Mama Roja–Oklahoma City, OK

Mama Roja Mexican Kitchen
9219 Lake Hefner Parkway
Oklahoma City, OK
(405) 302-6262
Mama Roja on the eastern shore of Lake Hefner

Mama Roja


Mama Roja is one of several restaurants located on the eastern shore of Lake Hefner that are popular because of their views, the fact that all of them have bars, and the fact that both patio and indoor dining afford some of the best sunset views in the city. Of course the quality and variety of food offered from the various restaurants is a major factor that draws crowds here.

I had read that when this group of lakeside restaurants was in its development stage they were considering the possibility of including a Rick Bayless style Mexican restaurant (either with Rick as the owner or as a consultant about how to prepare the food). This never came to fruition, but Mama Roja was built as the Mexican food option in a group of mostly American and seafood restaurants.

When I first visited Maja Roja in 2011 I had not heard the story about Rick Bayless possibly being involved in the Mexican restaurant here, and frankly I could not imagine anything more dissimilar to Rick’s food than the Americanized tourist oriented food I found at this restaurant. By “Americanized” I mean that it generally lacked the spiciness and bold flavors that I have been used to eating in El Paso and the surrounding areas of Mexico and New Mexico. By “tourist oriented” I mean this as somewhat of a compliment because it included the quality of ingredients, cleanliness and ambience of the restaurant, etc. which helped make the general public feel comfortable here. However, it seemed to be far from either the cutting edge recipes or the authentic recipes for Mexican food that I think are both embodied in the food I see on Rick Bayless’ television programs (and which I someday hope to experience at his restaurants).

On a return visit in 2020, though, I experienced a somewhat dramatic difference in Mama Roja which seemed to be very much for the better. As usual, I need to give the disclaimer that perhaps I did not order the right thing before or that there may be other factors involved besides the presumption that Mama Roja has changed the food. In my somewhat random experiment of ordering different items from the menu, though, I was very pleased with the flavors and authenticity of the food. The quality of ingredients has always been here, but now I really like the way they prepare the recipes.

Setups

Chips and salsa are complimentary

Chips with regular salsa, cheese sauce, and smoked salsa

I thought the Cheese Sauce was a little weak compared to others in the city. The Smoked Salsa was very good, though, and I would have thoroughly enjoyed it except for the fact that I had a swallowing problem with the chips (something that happens to me frequently if the chips are more grocery store style than Mexican style). They brought the smoked salsa by request, and they have an even spicier habanero salsa available if you want it (I have tried it in the past and I think it is also very good).

Fiesta Plate

Fiesta plate is one where you pick the three items you want

Fiesta plate with carne asada taco on the left, carnitas taco on the right, and ranchero chicken enchilada on the main plate

On my earlier visits my favorite item was something called Tijuana tacos (which are no longer on the menu). Knowing that tacos were probably a good bet, though, I ordered two kinds of tacos on the Fiesta Plate (where you pick three items from the menu on a combination plate).

I would have to say that the Carne Asada Taco was probably the better of the tacos because of the fact that the meat was seasoned to the point that I really enjoyed it without adding any sauce to it. The meat itself was excellent, and this was very reminiscent of the taco restaurants I have visited in Mexico and elsewhere that I particularly enjoyed. I probably would have enjoyed it more with additional garnishes such as cilantro and some sauce, but it was nice to know that you really do not need this to have a good taco.

The Carnitas Taco comes with a special sauce which made this an equally enjoyable taco. Carnitas is not one of my favorite meats but this one was good quality and not too “gamey” (I am not a carnitas expert but this is how some versions of carnitas seem to me).

The Ranchero Chicken Enchilada with green sauce was probably the most worthwhile item on the order. This is because it was about twice as much food as either of the tacos were, everything was good quality, and the green sauce gave it an excellent flavor. The green sauce was not especially spicy but it had a good flavor and was definitely not a wimpy sauce. Like the tacos I would say that the enchilada would be “El Paso approved” (although I really would not say that about the rice, beans, or chips). Still, though, to have the main items this good has really brought Mama Roja much higher in my estimation of the restaurant.

Previous Visits
Although I have made previous visits to the restaurant, the menu seems to have changed quite a bit so it is fitting to start with a fresh review on the Food Blog. I will say that I liked the Tijuana Tacos (which are no longer on the menu) and the Habanero Salsa (which I think is still available on request). I have notes that I tried the Flautas and the Mango Chicken Salad, but they must not have impressed me very much because I did not list them among my favorite items. I did note that the chips, rice, and beans were not up to par (as was the case on my most recent visit). For at least the rice, though, I think it may have improved somewhat from previous visits.

Other Observations
The outdoor patio with a view of the lake is a very popular feature of the restaurant, although for my taste the Oklahoma weather affords very few days when I would want to eat outdoors.

The dining room has good views of the lake and the sunsets over Lake Hefner, and to me dining indoors is usually the best choice. I visited the restaurant after the COVID measures were put in place and everything seemed to be very professional in the way they distance the customers and keep everything sanitary (not that they were not doing the same thing before, but I took special notice of the way it is now). The prices here are high, but they seemed to be just as high before. Now it seems like more of a bargain, though, compared to what you get at other restaurants for the same price.

My analysis of Mama Roja’s “changing the food for the better” is that it is mainly because of items they have added to the menu that have more of an authentic flavor than the predominantly Tex-Mex items they offered previously. I do not know if my analysis is entirely correct, but I do know that they have made some changes to the menu.

I am assigning a rating to this restaurant that normally would not be given to a restaurant where the rice, beans, chips, etc. are not really up to par, but the main items I tried were so good that it was really up to El Paso standards as far as I am concerned.


RATING: 23

Cuisine: Mexican
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Full bar

Most Recent Visit: Jun. 28, 2020

Number of Visits: 3

Best Items: Ranchero Chicken Enchilada, Carne Asada Taco, Smoked Salsa

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 3

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Ranchero Chicken Enchilada
star 5 Carne Asada Taco
star 5 Carnitas Taco
star 4 Rice
star 3 Borracho Beans
star 3 Chips
star 5 Smoked Salsa
star 4 Cheese Sauce
star 4 Sopapilla

Johnnie’s Express–Oklahoma City, OK

Johnnie’s Charcoal Broiler Express
13900 N. May Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK
(405) 748-5440

Johnnie’s has always been one of my go-to places in Oklahoma City, and for me it has really been the place for hamburgers and veggie burgers. One of the secrets here is their signature Johnnie’s sauce, which I understand that Johnnie developed based on his experience working at the old Split-T on N. Western Avenue. This is a variant of the barbecue sauce found in many Oklahoma “Q” restaurants, although I think the sauce at most barbecue places is both sweeter and tangier than the sauce served here. For flavor, though, I really think Johnnie’s sauce is the best I have found (especially when served on hamburgers).

The biggest downfall at the Johnnie’s Restaurants lately has seemed to be their consistency. For one thing there are several locations (meaning different managers and cooks). Even for a specific location there are variables such as which cooks are on duty. A lot of factors can detract from the hoped for perfection of Johnnie’s burgers including how the meat is cooked and even the bread (I love their sesame seed buns but at times they have changed it to a plain bun–I assume out of necessity at the time). One thing that always seems to be good, though, is the Johnnie’s sauce.

These and other variables apply to the different locations where I have eaten over the years. They do not apply yet to Johnnie’s Express on North May near Quail Springs Mall. After two visits I found both the burger and fries to be perfection–everything I remember about Johnnie’s that it is supposed to be. I was extremely happy and of course suspicious that over time this restaurant would have the same variability I have found at other locations. For now, though, I can report that this location has food as good as I have found at any of the Johnnie’s restaurants. I believe it has an abbreviated menu from the regular restaurants, but the all important burgers and fries are served here, and this is what I would recommend at any Johnnie’s restaurants at least for the first visit.

Burgers

Takeout order of burger and fries from Johnnie's Express

Burger and fries from Johnnie’s Express

On my initial visit I ordered my favorite burger, the No. 1 Hamburger  with Johnnie’s sauce. The sauce is cooked each day for about five hours, and is made with a secret blend of ingredients. Other burgers come with extra ingredients, such as pickles, onions, etc. at no extra cost. Many also like the Theta burger with Johnnie’s sauce, mayo, and pickles (I think the Theta cheeseburger is especially popular–the cheeseburgers are slightly more expensive).

The charcoal broiling method of cooking is probably the most important reason to come to Johnnie’s, though. I even thought the charcoal broiled flavor of the meat was more pronounced here than I have found at other Johnnie’s locations for quite some time, and it made the burger here a special treat.

French Fries
French Fries are my usual side order at Johnnie’s but they are by no means the only one I like (the baked beans have also been excellent at the other locations). The fries I had at Johnnie’s Express were just right in the way they were prepared and lived up to my expectations, as the hamburger did.

Drinks
The Iced Tea at Johnnie’s is definitely one of the best in town, with the clear ice they use being almost as notable as the tea itself. The tea at the other locations has not been subject to the same variability as the food, and for me this has always been a good choice for a drink (although if you like milk shakes they have excellent ones here).

Summing It Up
Johnnie’s has done some major remodeling since about 2018 including a complete rebuilding of its restaurant on Northwest Expressway. The upgrade may have included improved grills because so far the hamburgers at the “new” restaurants have been as impressive as I have found at Johnnie’s Express (which itself is a relatively new restaurant). I am not yet at the point of saying which of the Johnnie’s restaurants are my current go-to restaurants, but the newer restaurants have been very impressive recently.

Johnnie’s Express does most of its business through the drive-through window or they will also bring it outside to your car. I am unclear about whether they have an inside dining room because I have never tried to go in to look.

The burgers and fries at Johnnie’s, though, do particularly well at maintaining their temperature and flavor when served as takeout orders. This is one case where I have enjoyed fully satisfying meals even when I did not have the time or opportunity to eat in the dining room.

Some may also be interested to know that they have half price drinks between 2 and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.


RATING: 24

Cuisine: Hamburgers
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: No

Most Recent Visit: Jun. 8, 2020
Number of Visits: 2
Best Items: Hamburger, French Fries, Tea

Special Ratings
star 5 Hamburger
star 5 French Fries

 

Thai Delight–Edmond, OK

Thai Delight
3409 S. Broadway
Edmond, OK
(405) 513-8881
Thai Delight

Thai Delight in Edmond


Update Jul. 2020: Thai Delight is now at normal operation with the dining room open. This is subject to any Health Department mandates including use of masks, spacing of customers in the dining room, etc. During the health emergency they were doing delivery and they plan to continue it afterward (they do the delivery themselves). There is one delivery price for anything up to five miles from the restaurant, and a higher price for delivery from five to seven miles. They indicated to me that during the Corona virus emergency they would be willing to go farther than seven miles but I do not know the details of this or whether this policy will be continued.

In 2016 I had what I thought was my best lunch experience of the year at Thai Delight, and this is what has made me determined to return whenever possible (it was the fresh ginger that made this memorable first impression). Thai food ranks high among my favorite cuisines, so this had something to do with it. However, not everyone does Thai food this well, and gives the service and ambiance to complement the food.

The former Thai Palace in Edmond was my favorite Thai restaurant in the OKC metro until it closed, and this has served as my standard for comparing other Thai restaurants. Thai Delight certainly hits many of the same marks, particularly in serving food that tastes authentic to me.

I find that I need to break down the menu, though, into the categories of curries and stir-fried dishes. Thai Delight has separate cooks that specialize in these two types of food, and I have great respect for a restaurant that will provide chefs with this kind of expertise. Personally I especially like the stir-fried dishes here when compared to the ones I get at some other restaurants.

Thai Delight also has a sushi menu which I have not tried, and I cannot comment about the food. I know that the Thai food cooks are from Thailand, though, and this is evident by the flavor and the complexity of food they serve.

The restaurant is located in a shopping complex at the southwest corner of 33rd St. and Broadway in Edmond. I would call the complex upscale, but for some reason they have raised the level of all the stores up a half flight of stairs. After several visits to this restaurant and Pho Bulous next door (as well as an Indian restaurant which used to be in the same center) I finally found a ramp on the north side of the building to give access to anyone who does not want to use the stairs. It is located at the north end of Charleston’s Restaurant (at the opposite end to Thai Delight) but it will work for getting to all the businesses in the center.

Fresh Ginger

Fresh ginger

Fresh ginger on the lunch menu

Thai Delight has quite a good selection of items on the lunch menu, including Fresh Ginger. This was the dish I tried on my first visit, and it remains probably my favorite item at the restaurant. Some notable features of the fresh ginger were a vibrant flavor and the fact that it was not too sweet. The ginger was strong but well balanced by the sauce and the other ingredients. All of my orders have been with tofu, which is usually my preference and which also allows me to compare this dish with countless ones I have had in Seattle and other cities.

Basil

Spicy basil

Spicy basil from the lunch menu

Spicy Basil (listed as Basil on the to-go menu) at first did not wow me, but I asked for spicy fish sauce (prik nam pla) which raised the dish to one of the best I have had in the Oklahoma City area. This indicated that it had a very good underlying flavor but it just needed to be spicier (the dish comes at a default 3-star spice level but the waitress suggested that next time I should order it at 4 or 5). The waitress said it was already made with fish sauce but what I added just intensified the flavor. Note: I got a takeout version on a later visit that was spicier to just about the right level, a result of my learning curve and knowing to ask for it this way.

The vegetables on this dish were fresh and a little crunchy. Ingredients such as the carrots and green beans actually had a good flavor (not something I say often about carrots or green beans if they are still on the crunchy side).

Spicy Bamboo with Chicken

Spicy bamboo with chicken

Spicy bamboo with chicken

For some reason they serve Spicy Bamboo with Chicken on both the lunch and dinner menus, but there are no other choices of meat to order with it. This comes with a red curry paste that I wanted to try, but I was not overly impressed with it. This does not mean the dish was disappointing, because it was a treat to have a dish with this quantity of bamboo shoots. Like most dishes here, it seemed to have an explosion of flavors because of the different ingredients that were used. In a way, though, it was almost overpowered by the large quantity of chicken (but this certainly does not seem to be a bad thing). This is definitely one of the more filling lunches I have had at a Thai restaurant, and I imagine the dinner portion would be too much for me to eat at one sitting.

Kao Soi

Kao soi from the lunch menu

Kao soi from the lunch menu

I first tried Kao Soi at Thai Delight’s sister restaurant, Sushi-Thai Delight on Interstate 35 near the 15th Street exit in Edmond. This became one of my favorite items at Thai Delight, and I have ordered it several times since then (including a take-out order where I had to add the vegetables and crispy noodles at the time when I ate it).

They told me this was a dish from northern Thailand (in fact the yellow curry reminded me of ones I had eaten in Lao restaurants). The chef is not shy about making the curry spicy, and I definitely recommend ordering some Thai iced tea with it (for me Thai tea is the default drink with any Thai food).

One interesting feature of this dish is that it has soft noodles cooked in the curry as well as crispy noodles sprinkled on top. There are quite a few vegetables added–I did not realize how many until I got a take-home order where I had to add the vegetables at the time I served it.

Of the several times I have eaten this dish, though, my favorite one was at the restaurant on Interstate 35 (Sushi Thai Delight). This could be for a number of reasons, but I would definitely suggest trying out Sushi Thai Delight as well.

Salad

Salad

Salad with ginger dressing

The Salad was also very good, but even better because it was free. I found the ginger dressing to have a good flavor, but you can also choose the regular dressing or get one of the two soups that are available (but I do not have a list of these).

A spring roll also comes with the lunch special (and this was one of the better spring rolls I have had).

Thai Tea
I tend to put Thai tea into one of two categories–ones I like and ones that are disappointing. The one here was the former, so I was happy. However, I would also say that it was better than most.

Lunch
Thai Delight has 17 lunch specials for $7.95 (as of 2020), and there is a wide choice of items including basil, curry, cashew, ginger, eggplant, broccoli, and pad thai (each has a choice of chicken, beef, pork, tofu, or veggie).  Some lunch items are more expensive, including some fish choices for $8.95 and duck for $11.95. The dinner menu has a larger portion and there are more menu choices, but there is no difference in the way items are prepared that are on both the lunch and dinner menus. Lunch includes a free salad and spring roll.

Japanese box lunch and sushi specials are also available for lunch.

Dinner
The Thai menu is slightly more expensive for the dinner items, but it includes additional types of curry not available at lunch such as Panang, Massaman, and pineapple curry.

The bulk of the Japanese menu seems to be sushi, but it is mostly rolls with a small selection of a la carte sushi/sashimi. There are also Japanese dinners such as tempura, katsu, and teriyaki.

Other Details
The restaurant does not use MSG, but the employees said there might be some in the soy sauce and other sauces they import from Asia. I have not experienced any noticeable levels of MSG in the food.

The dining room was very large and comfortable (this is not the main reason I find this restaurant to be an enjoyable experience but it is an important part of it).

The service at lunch seems to be highly efficient for getting orders out quickly.

I was able to have some good conversations and ask some questions to the staff after the lunch crowd died down. One of the things I learned is that Thai cooks prepare the Thai food (one person for the curries and one for the stir fried dishes). The style of the food is from the Bangkok area, but the kao soi (egg noodles with yellow curry) is northern style. The bamboo chicken has a chile paste which is not made with coconut milk, and is this restaurant’s version of pad prik khing sauce.

I would give the tip to others that for many dishes the prik nam pla (spicy fish sauce) condiment they will give you on request seems to provide added flavor or to bring out the flavor that is already there (depending on which way you look at it). I also think it is a better way to provide additional spice to many of the stir-fried dishes than using chile powder or chile paste.

I originally thought the Thai Delight in Norman was another location of this one, however I found out that it is owned by the same extended family but does not necessarily have the same food.

Takeout

Fresh ginger for takeout

Fresh ginger for takeout

I have tried several items for takeout that I also ate in the restaurant, and have been happy with the result. The Fresh Ginger had the same flavor and impressed me every bit as much as the dine-in version. The one pictured was the dinner size, and was enough for two meals at home (the substantial portion of rice that comes with it makes this possible).

Spicy basil for takeout

Spicy basil for takeout

The takeout meal of Spicy Basil was also excellent, and in fact seemed to be better than the restaurant version (I asked for this one to be spicier than their default level). This was also a dinner portion, and was enough for two meals for me. Like the ginger dish you can have a choice of meats, and I usually choose tofu on the stir fried dishes.

As I mentioned earlier I also tried a take-home version of Kao Soi. This one was interesting because you have to construct it yourself (you add the vegetables to the curry and put the crispy noodles on top when it is ready to serve).

Takeout version of Panang curry

Panang curry for takeout

The Panang Curry is something I have only had for takeout, but it has a vibrant flavor that stands up well to being taken home. It is not as spicy as the kao soi, and overall I enjoyed the dish very much.

Conclusions
The Thai food here is the real deal, although they do not have the massive menu that I found at the former Thai Palace and some other restaurants.

My favorite dishes here have been from the stir-fried menu, but the curry dishes are good as well. Everything I have tried has been among the highest quality Thai food I have had in the Oklahoma City area.

I have made one visit to Sushi Thai Delight as well (925 W. I-35 Frontage Road #116 in Edmond). Here it was a curry dish that was really impressive, and I would say try this restaurant as well if you get the chance.


RATING: 26

Cuisine: Thai & Sushi
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily (closed from 3 to 4:30 pm)
Accessible: Yes (look for the ramp on the north side of Charleston’s Restaurant)
Smoking: No smoking

Most Recent Visit: May 29, 2020

Number of Visits: 6

Best Items: Fresh Ginger, Spicy Basil, Thai Tea

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Fresh Ginger
star 5 Spicy Basil
star 5 Spicy Bamboo with Chicken
star 5 Kao Soi
star 5 Salad
star 5 Thai Tea