Burger kings 

A stretch of N May Avenue is home to three longtime (and excellent) local burger joints

The Patty Wagon sign overlooks the Charcoal Oven location next door.

Berlin Green

The Patty Wagon sign overlooks the Charcoal Oven location next door.

The stretch of May Avenue between NW 23rd and NW 36th is teeming with three things: dispensaries, buy-here-pay-here car lots and some of the best burgers in Oklahoma City.

Charcoal Oven is the newest kid on the block, even though it predates both of the other burger joints on the block.

The original Charcoal Oven opened along Northwest Expressway near Penn Square Mall in 1958. It remained there, serving one of the best burgers in the city until the location shuttered in 2016 and its iconic, towering sign was removed.

Fast forward five years later when the new location opened at 3604 N. May Ave. in place of a Jersey Mike’s and literally next door to another fan-favorite, Patty Wagon, 3600 N. May Avenue. Within walking distance to the south is Barry’s Grill at 3124 N. May Ave.

To compare apples to apples, let’s focus on the hickory burgers at each.

To be fair, many of the burgers at Charcoal Oven are “hickory burgers” due to the use of their signature hickory sauce on the eponymous burger there, though the hickory sauce there is primarily ketchup-based rather than a traditional mesquite taste of most hickory sauces.

The location is clean and the service is great and, according to their site, the recipes from David and Carolyn Wilson are intact. But this burger just didn’t taste quite like it used to. That’s not quite a complaint though as it’s still tasty (and at least one friend has said it’s still their favorite burger on that block).

Another hit is the onion rings, which are hand-breaded and provide that old-timey flour on the roof of your mouth feeling that was familiar to those used to eating them from before the foodservice and fast food days. A pair of those onion rings are placed on their chicken sandwich, the Chick-A-Doodle-Doo, which is served with thousand island dressing. Unfortunately, this sandwich is the biggest miss on the menu, with a chicken breast that tastes both slightly overdone and slightly undercooked.

click to enlarge patty-wagon-4888gf.jpg

Next door is Patty Wagon, which began over a decade ago as a food truck until moving into its brick-and-mortar location in an old Whataburger. Founded by Bryce Musick, who died of brain cancer a few years later, Patty Wagon suffered from a slight dip in quality when it transferred ownership but has again regained its stride.

The grass-fed beef patty of the Red Dirt burger, a hickory bacon cheeseburger, is still served on a sweet brioche bun that people talk about as much as they do the meat. Those who prefer their burger bacon crispy may prefer to forgo it as theirs is chewier than crunchy. The modified Red Dirt burger tastes just as good though, with grilled onions and a house hickory sauce that strikes a balance between smoky and sweet.

The onion rings here are decent, but the fries are always on point (which was a matter of pride for the chatty Musick when he opened the restaurant as they weren’t quite to his satisfaction in the food truck days).

click to enlarge Barry's Old Fashioned Grill - BERLIN GREEN
  • Berlin Green
  • Barry's Old Fashioned Grill

The award for biggest sign on the block goes to Barry’s Grill, whose massive old-fashioned burger was only eclipsed in size by On Cue when it opened at the corner of NW 36th and May.

I’m not sure when Barry’s Grill originally opened and it had admittedly been about 15 years since I first (and last) walked through the door, when Barry was still running the joint himself. Not much about the place itself has changed and the black-letter changeable menu board hearkens from an era when you could still smoke inside a place like this.

While the burgers themselves don’t taste like they did when Barry was running the place either, the new crew still makes a very tasty order. Beware of ordering the hickory burger as is, because it only comes with a patty, chopped onions and a very sweet hickory sauce if you do. But add some cheese and vegetables and you have a cheeseburger that rivals anything else on the block.

While the onion rings here are currently unavailable due to supply chain issues, the tater tots are pretty standard fare which means you can take them or leave them, though both those and the fries are dipped in individual fry baskets when you order, guaranteeing that they’ll be hot and fresh.

So skip the drive-thru, unless it’s Patty Wagon’s, and remind yourself what real burgers used to taste like.

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