Swadley’s Bar-B-Q–Oklahoma City, OK

Swadley’s Bar-B-Q
2233 W. Memorial Rd.
Oklahoma City, OK
(405) 413-7333
Swadley's on Memorial Rd.

Swadley’s on Memorial Rd.


Swadley’s has expanded recently, and now the locations include Mustang, El Reno, and this one in front of Quail Springs Mall in far north Oklahoma City.  I have been a frequent visitor to the original location in Bethany, and my expectation was that the Memorial Road restaurant would largely reinforce my previous experiences (and this largely turned out to be the case).  Although I like to write reviews of each restaurant based on its own merits, I know that the meat for all Swadley’s restaurants is cooked in a central location, and there is quite a bit of continuity from one location to the others.

I have come to expect a certain level of inconsistency at the Bethany Swadley’s, as is the case with almost all barbecue restaurants (especially the chains).  Swadley’s is good enough that I never feel that I have a bad meal, but I feel that certain details are inconsistent.  At times some of the meats are dry, the vegetables are off, etc., but fortunately this is the exception rather than the rule.

The Barbecue

Two meat platter

Two meat platter with pulled pork and chicken

At the Memorial Road restaurant I ordered a two-meat platter with Pulled Pork and Chicken (meats that are normally good at the Bethany restaurant and that were good here).  In fact, the chicken seemed better than usual, while the pulled pork was as good as usual.  Both were moist and flavorful (but I thought the pork had a better flavor).

On subsequent visits I have ordered the Turkey and the chicken. The turkey was very good, but the chicken was not up to its usual standard (as defined by my visits to the Bethany location). This was significant because it was a takeout order that I got when all the restaurant dining rooms were closed because of the Corona virus. I do not think the food I got on this visit was representative of what they normally serve, but I do think that much of the decline in food quality was because of the distance I went before eating the meal (rather than having it fresh as is the case when you dine in).

Side Dishes
I have found many “inconsistencies” with the vegetables at the various Swadley locations. The Okra here was far better than I have experienced at the Bethany restaurant until I got a takeout order (which was at the low end of the quality scale by the time I got it home). A disclaimer, though, is that even in the restaurant I eat the okra first because it cools off and loses its freshness quite quickly, and it was really a mistake on my part to think I should order this as a carry-out.

The Green Beans here were noticeably spicy, and I just did not care for them as much as at the Bethany location.

The Cole Slaw was better than in Bethany on one visit and on another it seemed too sweet (not the way they usually make it at any of the locations).

The Sweet Beans were really good, as they almost always are at the Bethany restaurant.

I think each Swadley’s restaurant has its own vegetable chef(s), and this accounts for the main variation between restaurants since the meats are largely the same everywhere. Prior to about 2017 I would have said this location had better vegetables than the Bethany restaurant, but Bethany has since upped its game and the vegetables there are quite good now.

Recommendations
My experience over time has been that the ribs, pulled pork, chicken, and turkey are probably the best meats, but I would say really the first two.  These are the same meats I would recommend from almost all the city’s barbecue restaurants (except that most others do not have turkey as good as at Swadley’s).  Swadley’s also has a larger choice of meats than at most restaurants, for those who want to try something different.

Over time I have gone from considering Swadley’s sauce as a negative to thinking it is OK (although not as good as at Billy Sims or some other restaurants).  The thick and juicy sauce is my preference at Swadley’s.

Like the Bethany restaurant, the Memorial Road Swadley’s has good service and a comfortable “family style” dining room.  This sets it apart from many other barbecue restaurants, and is one of the reasons I really like Swadley’s.  I think if you get the ribs, pulled pork, or some of the other meats (depending on your taste) you will be getting a real taste of Oklahoma barbecue.

In recommending Swadley’s I do put some emphasis on side dishes, the comfortable setting, the service, the ice cream machine, and even the tea. I think some restaurants possibly have some meats that are better, but to my taste the differences have been slight and many times I think Swadley’s is just as good. My review of the Bethany restaurant has the complete list of meats and other items I have tried (and I think the food here is very similar to what they serve in Bethany).


RATING: 23

Cuisine: Barbecue
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Sun.
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: No

Most Recent Visit: Apr. 29, 2020
Number of Visits: 3
Best Items: Pulled Pork, Chicken, Turkey, Sweet Beans

Special Ratings
star 5 Pulled Pork
star 5 Chicken
star 5 Turkey
star 5 Okra
star 5 Sweet Beans
star 4 Green Beans
star 4 Cole Slaw

Johnnie’s–The Village, OK

Johnnie’s Charcoal Broiler
2652 W. Britton Rd.
Oklahoma City, OK
(405) 751-2565
Johnnie's on Britton Rd.

Johnnie’s on Britton Rd.


Johnnie’s has become an Oklahoma City institution, bringing the quality of hamburgers to a level found at very few places. The Split-T and The Patio were the first restaurants I can remember that served charcoal broiled hamburgers with hickory sauce. Johnnie’s came along soon afterward, and carries on the tradition today with nine locations in the OKC and Tulsa areas.

The hamburgers at Johnnie’s are cooked over charcoal, giving them a distinct flavor. I do not know why this cooking method has not caught on in many places outside Oklahoma, but it is one of the things I really appreciate about Johnnie’s and some of the other hamburger places in the area.

Even though Oklahoma is known for charcoal broiled hamburgers, I have not found any other restaurant that does it as well as Johnnie’s (except for places such as Split-T that were my favorites while growing up). My travels around the country have so far demonstrated that Johnnie’s is not only very good, but also unique in offering the type and quality of burger that is served here. Many places in Oklahoma City come close, but I still think Johnnie’s is the best.

Since I started publishing my own personal ratings of restaurants, there has been a dilemma about how to rate my favorite hamburger, pizza, barbecue, taco, and other casual and downscale restaurants that certainly do not qualify as “fine dining,” but have their own place in my personal “food chain.” Johnnie’s is not one of the city’s most elegant restaurants, but it is one of the ones I would most miss if it were gone.

Burgers

Hamburger with Johnnie's sauce

Hamburger with Johnnie’s sauce

Johnnie’s offers salads, sandwiches, and deli favorites (such as turkey and cranberry) but to me the hamburgers and fries are the reason to go. Although several toppings are available for the burgers, Johnnie’s Sauce is the one I have always enjoyed. Cooked each day on the stove for about five hours, this hickory sauce is made with a secret blend of ingredients, and can be purchased for take-home. I would say this sauce is a must try, and it can be ordered on the side for those who wish to try it. I usually prefer mustard to tomato based sauces, but Johnnie’s Sauce is of such superior quality it can only be compared to a high quality barbecue sauce.

The meat patties are made with chuck, and are higher quality than the average hamburger. The sauce, the charcoal broiling, and the meat all seem to be key ingredients in making this such a good burger.

I have also enjoyed the buns with sesame seeds on top as much as any other part of the burger.

Veggie burger with Johnnie's Sauce and fries

Veggie burger with Johnnie’s Sauce and fries

Many times I get as much enjoyment out of a veggie burger as the meat patty, mainly because I order them with Johnnie’s Sauce (but customers can also get mustard or mayonnaise if they wish). I am sure there are better quality veggie burgers than the ones here, but out of the ones I have tried in the Southwest, I like the ones served at Johnnie’s the best. Honestly, though, I would like just about anything that had Johnnie’s Sauce on it.

Other Menu Items
Johnnie’s offers some other choices if you are not in the mood for a burger. One popular item is the Frankfurter with chili and cheese, similar to the coney hot dogs served at many of the local hamburger restaurants. The frankfurter seemed to be better quality than most, with more meat and less “filler” than many hot dogs, as well as a good flavor. The chili, though, was disappointing compared to the “other” Johnnie’s in El Reno (which I think is the best). This is Texas style chili (not New Mexico chile that is much spicier and either red or green colored).

Johnnie’s menu includes several sandwiches, salads, and other items, and I have tried several of them at the Northwest Expressway location. The one I liked best was the grilled chicken breast sandwich.

Side Dishes
The french fries are almost addictive with just the right amount of grease. The large order is probably appropriate only for a family with hungry kids (if you can eat an order by yourself, I would seriously worry about you!).

Baked beans are a healthier side dish, and just about as good as the fries. Because of tradition, though, I usually order the fries.

Drinks
The Iced Tea is very good, partly because the crystal clear ice is much better than the ice I can make at home from tap water.

When I really need a Milk Shake (such as after a visit to the dentist or other traumatic experiences) I head to Johnnie’s. As strange as it may sound, the milk shake even goes well with a hamburger (I tried it myself just to make sure I could make this statement). I think the one here is better than at Braum’s, but others are welcome to make their own taste test.

Desserts
My favorite dessert is the Blackberry Cobbler, but I must make the disclosure that I have only tried it at the Northwest Expressway location.

Summing It Up
The hamburgers are not very expensive for the quality you get, but if you order any side dishes Johnnie’s becomes just about as expensive as going to a typical restaurant. In my opinion, though, it is certainly an experience that is worth it.

I think Johnnie’s is something that everyone should experience if at all possible while in the OKC area. The Number 5 hamburger with Johnnie’s sauce is probably the restaurant’s most popular item, but either a burger with some other sauce or any other item with Johnnie’s sauce would still be worth trying (especially the veggie burger).

In addition I should add that this (the Britton Road) location has usually given the most satisfying experience to me because of the consistency of the food and the fact that the dining room seems more comfortable than at the other locations. The other locations are usually very good, but this is the restaurant where I can really count on everything being just as I expect them to be. Update 2020: Johnnie’s Express is also a location that I find to have especially satisfying hamburgers.


RATING: 24

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

Most Recent Visit: Apr. 11, 2020
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Hamburger, Veggie Burger, French Fries, Milk Shake, Tea

Special Ratings
star 5 Hamburger
star 5 Veggie Burger
star 4 Frankfurter with Chili and Cheese
star 5 French Fries
star 5 Baked Beans

Menu (May 2017):