A Walking Tour of the Asian District–Oklahoma City, OK

I thought I would give an update about what is going on in the Asian District, located along Classen Boulevard in Oklahoma City. The title should really be the Asian District on the East side of Classen from N.W. 30th to N.W. 23rd, but that is far too long. In any case, I was not able to cover everything in what is known as the Asian District, but this is a start.

The east side of Classen could be considered the heart of the district because it is where the two major super markets are located–Super Cao Nguyen and Chinatown. A number of important restaurants are also here, but a good number are located in the area I could not cover by foot, namely on the west side of Classen and along N.W. 23rd St.

I also recognize that there are some important restaurants north of N.W. 30th, such as Lee’s Sandwiches at 3300 N. Classen. In addition there is an area near N.W. 23rd and Pennsylvania (about a mile west of Classen) that is a spin-off of the Asian district, and which contains several notable Asian and other types of restaurants.

Pho Cuong
3016 N. Classen Blvd.

Pho Cuong

Pho Cuong

My walking tour began at Pho Cuong at the southeast corner of N.W. 30th and Classen. This is arguably the best pho in town (although this title has some serious competition by other restaurants such as Pho Kim Long at 1121 N.W. 23rd St.).

My favorite dish at Pho Cuong, though, is actually the Bánh Tam Tom Thit Nuóng, a vermicelli dish with grilled pork skin and shrimp (but it is especially interesting because of the coconut syrup that is served with it).

This is a very interesting restaurant for the menu items other than pho, and would be one of my first choices for this type of food.

VII Asian Bistro
2900 N. Classen Blvd.

VII Asian Bistro

VII Asian Bistro

VII (“Seven”) Asian Bistro is a very recent addition to the Asian District, and has an upscale interior (in the Asian District, having “Bistro” in the name is a giveaway for this).

I went inside and looked at the menu. It seems to cater to non-Asians in a good way (having menu items and food descriptions that can be easily understood). I thought the food looked like “real” Vietnamese food, but they just didn’t have a large selection of unusual or hard to find items.

Golden Phoenix
2728 N. Classen Blvd.

Golden Phoenix

Golden Phoenix

Golden Phoenix had a major fire a few years ago, and they used the opportunity to upgrade the restaurant when they rebuilt. I have not eaten there since the fire, but I did go in to take a look. The menu is much more extensive than before, they have upgraded the interior to a “bistro” style, and they are now open daily (it used to be closed on Wed.).

Golden Phoenix before the fire

Golden Phoenix before the fire

As far as the food, I thought this was the best Vietnamese restaurant in Oklahoma City before the fire, and I expect that it still is. Of course, there are certain dishes at other restaurants that I like better. Also it seems that other restaurants are upping their game to serve more traditional style dishes than before. one thing that impressed me about Golden Phoenix was that they served the Bún Bò Huê with the congealed blood balls, and so far no other restaurant in town that I have tried has done this. Although this may not be everybody’s idea of good Vietnamese food, I thought it was good but probably not my favorite dish. One that I would really recommend, though, is the Vietnamese pork chop (something that is very good but does not contain any mystery ingredients).

Golden Phoenix also has a Chinese menu. I did not find it quite as impressive as the Vietnamese menu, but the food I had was authentic Cantonese cuisine, and I certainly would not complain about the Chinese food here.

Chinatown Supermarket
1228 N.W. 27th St.

This super market is next door to Golden Phoenix, and was also rebuilt after the fire. It is more small scale than the Super Cao Nguyen, but people say some things are better here.

The thing I always try to buy here is the Pearl Soybean drink by Mong Lee Shang (I like the strawberry flavor). This is a drink from Taiwan that has tapioca balls at the bottom, and is the best of about two dozen drinks I have tried from both Asian super markets.

Gia Gia
2624 N. Classen Blvd.

Gia Gia

Gia Gia

Gia Gia (pronounced like the word “jaw” said twice very quickly) is another new restaurant that I have not yet tried. I actually went in and was intending to eat here, but there was a communication difficulty and I could not find out if the food had MSG.

I read that they have banh xeo, a dish I have been trying to find at a number of different restaurants. At Gia Gia it is an appetizer, though, and combined with the fact that I didn’t know whether it contained MSG, I decided to pass (but I plan to go back and see if I can find out). The good thing about the Asian district is that you can always find another place to go, but the bad thing is that I can’t possibly try all the dishes at all the restaurants that I would like.

Super Cao Nguyen
2668 N. Military Ave.

Super Cao Nguyen

Super Cao Nguyen

This is the oldest and largest of the Asian super markets in the area, and is located one block east of Gia Gia (Military Ave. runs parallel to Classen). Outside of the one drink I buy at Chinatown, I get almost everything I want here. In fact, my only experience with a better Asian market was in Seattle (but even in Seattle there is a limited choice of Asian super markets as there is in OKC).

One thing that has never looked very appetizing to me here has been the food stalls. This is another example where I think someone from Asia might be better able to find the good items than I would.

The tea selection at Super Cao Nguyen is quite good, but the choice of specialized teas is not the same as can be found in Seattle.

Super Cao Nguyen also has a good selection of chopsticks, cookware, and teapots. The candy selection is very good, and overall the drink selection is much better than at Chinatown.

Some of my friends who buy Asian vegetables have indicated that they like Chinatown, but I think sometimes they also come here.

Mr. Pho
1133 N.W. 25th St.

Mr. Pho entrance

The entrance to Mr. Pho, Banana Island, and Cafe Oasis next door to Super Cao Nguyen

Mr. Pho is one of the restaurants located in a small building adjacent to Super Cao Nguyen (go to the door just south of the super market’s main entrance). The reason I have not visited Mr. Pho often is that I have had more than one MSG reaction from the food. The food is very good, and of course the reason restaurants use MSG is for the flavor. Mr. Pho is also a very friendly place for English speakers, and they will tell you the food has MSG (along with anything else you would like to know about it). I certainly think this is a good restaurant for many people, but just not the ones with MSG allergies.

Banana Island
1117 N.W. 25th St.

N.W. 25th St. entrance

Banana Island’s side entrance on N.W. 25th St.

This Malaysian restaurant is located in the same building, and is one of the restaurants I am very anxious to try. I would not really expect it to have Malaysian food that is the same I have had in other cities, but since I have never had a bad dish at any of these places I come with the assumption that all Malaysian food is worthwhile.

Banana Island changed owners a few years ago, and the reviews have not been as good since then. All I can say is that I went by the restaurant, looked inside, looked at the menu, and looked at the photos they had of the food. It looks like a very good restaurant, and I would assume the best instead of the worst here (it is possible they have already made some adjustments since reopening that addressed some of the customer complaints).

Cafe Oasis
1135 N.W. 25th St.

Cafe Oasis upstairs

Cafe Oasis on the second floor

The sign outside indicated that this was a juice and tea place, but only afterward did I find out that they have a food menu (mainly rice and noodle dishes). The menu is in English and Chinese, and it seems that the food is Chinese style. Still, most people say that if you come here you should be sure to get one of the drinks.

Cafe Oasis is open daily except Sunday evening, and is on the second floor (it is accessible by an elevator).

Lido
2518 N. Military Ave.

Lido entrance on Military Ave.

The entrance to Lido and Lang’s Bakery on Military Ave.

This may be the oldest Vietnamese restaurant in the city, and has probably been more famous for its vermicelli dishes than for the pho or other items that are popular at other restaurants. Personally I think the vermicelli dishes may be the best in town if you stick to the basics (pork, chicken, egg rolls, etc.). The only thing is that the fish sauce seems very Americanized to me (still good, but I think a more authentic one is on the other side of Classen at Pho Ca Dao).

Lido Restaurant

Lido Restaurant

Lido has always been one of the best restaurants for Vietnamese food initiates to try the food and find out what it’s all about. Lately I think it has become more than this by expanding the menu, and I think there are more exotic dishes to try if you wish. Personally, I usually stick with the vermicelli bowls here because it is hard to find anything better at other restaurants.

Lang’s Bakery
2524 N. Military Ave.

Lang's Bakery

Lang’s Bakery

Lang’s Bakery has been on my radar for a long time, and I finally got a chance to eat here on my walking tour. I think it was a fitting choice among all the other good alternatives that are nearby, and certainly one that I would recommend. Banh mi sandwiches are the most popular item, but they also have more authentic versions of noodle bowls and noodle dishes than are found at Lido and some of the other “tourist” restaurants. The dish I tried was something that I think many people would like as well (No. 19 “Banh Uot Cha Lua). This was a rice sheet topped by a delicious Vietnamese ham.

The people here speak excellent English, and it can be an excellent choice for those who want something a little more authentic. If you would rather skip lunch, though, it is still an excellent place for desserts and baked goods. I paid $2 for a delicious French style flan, and the restaurant cited this as one of their best and most popular items.

General Comments

The east side of Classen (outlined in this article) is the greatest concentration of Vietnamese restaurants in the city, while several large and well known Chinese restaurants are on the west side of the street. This is called the “Asian District” precisely because there is a mixture of different cultural traditions in the area, even including some Guatemalan and Middle Eastern restaurants. Other Asian cuisines (such as Thai and Indian) are located primarily along N.W. 23rd St.

The earliest tenants in the area, though, were Vietnamese refugees who came here after the Vietnam war. A recent Smithsonian article recounts the history of the Asian District, and I wrote a short summary of it in a post about Oklahoma City’s “Little Saigon.”

This post includes a few tips about a few restaurants, but this just scratches the surface. New restaurants are opening all the time, and many restaurants have so many menu choices that this is as much a dilemma as an opportunity. I have only covered a portion of the geographic area, and each time I go I seem to discover something new. For me, always having new places to try is a good thing.

A Walking Tour of Midtown–Oklahoma City, OK

A view of Midtown

From N. Walker Ave. looking south toward St. Anthony’s Hospital

Midtown Oklahoma City, centered around N.W. 10th Street and Walker Avenue, has one of the greatest concentrations of quality restaurants in the city. This is based both on experience (from some past and present restaurants) and the reviews I have read about all the restaurants in the area.

In conjunction with visiting a medical office in the area I was able to conduct a brief walking tour to scout out many of the restaurants I have read about. The purpose of this article is to pass along information I have gleaned from the Internet as well as what I found on my tour. There are only a couple of restaurants listed with which I have first hand experience, but practically all of them are on my “want to try” list.

Stella
1201 N. Walker Ave.

Stella in Midtown

Stella Modern Italian Cuisine

Stella is known as “Modern Italian,” and according to reviews is not the typical red sauce type of restaurant. It has good reviews, is upscale, and is a place you would want to go for a leisurely meal (it is not outrageously priced, but you do want to spend time enjoying what you are paying for).

1492
1207 N. Walker Ave.

1492 in Midtown

1492 New World Latin Cuisine

This upscale Mexican restaurant is located next door to Stella, and it looks as if the biggest issue here is where to find parking. I think they have their own parking lot but it may get full at times.

I recently ate at the new 1492 at Casady Square, and based on this I can give a very good review of the food. This was very good upscale Mexican cuisine, and I consider it to be a type of food that Oklahoma City really needs.

Cafe do Brasil
440 N.W. 11th St.

Cafe do Brasil

Cafe do Brasil

Although I did not eat here on this particular walking tour, this is still my favorite Latin American restaurant in Oklahoma City. I was very impressed with not only the flavor of the food but also with the choices. There is ample parking here, and the prices are very good. It is not quite what I would call an upscale restaurant but the food is what I would call upscale for Latin American cuisine.

Brown’s Bakery
1100 N. Walker Ave.

Brown's Bakery

Brown’s Bakery

My next stop was at Brown’s Bakery, which is an institution both in Oklahoma City and with my family. I didn’t pick up any of their goodies, but I know that this is a good place for it.

This particular day part of the area was blocked off for the St. Patrick’s Day parade, and one of the musical groups was practicing in Brown’s parking lot. There was still parking for those who wanted to go to Brown’s, and on a normal day there would be more than enough parking for anyone who was thinking about coming here.

Fassler Hall
421 N.W. 10th St.

North entrance to Fassler Hall

North entrance to Fassler Hall (from Park Pl.)

Just east of Brown’s Bakery is a relatively new bowling alley, and above the bowling alley on the second floor is Fassler Hall, a restaurant fashioned after a Bavarian beer hall. The main dining area is an outdoor patio with picnic tables, although you can get out of the elements if necessary.

Fassler Hall's outdoor patio

Fassler Hall’s outdoor patio

The menu at Fassler Hall is pretty simple. It specializes in bratwurst and sausages (according to one of the employees who explained the menu to me). There is somewhat of a variety of dishes, including schnitzel and a vegetarian sausage (which I understand is made of falafel). Of course all of these items go well with beer (at least this seems to be the consensus of the diners here).

From Tenth Street the restaurant is located up a flight of stairs, but it is at street level from Park Place (the street that runs between 10th and 11th). There is also parking off of Park Place, including several handicapped spaces.

Bleu Garten
301 N.W. 10th St.

Bleu Garten is Oklahoma City’s first food truck court, with a rotating schedule of food trucks that come daily (see their web site for the schedule).

Bleu Garten entrance

Bleu Garten entrance

The official entrance to Bleu Garten is on Tenth Street, but parking is located in the back.  There are covered areas to sit near the entrance, but they are not enclosed.  The trucks are out in the open.  There is a drink bar with restrooms operated by the food court (all of this is covered).  Thus you can eat in a covered open air area, but the trucks themselves are not covered.

Some of the trucks at Bleu Garten

St. Paddy Cakes and Snow S’more trucks

I saw five trucks, and from their web site this seemed to be about the usual number that were parked here. I thought the St. Paddy Cakes truck was a special one for St. Patrick’s Day (when I went), but it turned out to be one in their regular rotation.

I did not see any Asian food here (something I was somewhat expecting), and I was a little surprised that there were only five in total. There are actually a lot more that come here but the schedule is rotating.

Note: The Bleu Garten web site indicates that as of July 2016 they have made some changes. I now see a lunch schedule only on Friday through Sunday, and dinner is Tuesday through Saturday.

Packard’s New American Kitchen
201 N.W. 10th St.

Packard's

Packard’s New American Kitchen

One block east of Bleu Garten is Packard’s New American Kitchen, an upscale restaurant popular for its steaks and other (New) American dishes. Some say it has the best rooftop dining in town. It seems to be considered as one of the city’s better restaurants.

Tamashii Ramen
321 N.W. 8th St.

Tamashii Ramen in Oklahoma City

Tamashii Ramen in Oklahoma City

Tamashii, located in an almost abandoned neighborhood a couple of blocks from Midtown’s main drag, is the restaurant where I wish I could have eaten but I did not have time on this trip. I have heard excellent things about their ramen, and a restaurant like this is one sure sign that OKC has arrived as a “foodie” city.

Reviews indicated that a special spicy ramen is the best item if you like spicy food.  Otherwise, the tonkatsu is very good.

The restaurant is small, and is a place you come for the food and not the atmosphere. Since the area is largely vacant I think this will make it fairly easy to come here and be able to find parking.

The hours posted on the door are as follows:

Tue 11-2 and 5-9
Wed 11-2 and 5-9
Thu 11-2 and 5-9
Fri 11-2 and 5-10:30
Sat 11-2 and 5-10:30
Sun 11-3

Gigglez
1016 N. Walker Ave.

Gigglez

Gigglez

Returning to the northwest, I passed by this rather unusual restaurant and comedy club (although in the daytime it is simply a restaurant). It actually has a highly regarded chef who brought an Asian twist to the food, although the menu is largely American. This looks like a place that would be interesting to try.

Gogo Sushi Express
432 N.W. 10th St.

Gogo Sushi Express

Gogo Sushi Express and Grill

This restaurant is right next door to Gigglez, and it offers Bento boxes in addition to sushi. Most reviewers say it is a bargain, with good Japanese food at reasonable prices (at least at lunch). According to Yelp it is open 11 am to 9 pm Mon-Thu, open until 10 pm on Fri, and closed Sat & Sun.

McNellie’s Public House
1100 Classen Dr.

On the opposite side of the traffic circle from Gogo Sushi is where Classen Drive angles to the northwest. On the east side of Classen Dr. is the old Plaza Shopping Center that is now a “restaurant row.” At the south end of the center is McNellie’s Public House.  Being St. Patrick’s Day when I visited, McNellie’s seemed to be the number one hot spot near downtown Oklahoma City. The concept here is an Irish pub, and I have to say that this is another place I would like to try if I get the chance.

Other Restaurants

Traffic circle at N.W. 10th and Walker

View to the east from the traffic circle

Also in this complex is the Prairie Thunder Baking Company (1114 Classen Dr.) and Irma’s Burger Shack (1120 Classen Dr.). Most of the restaurants listed here (and several others) are within a short walking distance from each other, and provide an excellent choice of cuisines, price points, and choice of fast lunch spots or more leisurely restaurants. Bleu Garten and Packard’s are the outliers, being located closer to Broadway than to Walker. Still, though, they are within a half mile of Saint Anthony’s Hospital (the largest building in the Midtown area).

Midtown has seen a dramatic increase of restaurants and other businesses in the past few years. I give credit to Brown’s Bakery (and others) for sticking it out through the good and the bad times, and I am sorry that Boulevard Cafeteria is no longer there, but the restaurants that have moved in have been a definite improvement to the area.

Filipino Food Revisited

In my previous post Filipino Food in Oklahoma City I asked a question that had been discussed on the Chowhound web site: “Why are there so few Filipino restaurants in the United States” (and at the time there were none in Oklahoma City).

The Chowhound site I referenced asked whether Filipino food was embarrassing (in other words, Filipino people might be more interested in blending into American culture and eating other people’s foods than in opening restaurants serving their own food). The article rightly asserted that Filipino food is very good, and that there should be more Filipino restaurants in the cities that have a large Filipino ethnic population (which are most cities in the U.S.).

I recently saw a program on Create TV that I believe provides some answers. An episode of Lucky Chow focusing on “Filipino Entrepreneurs” included an interview with P.J. Quesada, founder of the Filipino Food Movement. He agreed that Filipino food has not been as popular in the United States as one would think, and suggested the following as possible reasons:

  1. Filipinos came to the U.S. already speaking English, so they were able to assimilate more easily than other ethnic groups.
  2. Filipinos did not promote their food properly. One aspect of this is that there are a number of regional food styles in the Philippines. Immigrants from one region came to the U.S. and cooked their own style of food, but were not big promoters of  other styles of Filipino food.
  3. Americans are poorly educated about Filipino food. Much of it has to do with Filipino food having Spanish terms that mean something different than in other cuisines. In general it is hard for Americans to understand what the Filipino dishes are.

The first point is actually similar to the theory postulated in the Chowhound article on Filipino restaurants. Filipino immigrants quickly became Americanized, and did not go through the kind of adjustment that other groups had to do.

One of these adjustments might be the ethnic restaurants that serve as meeting places and social gatherings for immigrant groups as much as a place where these people like the food. I am speculating about this, but I will say that the points that Mr. Quesada made sound as plausible as anything I have heard about why there are not more Filipino restaurants.

At the same time, though, some people are trying to change things. The Lucky Chow program visited two restaurants in the Bay Area that prove that Filipino food can be successful in the United States.  One in San Mateo, California called Jeepney serves traditional Filipino food, and like most similar restaurants has customers making a special effort to go there in order to enjoy this type of food.

A second restaurant in San Mateo called Attic has its mission as serving a type of Filipino fusion that would be popular with Americans. It has modernized the food and makes it with local ingredients. The local ingredients in California are different than in the Philippines, but the experience is the same since the Filipino way of cooking uses locally sourced products as much as possible.

I am especially interested in ethnic cuisine, and I think it helps to understand the food when I visit a restaurant. I definitely feel that this episode of Lucky Chow provides some good insight into Filipino food in the U.S.

I believe that the “Filipino Food Movement” is gaining momentum, and will become more and more apparent in areas other than just the San Francisco Bay Area.


Oklahoma City Filipino Food Updates:

Chibugan Filipino Cuisine opened in April 2016, and is the first of what looks like a new trend in Filipino food in the Oklahoma City area.  The address is 4728 S.E. 29th St., Del City, OK. (Open Tue-Sat and lunch on Sunday).

Filipino Fusion food truck started operating in August 2016. The truck goes to various locations in Oklahoma City and Edmond, and may add more locations later.