A La Heart Cafe–Oklahoma City, OK

A La Heart Cafe
4050 W. Memorial Rd.
Oklahoma City, OK
(405) 608-3200
Oklahoma Heart Hospital

Oklahoma Heart Hospital North Campus


I am willing to look in unconventional places for good food, and a number of on-line reviews led me to try the cafeteria in the Heart Hospital in far north Oklahoma City (located just east of Mercy Hospital).

I had once done a pretty thorough sampling of the hospital food in El Paso, Texas, finding at the time that only Sierra Hospital made my “return visit” list (and this was because of their Mexican food).  Hospital cafeterias are a good way to save money, and if you can find good food to go along with it this can be a good choice.

A La Heart Cafe inside the hospital

A La Heart Cafe is located just inside the entrance

The short answer about A La Heart Cafe is that there is reason for the good reviews. Not only did I like the food, but there is a very good selection of items. Much of it is geared toward hospital employees who need to eat on the run, but many of the items are more on the gourmet side (although already prepared and ready to eat when you get there).

A La Heart has a changeable menu, with certain days of the week being “Mexican,” “Italian,” or “Asian” days. The soups, sandwiches, and salads, though, seem to be constant, and do not change from day to day. A La Heart publishes their daily menu on the Internet.

Some of my family has tried the Mexican food from the cafe on the “Mexican” day, and advised me against ordering it (mostly knowing that I would be disappointed after having the El Paso version).

I will also make the disclosure that I purposely tried A La Heart on a day when they served chicken pot pie, knowing that this would likely be one of my favorite items here.

Chicken Pot Pie

Iced tea, chicken pot pie, minestrone, and cobbler

Iced tea, chicken pot pie, minestrone, and cobbler

The Chicken Pot Pie was not only good, but I would say it exceeded my expectations. Visually it was similar to the frozen pot pies you get at the grocery store, but the one here was freshly made, full of flavor, and was not loaded with salt. The good thing about this is that it was “normal food” (and not, as I had feared, something devoid of flavor so as to be “healthy”). The only thing this was missing was the “processed” flavor that you get in the store-bought pot pies, and to me this is a very good thing.

Pot Roast
I did not try the Pot Roast myself, but I was told it was excellent, and should be on the “best items” list (and it is so listed). If you are expecting meat and vegetables mixed together, be advised that they sell the potatoes and vegetables separately (the entire serving with vegetables was about $5).

Minestrone Soup
I also liked the Minestrone Soup, which I thought was a little on the spicy side (it’s better to have too much flavor than to have too little). Like the pot pie, it seemed to be freshly made and healthy without tasting like “hospital food” that was prepared for patients on a special diet.

15 Bean Soup
The 15 Bean Soup was also quite good, but like the minestrone only comes in one size (about double what I consider as a normal soup serving). Again, this does not taste like typical hospital food.

Side Dishes
I am just beginning to compile a list of items I have tried, but the Mashed Potatoes were quite good. I would rate them as having an excellent flavor and texture. The only thing that was somewhat of a miss was the gravy (brown gravy) that I thought could have been more flavorful.

The Peas and Carrots did not have much salt or flavor. The first part I liked, because I can add my own salt if needed (but it really was not needed). The flavor was actually all right, just not as robust as some that are probably less healthy (I am just making an assumption here).

Green Beans had a good texture and were not too crunchy. I give them a good rating for the flavor.

Salads
A La Heart has a salad bar in which you take whatever you want, and they charge you according to how much it weighs. I wasn’t sure how expensive this would turn out to be, but it was reasonably priced, and I would not hesitate to “load up”

Not all of the salad items were very memorable, but I did like the Three Bean Salad very much.

Desserts
The Cobbler I ordered was not one of the most special ones I have ever tried, but it was fine, and like the other items, did not break the bank.

The Chocolate Cake was also good, but of course is not like the one you will get at La Baguette. It is also a lot cheaper than La Baguette (and makes a satisfying dessert).

Recommendations
If you are coming here strictly for the food (and you will likely be in good company), check their on-line menu.  The main items change daily, and my family has found that some are better than others.  Although it is a cafeteria, some of the items (such as the chicken pot pie) really exceed what you would think you would get in a cafeteria, and are more like restaurant food.

I was not sure if they would run out of the “special items” quickly, but apparently they prepare an adequate supply, and keep serving the food until closing time (which I think is 10:00 PM).


RATING: 21

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

Most Recent Visit: May 1, 2017
Number of Visits: 3
Best Items: Chicken Pot Pie, Pot Roast

Special Ratings
star 5 Chicken Pot Pie
star 5 Minestrone Soup
star 5 15 Bean Soup
star 5 Green Beans
star 4 Three Bean Salad
star 4 Chocolate Cake
star 4 Cobbler

Abuelo’s–Oklahoma City, OK

Abuelo’s Mexican Food Embassy
3001 W. Memorial Rd.
Oklahoma City, OK
(405) 755-2680
Abuelo's in north OKC

Abuelo’s on Memorial Rd.


Abuelo’s is now a chain with restaurants in several states (and two in OKC), but I first knew it as a local restaurant in Lubbock, Texas. I was not very impressed with its style of Tex-Mex food, nor did my opinion change when I first ate at the Oklahoma City restaurant in 2003.

Things changed pretty radically, though, when I returned in 2015. I had seen some reviews of the Lubbock restaurant in Texas Monthly that gave me an idea that Abuelo’s had in fact changed for the better. I discovered later that it actually changed before 2003, but I was still focusing on their “old standbys” when I went there at that time.

The interior of the Memorial Road Abuelo’s had a major transformation between 2003 and 2015, and I now find it to be one of the most comfortable dining rooms in the city (they have an abundance of booths, which is normally where I like to sit). The restaurant is not too loud (probably because it has a high ceiling), and along with the service I have gotten I consider this an excellent place to come.

My experiences previously in Lubbock and in 2003 at this location made me reluctant to ever come back (plus, you are eating chain restaurant food). The bland Tex-Mex style of food I had at previous times may still exist, but it is not the way I would describe what I have tasted on recent visits (and this includes some of their Tex-Mex items).

Set-Ups

Chips and salsa

Chips with three types of salsa

The Salsa seems to be one area where the restaurant has improved in recent years. Three types of salsa are served, ranging from spicy to decidedly non-spicy (all were good, but the mild green salsa was not very exciting). The Chips were good, and they provided free refills of both chips and salsa.

Salads

Lighter Reynosa salad

Lighter Reynosa salad

Some of the salads on the menu are actually a meal, such as the Lighter Reynosa Salad from the appetizer menu or its larger counterpart. I had a taste of it, and it proved to be fresh and flavorful (not a description I ascribe to many Mexican salads in Oklahoma City). To me the melted yellow cheese confirms that it is actually a main dish and not a salad, but it could really go either way.

Carnitas Tacos

Carnitas tacos

Carnitas tacos

Some Texas Monthly reviews persuaded me to try Abuelo’s after a long hiatus, and one dish they recommended was the Carnitas Tacos. This turned out to be quite a good pick, with a flavorful Mexican style citrus taste. These reminded me of the tacos al pastor at Abel’s (and other places), but I would say with not quite as good of a flavor for the meat. This is just because of my preference for the pastor meat, while carnitas remind me somewhat of a pork roast (when you really want a heavy meat dinner).

Chicken Medallions

Chicken medallions

Chicken medallions

The Chicken Medallions were an item I had seen recommended by some diners at the Lubbock restaurant, and this was another dish which demonstrated how Abuelo’s has improved on its original Tex-Mex menu. This photo demonstrates that it has a number of components, with the flaky crust around the chicken probably being the most noticeable. I thought the cheese sauce enhanced the dish, and the potatoes and black beans were both very good (although maybe not the top ones I have had in OKC). I think that authentic Mexican dishes are not characterized by this much cheese, but it was enjoyable (and may even be described as an upscale Tex-Mex dish).

New Mexico Style Green Chile

New Mexico style green sauce

New Mexico style green sauce

Another tip I had seen about Abuelo’s was that they are now serving some New Mexico style dishes, with red and green sauce. The stacked enchiladas I ordered in 2003 came with red sauce which may have been Tex-Mex or Arizona style, but definitely were not representative of New Mexico. Although I did not want to take a chance on ordering these enchiladas again, the waiter on one visit offered to bring a sample of the New Mexico Style Green Sauce, which I was immediately able to determine was representative of New Mexico chile. Thus I am now unsure whether the New Mexico style dishes are some of their new menu items or whether they have to be special ordered, but at least I know that they are available.

Tex-Mex Food
The only true Tex-Mex item I have tried recently was the Spinach Enchiladas (I just had a sample of them and I didn’t take a photograph). Surprisingly to me, though, they were quite good (I would say better than the chicken medallions but maybe not as good as some other dishes I have eaten). They came with a cream sauce which was not bad, although not at all spicy. I do think that spinach enchiladas are one of the better inventions in the Tex-Mex food category.

Sopapillas

Sopapilla

Sopapilla

Sopapillas cost extra, and were also much better than most of the ones I get for free at other restaurants. This was probably a one time experience, though, because I am usually plenty full from the meal and have little desire for a dessert.

Some Other Notes
Abuelo’s still seems to have its share of forgettable Tex-Mex dishes (this was the only type of food I experienced when I ate at the Lubbock restaurant during the 1990’s and earlier). One key to breaking out of this mold was in reading the Texas Monthly reviews, and I think they were quite on the mark in their recommendations.

The other very helpful factor, though, has been the wait staff at the Memorial Road location, who gave very good recommendations based on what I told them I wanted. Thus it is really not necessary to read the reviews of Abuelo’s (even mine!). Just go, and I think they will help you find the right items.


RATING: 23

Cuisine: Mexican
Cost: $$
Hours: Open daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Full Bar
Additional Locations: 17 E. Sheridan Ave. (Bricktown); Lubbock, TX; other cities in the South and Southwest

Most Recent Visit: Oct. 27, 2016

Number of Visits: 3

Best Items: Carnitas Tacos, Reynosa Salad, Spinach Enchiladas

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 3

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Carnitas Tacos
star 5 Reynosa Salad
star 5 Spinach Enchiladas
star 4 Chicken Medallions
star 3 Stacked Enchiladas
star 5 Papas
star 5 Tortillas
star 4 Salsa
star 4 Chips

Menu (Oct. 2016):