unhurried wanderer looks like is this: After they walk through the door, they pause and they exhale. They get oriented to the store. …The point is to not get oriented to the layout of the store, but the point is to get reoriented to yourself. … We want to welcome them and usher them into the process of discovery.


click to enlarge RW_Casino-Exterior_12292015-1.jpg

Best casino for gambling

Best casino for live entertainment

Riverwind Casino

1544 State Highway 9, Norman

Eleven years ago, The Chickasaw Nation opened Riverwind Casino in Cleveland County, just south of Oklahoma City and Norman, offering metro residents a top-notch gaming facility, dining, accommodations and entertainment.

Riverwind Casino is home to:

• 2,800 electronic games, 30 table games and 17 poker tables on the casino floor

• 1,500 seats in Showplace Theatre, where entertainers like Joel McHale, Josh Abbott Band, Styx and more perform

• 100 rooms in Riverwind Hotel, located adjacent to the casino

• 2,000 square feet of meeting space for company events or meetings


click to enlarge Steven Adams mural, Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017.  (Garett Fisbeck)
  • Steven Adams mural, Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017. (Garett Fisbeck)

Best public art / mural

Steven Adams mural

Known as the Oklahoma City Thunder’s great wall of defense near the basket, the state’s favorite New

Zealander Steven Adams seems well suited to have his larger-than-life likeness up on a literal brick wall.

Accomplished muralist Graham “Mr G” Hoete, a fellow New Zealander, painted the large-scale public portrait on the side of Film Row’s Paramount Building, 701 W. Sheridan Ave., in just a few days back in June 2016. It instantly became one of OKC’s most frequent selfie destinations largely due to the gregarious Thunder 7-footer’s local popularity alongside fellow “’Stache Bro” Enes Kanter.

More than a quaint tourist attraction a short drive away from the Thunder’s home court at Chesapeake Arena, the mural also signaled the start of an important turning point in the growth of Film Row.

The relatively recent opening of FlashBack RetroPub (in 2015), 21c Museum Hotel and adjoining restaurant Mary Eddy’s Kitchen x Lounge (2016) and The Jones Assembly (opened officially in July) have transformed the historic downtown district from a sector once rarely visited by the general public to a place where people can be found hanging out every night of the week.

Just as the Thunder’s arrival signaled a business and cultural renaissance in OKC, Film Row’s fearsome mural guardian has helped usher in a new wave of excitement to the area. Let’s just make sure Golden State Warrior Draymond Green doesn’t come anywhere near the mural.


click to enlarge smo-2.jpg

Best museum

Best place for a kid’s party

Science Museum Oklahoma

2020 Remington Place

59 years ago, the Oklahoma Science and Arts Foundation established Science Museum Oklahoma at the state fairgrounds with a planetarium, museum and science department. In 1978, the museum moved to its current location, which was known as the Kirkpatrick Center and housed various museums.

Science Museum Oklahoma contains:

• Two stories of exhibit space, including the Science Floor, CurioCity, Tinkering Garage, Oceanarium and more.

• One planetarium, known as Kirkpatrick Planetarium, that accurately displays stars, the moon and planets from Earth.

• 30 people gain admission and access to the museum with its birthday package, which includes the use of a birthday room for up to two hours.


click to enlarge Chef Bruce Rinehart at The Manhattan OKC, Monday, Aug. 14, 2017.  (Garett Fisbeck)
  • Chef Bruce Rinehart at The Manhattan OKC, Monday, Aug. 14, 2017. (Garett Fisbeck)

Best chef

Bruce Rinehart at Rococo and The Manhattan OKC

Best new bar

The Manhattan OKC

Oklahoma Gazette: You’ve been voted Best Chef in our reader poll four times in the past. What is the reason for your success?

Bruce Rinehart: We’re very passionate about everything we do — food, service and so on — but we’re passionate about our guests. It translates into the community. I spend a lot of time, when I can, in the dining room, visiting with guests. It’s part of a bigger picture for us; it’s not just a business for us.

OKG: You’re originally from the East Coast. What have you learned about Oklahoma City’s culture in your time here?

Rinehart: It’s really developing. It’s a lot different than when I moved here in ’03. The biggest thing I found when I moved here was the loyalty and people’s commitment to others. I also noticed that if you didn’t do the right thing, that will carry on, so we’ve always done the right thing.

OKG: How have things gone in The Manhattan OKC’s first three months?

Rinehart: We’re going to be a gem down there. We’ve got great support and [are] working at it hard. It’s beautiful and cozy. One of our challenges is that a lot of people think we’re ‘just a bar,’ and it’s a shame because we have a great all-day dining menu. There is some great Rococo flair because our guests wanted it. Our famous crab cakes and Love Salad made the menu. We have a house-cured pastrami that takes 10 days to cure and smoke. I don’t have much of a kitchen, so I’m making magic down there.

OKG: How has the menu redesign at Rococo gone over?

Rinehart: Very well; the final ones just went out in the last few months. There are some new items, and it’s streamlined and more modern and approachable. It’s been well received and people have been happy to see the things we’ve put on. The things we took off the menu are mostly still available by special request.

OKG: What is your perfect way to spend free time in Oklahoma City?

Rinehart: I don’t get out much. I finally carved out a few days and I took my family down to Broken Bow (Beavers Bend State Park), rented a cabin and went fishing. Oklahoma as a state has a lot to offer along those lines, not just here in the metro, but beyond.


click to enlarge Fruit roll up, Thunder box, Lunch Box, Zombie Box, and Doc Box at Edna's, Wednesday, March 1, 2017.  (Garett Fisbeck)
  • Fruit roll up, Thunder box, Lunch Box, Zombie Box, and Doc Box at Edna's, Wednesday, March 1, 2017. (Garett Fisbeck)

Best cocktail

Lunchbox, Edna’s

Best dive bar

Edna’s

Edna’s resembles the textbook definition of what a neighborhood bar should be. The smoky, dimly lit interior is endearing when business hours are slow (which doesn’t happen that often). But the place takes on a life of its own when nightlife revelers pack its famous dollar bill-stapled walls as Edna’s jukebox sets the evening’s tone.

The joint is a staple of the Classen Circle bar area that also includes HiLo Club, The Drunken Fry and (just a brief drive away) 51st Street Speakeasy. Edna’s aesthetic and atmosphere might be known throughout the city, but its signature drink, The Lunchbox, is known internationally.

It’s an unlikely (but incredibly tasty) combination of equal parts Coors Light and orange juice with a shot of the sweet Italian liqueur amaretto. A signature Edna’s chilled mug is just as necessary to the Lunchbox experience as any of its other ingredients. The drink is so popular, Edna’s keeps literally hundreds of mugs chilly behind the bar in two large freezers.

There is no topping the original recipe, which late bar founder Edna Scott first mixed by accident in the early 1990s, but over the years, many variations of the original Lunchbox have been added to Edna’s menu. The Docbox uses cranberry juice instead of orange juice, and the Tootsie Roll Box contains crème de cacao.

Oklahoma City has no doubt taken notice of The Lunchbox, but so has the rest of the world. The signature cocktail is frequently written about in food, drink and travel magazines and blogs. Jimmy Fallon and The Roots drummer Questlove once drank Lunchboxes on The Tonight Show.


click to enlarge Rocky Rippetoe takes Keith Butler's order at Jimmy's Egg, Friday, Aug. 11, 2018.  (Garett Fisbeck)
  • Rocky Rippetoe takes Keith Butler's order at Jimmy's Egg, Friday, Aug. 11, 2018. (Garett Fisbeck)

Best breakfast

Jimmy’s Egg

Best waiter or waitress

Rocky Rippetoe at Jimmy’s Egg North Classen Avenue

Oklahoma Gazette: How long have you worked at Jimmy’s Egg?

Rocky Rippetoe: I’ve been here since 1993. I worked 10 years at Midwest City and moved over to [North Classen] when it opened 14 years ago.

OKG: What does it mean to work for an Oklahoma City institution?

Rippetoe: I love it. I wasn’t born in Oklahoma but moved here when I was 10. I love Oklahoma. I’m from Detroit, but this is home. My kids were born here. Being a waitress is my passion. They’re a great company to work for and a great group of people that comes in to work every day. I just really enjoy it. I don’t know how to explain it.

OKG: What is the key to develop a lasting relationship with customers?

Rippetoe: Loving what you do and the people that come with it. You get to know about people’s families and things like that.

OKG: Is there an example of someone you’ve gotten to know through work that has developed into something more?

Rippetoe: I love children, so some of my customers come in and I try to do special for the kids. I’ve gone to pick up some of my kids and customer’s kids and we’ll go somewhere. It becomes a relationship. It’s awesome. I’ve got this couple from Elk City that comes in every Saturday, sometimes on Sunday. They’ll come with their grandson. I’ve gotten to really know them. I’ve seen them have their ups and downs. The people are just great.

OKG: Do you have a favorite order at Jimmy’s Egg?

Rippetoe: I like [Jimmy’s] Garbage [Breakfast]. If you like sausage, you’ll like the Garbage. It’s the sausage flavor on top of the hash browns with eggs that makes it for me. The peppers and onions are grilled and then put on the hash browns with your eggs as you like them. You get your choice of bread, biscuit.

OKG: Is there a particular customer or order that stands out over the years?

Rippetoe: I’ve waited on all types of people, and you treat them the same. Some people don’t have much and they’re hungry. I’ll buy them a meal. I’ve done that several times because I’m not going to see someone go hungry. I’ll tell them, ‘Sit down; I got you.’ It’s what you should do and what we should all do. We should take care of people.

OKG: That’s a good example of why people nominated you.

Rippetoe: I try to give them the service I want. Sometimes people come in and are so grouchy and you just smile and kill them with kindness, and it falls back. When you see that happen, you think, “Wow! I made them smile.” People say “Thank you for your service.” And it means a lot.

OKG: How has Jimmy’s Egg changed over time?

Rippetoe: I’ve seen a lot of menu changes. At this Jimmy’s Egg, we all work together as a team. It’s what is awesome. We all help each other out, treat every customer the same. They might be in your section one day.


click to enlarge Chicken fried steak with jalapeno gravy at Cheevers in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015.  (Garett Fisbeck)
  • Chicken fried steak with jalapeno gravy at Cheevers in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015. (Garett Fisbeck)

Best place to dine before a show

Best brunch

Best chicken-fried steak

Best fine dining establishment

Best participating restaurant in OKC Restaurant Week

Best restaurant overall

Cheever’s Café

Perhaps no restaurant has more connection to Oklahoma City than Cheever’s Cafe. The flower case that now displays desserts and wine bottles was originally used by Oklahoma Belle Cunningham — the first baby born in Oklahoma City in 1889 — to sell flowers.

The Cheever’s building on Hudson Avenue has retained Belle’s married name and become synonymous with high-quality food under the management of A Good Egg Dining Group.

Which food is the most quintessentially Oklahoman? Well, that’s chicken-fried steak, of course. Gazette readers voted Cheever’s version of the dish with jalapeño cream gravy and mashed red potatoes the city’s best.

Readers also selected Cheever’s as the best place to dine before a show, best fine dining, best participant in OKC Restaurant Week and best brunch.

Cheever’s pleases the fine dining crowd with an inventive selection of steaks and seafood as well as the weekend brunch fans.

The dinner menu offers savory cauliflower bread pudding and sweet potato tamales with seafood as nontraditional standouts. Brunch includes classics like biscuits and gravy and French toast bread pudding but also adds dishes like masa valla con huevos, which combine shrimp risotto with masa cakes and poached eggs.


click to enlarge cafe-do-brasil-8669gf-1.jpg

Best Latin restaurant

Best Midtown district restaurant

Café Do Brasil

When Café Do Brasil relocated to an old funeral home on 11th Street in 2005, there wasn’t much to what is now the trendy Midtown district.

The original is still the best. Our readers voted Café Do Brasil as the best Midtown restaurant and the best Latin restaurant in the city.

The lively colors inside Café Do Brasil in warm yellow, blue and green represent the flag of owner Anna Paixao Davis’ native country. Paixao Davis followed her brother to the United States after he literally closed his eyes and pointed at a map to decide on Oklahoma.

After learning English and getting a feel for the restaurant industry, Paxaio Davis and her brother Mario opened what was originally More than Muffins in the Victoria Building at 18th Street and Classen Boulevard. She bought out the bakery from her brother when he returned to Brasil, added more native dishes and changed the name to Café Do Brasil.

Paxaio Davis and her husband, lawyer Larry Davis, had the vision to move to Midtown and start a trend of redevelopment.

She returns to Brasil at least once a year to continue to update her culinary repertoire, which already includes favorites like baião de dois and caldeirada de pirarucu, which are enhanced by in-house cured meats. Café Do Brasil’s brunch menu is highlighted by live music and plenty of applications of its house-made chorizo.


click to enlarge Leslie Coale-Mossman and Darcy Schein at Pie Junkie, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017.  (Garett Fisbeck)
  • Leslie Coale-Mossman and Darcy Schein at Pie Junkie, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017. (Garett Fisbeck)

Best dessert shop or bakery

Pie Junkie

1711 NW 16th St.

Oklahoma Gazette: You went from friends who cook to owners of the popular Pie Junkie — what has been the secret to your success?

Leslie Cole-Mossman: I think the mantra.

Darcy Schein: The mantra popped into my mind too.

Cole-Mossman: As cheesy as it may sound, we have a mantra or a philosophy: Know what you do, and do it well. We’ve been approached many times — “Oh, do you make cookies or cupcakes?” No, but Cuppies & Joe makes the most amazing cupcakes, and you are going to love them.

We are trained through our families — we are not professionally trained — and pie is what we know. We make pie, and that’s what we do. I think trying to keep things small and simple has been a benefit for us.

Schein: We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We have “work hard and play hard” attitudes. You see that through our social media or when you are in the shop. We want it to be a fun and friendly experience for everybody. We know our staff. We want them to enjoy being here and welcome everyone as they would a guest in their home.

OKG: Since you first started making pies in 2010 and then opened a shop in the Plaza District in 2013, what has changed?

Cole-Mossman: We took what was our nice little box of recipes and expanded it into a fuller menu. I think we are still surprised sometimes what are the popular pies. We do some nontraditional pies; some of those are our most popular.

Schein: I think the main change is Leslie and I going from all the cooking and baking to having a staff of 15 to 16 people. We found people who love the shop as much as we do.

Cole-Mossman: Darcy always says, “We didn’t wake up one morning and say, ‘Let’s open a pie shop.’” This has been nothing but a learning experience for us. We take a step and see where the road leads us, and then we take another step.

OKG: We hear the phrase, “American as apple pie.” You are both pie experts. As you’ve been running this shop and gotten to know your customers, why is there such a connection to pie for so many of us?

Schein: It’s family. People connect their family and family memories with pie. Thanksgiving and Christmas are family-gathering holidays, but we are finding that every holiday is a pie holiday. People want to bring back memories of what their grandmother made or what they enjoyed as a child, and that’s a compliment to us. When people say, “This reminds me of what my grandmother made,” it doesn’t get any better than that.

Cole-Mossman: We try to be present in the business. When you interact with your customers and you ask them, “How was your pie?” You talk with them about the big and little life events. It builds camaraderie. Food is always the great uniter.


click to enlarge Meghanne Hensley, bartender, at the Pump Bar, Friday, Aug. 11, 2017.  (Garett Fisbeck)
  • Meghanne Hensley, bartender, at the Pump Bar, Friday, Aug. 11, 2017. (Garett Fisbeck)

Best bartender

Meghanne Hensley at The Pump Bar

Best neighborhood pub

The Pump Bar

Oklahoma Gazette: How long have you worked at The Pump Bar?

Methane Hensley: Since we opened, about three years.

OKG: How do you define the personality of the bar, and what makes people come back?

Hensley: It’s very eclectic, and it’s a great mix of everybody. You have the older professional group and the younger hipsters, moms and dads. The patio, the drinks and friendly service bring people here.

OKG: How do you approach work and interacting with customers?

Hensley: I love my job. This is my most favorite job I’ve ever had. I come in ready every day. You have to be friendly and get to know everybody. I can see someone’s face and know what they want to drink; it can get to that point for regulars. It doesn’t take very long if they come back, which they usually do.

OKG: Do you mix up drink recommendations based on the season?

Hensley: I use ingredients seasonally. I come from a culinary background. Cooking has a lot to do with how I make drinks, developing flavor profiles. We have a different drink every day called the Dirty Harry, and I’ll bring in stuff from my garden for cocktails. When someone comes up to ask to make a cocktail, I ask what kind of booze they’re going for and go from there.

OKG: Do you have a favorite Dirty Harry?

Hensley: I made a sage simple syrup from fresh sage from my garden. I also used tea from Urban Teahouse. It was grapefruit, tea, sage simple syrup and gin.

OKG: Do you have a favorite drink on The Pump’s menu?

Hensley: My favorite drink is the Kahiki Kai (coconut and dark rum, crème de banana, Coco Lopez and pineapple juice). You feel like you’re on the beach when you’re drinking it, and it will sneak up on you.

OKG: Is there a night that stands out to you as being a lot of fun?

Hensley: I love working the weekends, and I love being super busy. I love not having time to do anything except make drinks and interact. We have a core group of bartenders, and we all interact. We have a great time with the guests. We’re all super close.

OKG: When you’re not working, what is an ideal Oklahoma City day for you?

Hensley: During the summer, we get double park passes for Frontier City and White Water Bay. We’ll go to White Water during the day and then Frontier City at night. We’ll go to dinner somewhere and then go sing karaoke. It’s a full day.


click to enlarge Allie Vallee poses for a photo at the Mule, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017.  (Garett Fisbeck)
  • Allie Vallee poses for a photo at the Mule, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017. (Garett Fisbeck)

Best sandwich shop

The Mule

Oklahoma Gazette: When did The Mule first open? Joey Morris (co-owner of The Mule): September 2012. It will be five years in September.

OKG: What has changed since that opening day? Is anything different? Morris: The Plaza as a whole is completely different. I feel like at the point when we opened, it was us and Saints down there as far as food and beverage service. Since then, the Plaza has established itself as a dining destination in Oklahoma City — locally and also people who are coming in from out of town. A lot of people will say, “Well, I go to the Plaza.” There’s not really a weak link down here; it’s a good drinking and eating district.

OKG: The Mule definitely helped contribute to the idea of the Plaza being this late-night, casual-drinking destination. Morris: That was always our hope and continues to be, to be a staple of the Plaza and then to be a staple of Oklahoma City and then a staple to Oklahoma hopefully and keep it going from there.

OKG: Excitement for The Mule was strong around the opening, and it feels like it has been maintained through the years. What’s the key to doing that? Morris: For us, it’s always a day-to-day fight to stay relevant. Coming up in the last five years, you can’t start with the same drink menu you have now. You can’t have the same food menu you had when you opened. You just kind of fight to stay relevant with your regulars and your new clientele and everyone who comes in. As a restaurateur, your demographic should be everybody. If you’re breathing, we want you to come eat. I don’t know that it’s as much something we’ve tried to maintain; it’s just our inclusive atmosphere, menu and so on. Making adjustments here and there with new things that come to market is where we’d like to be and where we’d like to stay.

OKG: How often do you examine that food and beverage menu? Morris: We do it quarterly. What people can expect from us is that sometimes we find that our food menu is working great and we don’t touch it for a year. Sometimes we find that our food menu is working great and we don’t touch it for two years, but we just had a menu revision where we took two sandwiches off and added two sandwiches. And then our beverage list, our cocktails and beers are updated daily, but then also quarterly as well. We’ll come out with seasonal drinks and do different seasonal beers. That’s really just us trying to appeal to our customers even more and say, “Hey, we know that it’s winter; that’s why we have three dark beers on tap right now.”

OKG: What’s the favorite sandwich there? Morris: The Macaroni Pony (jalapeño cornbread, chipotle barbecue pulled pork, three-cheese macaroni and pickle).

OKG: What about drinks? Morris: If you’re at The Mule, you’re drinking a Moscow Mule. That’s still the mainstay.

OKG: You have a few variations of the Moscow Mule, right? Morris: We do; we have a traditional Moscow Mule, and then we do a gin Mule. We make one with tequila we call a Burro. We do one with bourbon we call the Kentucky Mule. We do an Okie Mule too where we use local vodka and a hibiscus tonic that’s a local product as well.

OKG: Is there anything about The Mule that you wish more people knew? Morris: The poutine. Our most popular appetizer is the cheese curds. But we make — and have been making since day one — a killer poutine where everything is done in-house, like delicious white gravy. We do our own style of poutine, and there’s different variations on the menu. A lot of people get stuck on cheese curds as the appetizer, but the poutine is out-of-this-world incredible.


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Best tea or coffeehouse

All About Cha

Several metro locations

Most people who frequent such establishments know more goes into a great teahouse or coffee shop than merely tasty beverages — though that’s a big part of it. These are the places we connect with friends, meet for business and study for the big test tomorrow morning. A warm, comfortable atmosphere is as important as anything.

Few understand this more than All About Cha, which is why, at any given time during store hours at one of its many metro locations (including its new location in Bricktown, 100 E. Main St.), one will find the Korean drink crafter filled with people on their laptops, huddled up with a textbook or gleefully chatting with old friends.

The drink menu should not be overshadowed though. All About Cha sells 15 different coffee drinks, 22 varieties of green and black tea and 30 health-conscious Korean specialty drinks. A glass display case featuring freshly baked muffins, tarts, cookies and other sweets is always enticing.

A diverse selection of breakfast, lunch and dinner options further sets All About Cha apart. Savory breakfast wraps, croissants and quiches are all recommended, but the freshness found on the fruit plate or in the fruit-filled crêpes is hard to beat.

Wraps and salads make up most of the cafe’s later-day menu choices, but the best bet might be the sushi. The teahouse sells salmon, scallop, tuna, eel and shrimp rolls in addition to some other specialty combinations.

No matter the reason bringing one through the All About Cha doors — be it work, school, socialization or a filling, fresh meal — the teahouse’s devotion to quality ingredients helps ensure everyone leaves satisfied.


click to enlarge Landon Artherholt and Destinie Ross at Golden Phoenix, Friday, Aug. 11, 2017.  (Garett Fisbeck)
  • Landon Artherholt and Destinie Ross at Golden Phoenix, Friday, Aug. 11, 2017. (Garett Fisbeck)

Best Vietnamese restaurant

Golden Phoenix

2718 N. Classen Blvd.

It is not hard to tell when one has stepped inside Golden Phoenix. Few other restaurants in the city greet customers with succulent duck, chicken and other types of barbecue meat enticingly hanging in a glass display case.

Golden Phoenix specializes in both Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine and excels at both. All the familiar Americanized dishes are available to order, but the restaurant’s best feature is its delicious selection of authentic regional delicacies. The Vietnamese-style pork chop, for instance, is highly recommended, as is its Vietnamese Combination Pan Fried Flat Noodle fried rice dish that comes with shrimp, squid and beef. The hefty servings in its hot pot specialties are served family-style and are a sure crowd-pleaser.

Nearly everything on the menu comes at an attractive price. Golden Phoenix is able to keep its price points low while retaining quality ingredients due to its close proximity to several Asian markets in the area.

Of course, it is almost impossible to bring up Golden Phoenix without also discussing its 2012 fire and quick renovation — the restaurant reopened only a few months later. Its ascension since the name-appropriate burning has become the stuff of local legend.

The restaurant is now in the process of further expansion, planning an ambitious four-story structure at NW 26th Street and Classen Boulevard, replacing the old Pipkin Cameras and Imaging building in the process. The expansion is being made with additional event and banquet space in mind, including an outdoor terrace space. Some consideration for private retail space in the new building also is being discussed.


click to enlarge Thunder roll at Sushi Neko, Tuesday, June 20, 2017.  (Garett Fisbeck)
  • Thunder roll at Sushi Neko, Tuesday, June 20, 2017. (Garett Fisbeck)

Best sushi

Sushi Neko

4318 N. Western Ave.

Anyone who has ever stepped inside Sushi Neko on a weekend night — or really any time, for that matter — will not be surprised to hear the Japanese cuisine and robata bar has once again earned voters’ favor as the best sushi establishment in the metro. The restaurant located in the Will Rogers Theatre building is regularly brimming with activity.

It is the sushi, of course, that takes center stage. Rolled favorites like the California (avocado, cucumber, crab salad) and Spider (softshell crab, avocado and cucumber with masago fish roe) rolls are common palate-pleasers.

Still, it’s the Neko Specials that keep happy customers piling in for repeat visits. The Cowboy roll comes with tempura shrimp, cream cheese and spicy sauce with crab salad, tempura flakes, tobiko and eel sauce on the outside. The Sushi O’ Neko includes mackerel that has been breaded and deep-fried.

A good bet for pre-game dining is the popular Thunder roll, which includes crab sticks, Japanese mayo, chili sauce, cilantro, cucumber and cream cheese with albacore, pine nuts, black sesame seeds, eel sauce and habanero masago on the outside.

Those looking to venture outside sushi territory can find other tasty entree options. The dinner menu includes entries like tuna steak and ramen soup served tonkotsu style.

For adult patrons, Sushi Neko might best be enjoyed with a few bottles of warm sake, the traditional Japanese liquor made from fermented rice. Served in a communal pitcher, the bottle is great for a night out with friends. Remember, Japanese custom is to fill your friends’ glasses, not your own. It is on you to keep your company properly merry.


click to enlarge Panera Bread, Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017.  (Garett Fisbeck)
  • Panera Bread, Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017. (Garett Fisbeck)

Best national or regional sandwich shop

Panera Bread

several metro locations

Do you ever wonder what “Panera” means?

The Spanish word literally translates to “bread basket” or “bread box. ” If you’ve been dining at Panera Bread since the chain arrived in the metro around the millennium, you know all about Panera’s sandwiches. When discussing sandwiches, it’s easy to talk ingredients like cheese, meats and veggies; however, those two slices of bread can really make or break a sandwich. Panera Bread’s sandwiches aren’t ordinary; they’re next-level. Let’s be honest; it’s the bread, like whole grain cranberry walnut, black pepper focaccia, whole grain flatbread, tomato basil, sesame semolina and sourdough.

Oklahoma Gazette readers enjoy that bread and what’s loaded on it so much, they voted the bakery-cafe chain the best national or regional sandwich shop in OKC.

Panera Bread, which first opened in Kirkwood, Missouri, now maintains nine locations in the metro. Whether you order sandwiches like the roasted turkey and avocado BLT, chipotle chicken avocado melt, tomato mozzarella flatbread or classic grilled cheese or you go with one of Panera’s signature soups served in a sourdough bread bowl or a salad, you can’t go wrong. Gazette readers know the chain is committed to serving nutrient-rich and fresh meals with no artificial preservatives or sweeteners. That, paired with Panera’s delicious bread, are the reasons it’s the top sandwich shop.


click to enlarge Nichols Hills Plaza, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016.  (Garett Fisbeck) - GARETT FISBECK
  • GARETT FISBECK
  • Nichols Hills Plaza, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016. (Garett Fisbeck)

Best national or regional retail establishment you wish was local

Trader Joe’s

In October 2015, when Nichols Hills Plaza posted on social media that Trader Joe’s would join the shopping center, joyful fans of the grocery store chain typed out comments like “I can’t wait,” “Exciting news for OKC” and “I’ve heard this so many times … I’ll believe it when I see it!”

Less than a year later, Trader Joe’s opened its doors with hundreds eager to enter the grocery store and load up on products like Speculoos Cookie Butter, Joe Joe’s cookies, Reduced Guilt Chunky Guacamole and Chili Lime Chicken Burgers.

The arrival of Trader Joe’s marked a new chapter in food shopping in Oklahoma City. The California-based chain of grocery stores is known for its low prices on unique and unusual food items and quirky culture, making it stand apart from other food sellers in the metro.

While shoppers are indeed supporting a national chain, it doesn’t appear that way in the store. For one, the store’s walls are painted with murals of images of Myriad Botanical Gardens, the Oklahoma Capitol and University of Oklahoma football. At the register, shoppers stand in line at stations named after different Oklahoma City districts, like Plaza District, Automobile Alley and Midtown.

It’s a no-brainer why Oklahoma Gazette readers named Trader Joe’s the best national or regional retail establishment you wish was local.


Return to Best of OKC 2017 introduction page.

View party pictures from the August 22nd event at The Criterion.

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(Sorry, no information is currently available for other years in this same award category.)

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