Route 66 at the Texas-Oklahoma Border

I believe that something almost as important as the meals I enjoy and write about are the journeys to get to these various places (and in some cases this really seems to be even more important).

One such journey which has interested me since the days of my youth is the iconic one along Route 66 (U.S. Highway 66) which was gradually replaced by Interstate 40. My family made frequent trips from Oklahoma City to New Mexico to visit relatives as well enjoy the cooler summer temperatures in the mountains, and as a result I witnessed much of the transformation of this roadway to the way it is at present.

The sections of Route 66 which still exist have become quite an attraction for tourists, as well as the entire experience of 1950’s and 1960’s era travel which a growing number of entrepreneurs are savvy enough to try to replicate for visitors today.

I can say with a high degree of certainty that the original sections of Route 66 which still exist are not there by design, but just happened to survive due to various circumstances. I found a couple of examples of this on a recent trip on Interstate 40 at the Texas-Oklahoma border. Through some old maps that I have as well as ones I found on the Internet I have developed somewhat of a timeline for the history of this section of Route 66, but I also have memories of it from traveling in my parents’ station wagon on many of our family trips.

 

Wheeler County, Texas Just West of the Oklahoma State line

From Exit 176 eastbound in Wheeler Co., TX into Texola, OK

South frontage road of I-40 at mile 176 in Wheeler Co, TX

South frontage road of I-40 at mile 176 in Wheeler Co, TX

When I saw this section of road I suspected immediately that it was an original segment of Route 66, and a check of the old maps has confirmed that this is the case. This particular section of road is accessible if you take the Texola exit from Interstate 40 eastbound at Exit 176 in Texas.

This was the original Route 66 from the 1930’s and 1940’s, and now seems far too narrow to have functioned as a two-lane high speed highway, although I know that this was the case. Probably the biggest difference in that time period had to do with the size and number of trucks operating on the highway, but even for cars this seems like a narrow road.

A 1961 map of Wheeler County from the Texas Highway Department shows that this had become the eastbound portion of a now 4-lane divided highway. It is interesting that they developed this portion of the road to a 4-lane version of Highway 66 while the Interstate highway is in development (and was open in 1972 for the entire length of Wheeler County except for the loop around the city of Shamrock which was under construction at that time).

What seemed to save this portion of the roadway was the fact that a Texas law said any property owner along a roadway (including US highways) could have access to the roadway. When limited access highways were developed, including Interstate highways, they had to build frontage roads to provide the property owners’ access mandated by state law. With Texas being an ever so frugal and conservative state, they decided that the existing roadway (the old Route 66) would make an excellent frontage road. In Shamrock, where the new Interstate highway bypassed the city, the old Highway 66 is still in its form as it was in the 1960’s (a four-lane divided highway) now known as Business Route 40.

 

Texola, Oklahoma

The farthest west town in Oklahoma along the old Route 66

Route 66 in Texola, OK

Route 66 in Texola, OK

According the the old highway maps which are available for download at the ODOT web site, this section of Route 66 in Oklahoma was widened to four lanes in 1958, and served as the main highway until 1976 when this section of Interstate 40 was completed. Much of the existing Route 66 in Oklahoma today is this same type of four-lane highway, particularly through cities and towns. Because the Interstate largely did not go through the center of towns in western Oklahoma, this left large portions of Route 66 intact and this is another very good place to explore the old road.

Businesses along Route 66 in Texola

Businesses along Route 66 in Texola

Texola has a few businesses along Route 66 which seem to cater mainly to tourists. I was there late in the day and probably after their closing time, but I did see a few cars parked in front (I think they probably get more business during the day).

Texola is a good example of much of the 1960’s version of Route 66, but the south frontage road of Interstate 40 in Wheeler County Texas was of great interest to me as being an original section of the highway from the 1940’s and earlier.

Swadley’s Bar-B-Q–Bethany, OK

Swadley’s Bar-B-Q
4000 N. Rockwell Ave.
Bethany, OK
(405) 470-4343
Swadley's BBQ

Swadley’s in Bethany a half block south of Route 66


It seems that there are enough versions of barbecue in Oklahoma that one person can never try all of them, but a few restaurants have become particularly popular such as Swadley’s Bar-B-Q. With the original location in the west Oklahoma City suburb of Bethany, Swadley’s moved from NW 23rd & Council to NW 39th Expressway & Rockwell and has established several branches throughout the metro. It seems that the family’s 80 years of experience in the food industry is paying off (Swadley’s celebrated its 20 year anniversary as a restaurant in 2018).

I really dislike restaurants that answer “everything” when you ask “what is especially good here?” or “what is the restaurant’s specialty?”. The employees at Swadley’s told me “ribs,” and I would agree that this is usually the best item. I have found several varieties of meat that are worthy substitutes, though, and for most occasions I think I actually like them better. In this respect Swadley’s is among a handful of barbecue restaurants in the city that offer such a variety of good choices.

In need to make a couple of comments about Swadley’s at the outset. One is that I have found the quality to be inconsistent over the time I have been coming, and this is undoubtedly what has caused many reviewers and commenters to largely dismiss the barbecue here as not being representative of Oklahoma’s best. I will say that I understand this sentiment, but I have found the quality to be much more consistent in the last couple of years (as of this writing in 2019). Some of my friends and relatives from out of town have come here and found it outstanding, as have I. It still has some weak points, but I have not found inconsistent quality to be one of them on the last several visits.

Another major point is that the side dishes have always been a major factor in my desire to come here versus other choices that might be available. For a while this was inconsistent as well, although the Memorial Road restaurant seemed to keep the consistency while it was lacking at the Bethany location. Now, though, I consider this problem to be “fixed” as well, at least in my experience. No place is perfect, but it is always better to have an upward trajectory, as I believe this one has.

The Barbecue

Rib dinner

Small order of ribs

Swadley’s menu describes the Ribs as “Hand Rubbed Honey Rib Dinners,” and I thought the flavor was one of the best I had tried. Three types of sauce were available, but before applying any of them I tried the “eating the meat plain” test to see if the flavor was worthy of standing on its own, and it passed with flying colors. I thought it had just the right amount of smoke flavor, but it seems that everyone has their own preference, so this is just my opinion. The meat left a smoky aftertaste in my mouth after the meal was finished, but did not overwhelm the other flavors while I was eating the food.

The really important factor of the ribs, though, was the tenderness of the meat (and this is even more of a factor now that my teeth are no longer in the best shape). This is the one thing I most often find lacking in ribs, especially in other parts of the country (but sometimes even in Oklahoma). I would have to judge Swadley’s ribs as being just about perfect in every way, although this does not mean I could not find others (especially in Oklahoma) that are as good or better.

Ribs. sausage, and brisket

Three meat dinner with ribs, sausage, and brisket

Brisket is probably the next most popular item at Swadley’s. This meat is “24 Hour Sugar Cured” and while it is not meat that will fall apart when touched by a fork, it has the kind of barbecue flavor that would be expected in a good Oklahoma “Q” restaurant. The brisket, though, has shown the greatest variability of any item over the times I have tried it, ranging from moist to dry. This, along with the hot links, has been my biggest disappointment at Swadley’s.

One way to try different types of meat at Swadleys’s is by ordering the “2 Meat” or “3 Meat” dinners (as shown in the photo above). One surprise for me was that Swadley’s has excellent Turkey, which I tried on one of the plates. In this case I thought Swadley’s was better than most other BBQ restaurants that serve turkey. When ordering turkey I do not like too much smoky taste, and I thought Swadley’s was just right, as well as having very good meat.

Sausage was one of the choices on the 3 Meat dinner shown in the photo (and is barely visible under the ribs). This choice was not very exciting, not because there was anything wrong with it, but because I prefer the sausage at the German and other specialty restaurants.

Sampler plate

Sampler plate with turkey, sausage, brisket, hot links, ribs, and pulled pork

Take out orders are quite popular at Swadley’s, and one that offers a large variety of meats is the sampler plate with six items (shown in the photo above). The Pulled Pork, which I tried for the first time with this order, was cooked well with burnt ends, and I thought was excellent. The turkey was as good as it had been the first time I tried it. The Hot Links seemed too spicy to me, and I thought were not as enjoyable as the sausage.

Pulled pork and chicken

Two meat plate with pulled pork and chicken

For a while I had a turkey fixation that seems to have kept me from trying the Chicken, but now the chicken is an almost constant part of any two or three meat dinner because of its excellent flavor.

Pulled Pork has become another one of my “top three” choices (along with chicken and ribs), although unlike the others I think it is really only good with the sauce.

I have not cared for the Sauce as much as at some other restaurants, but there are several varieties so most people can find something to their taste. I think some of the sauces are way too sweet, but the thick and juicy sauce is really pretty good. Best of all, though, is the fact that none of the sauces seem to contain MSG (and I have had enough experience with the sauces that I should know by now if they did).

They provide several types of pickles and other condiments to make sure you have the full Oklahoma barbecue experience.

Side Dishes
Swadley’s serves an array of side dishes which makes it difficult to try them all, and I think this is another of the restaurant’s best features. Baked Beans come in two styles– sweet or hot (I was told the hot one was really hot with jalapenos included, but it was not any spicier than most Mexican food). The sweet baked beans were initially sweet for my taste, but now it has become one of my “go to” side dishes (although I really think the ones at Billy Sims are better).

The Okra was extremely non-greasy compared to most versions, and I think is one of the best choices for a side dish (but it needs to be eaten right away and would not make a good take-home dish).

The Green Beans seemed bland to me at first but now have become a consistent favorite of mine (and bland is good compared to the things some restaurants do to their green beans).

The Potato Salad looks as if it is mostly mayonnaise, but it has a good blend of flavors that makes it better than it looks.

Corn on the Cob was cooked just right, and I thought was very good.

The Cole Slaw either comes with chunky pieces of cabbage and a very good dressing (this is something that I think has become more consistently good over the past ten years or so).

Other Items
The Iced Tea is especially good, with both sweetened and unsweetened available (at one time I saw that they used Luzianne–I do not know the current brand but it is still good).

The restaurant recently switched from Texas toast to a roll on the dinner plates. I liked the Texas toast better, but the current roll is still a good feature to help round out the meal.

Turkey sandwich

Turkey sandwich

The owner pointed out on one visit that sandwiches are popular at lunch, and this may be a way for people with a light appetite to enjoy the food here (the sampler plate and some other combination plates seem clearly designed for families rather than individuals).

Ice cream machine

Free ice cream is available from the machine

A free Ice Cream Cone machine is also available. Even though this type of ice cream from a machine is not the best, I really enjoy it as part of the tradition of eating at Swadley’s. My biggest complaint is that I always have to ask the staff which side of the machine is vanilla and which is chocolate (I like the vanilla).

Chocolate cake

Chocolate cake

Occasionally a person may prefer one of the regular desserts, such as chocolate or strawberry cake. Out of the two I think the chocolate is a little better, although both are good choice.

A Summary
Overall I think I like the meals here better than the individual parts of it, simply because there is so much selection and all of it is good. I don’t have proof of this, but it also seems that the servings are larger here than at other places (for the same amount of money). This is good Oklahoma barbecue, about which I really have no complaints.


RATING: 24

Cuisine: Barbecue
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Sun.
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: No
Additional Locations: 8317 S. Western Ave. (OKC), 2233 W. Memorial Rd. (OKC), 308 E. Hwy. 152 (Mustang), 1629 E. OK-66 (El Reno)

Most Recent Visit: Jan. 10, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Ribs, Pulled Pork, Chicken, Okra, Green Beans, Cole Slaw, Potato Salad, Chocolate Cake

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Pork Ribs
star 5 Pulled Pork
star 5 Chicken
star 5 Turkey
star 4 Brisket
star 4 Hot Links
star 4 Sausage
star 5 Potato Salad
star 5 Cole Slaw
star 5 Green Beans
star 5 Okra
star 5 Sweet Beans
star 4 Spicy Beans
star 4 Mac and Cheese
star 5 Chocolate Cake
star 5 Strawberry Cake

Ding–Bethany, OK

Ding Asian Fusion
6400 N.W. 39th Expressway
Bethany, OK
(405) 603-8858
Ding Asian Fusion

Ding Asian Fusion in Bethany


Ding Asian Fusion has been in operation since the summer of 2016, but in this time it has already gone through a transformation (and fortunately seems to have survived intact). It started out as the latest venture of Szechuan Bistro, a popular Chinese restaurant on Memorial Road near Edmond. It so happened, though, that while visiting Szechuan Bistro in 2018 I talked to the man who I learned was the “former” manager at Ding, and learned that their former satellite restaurant was now independent and had new owners. This put into perspective, though, a visit I made to Ding a short time earlier where Ding seemed to be in a parallel time line–most things were as I thought they should be, but certain details were “off” (such as the expressions on employees’ faces when I asked them questions about Szechuan Bistro thinking that this was still their parent restaurant).

I should point out that being an offshoot of Szechuan Bistro gave immediate credibility to the food here, and I was happy to have the same food in a different location. It was not exactly the same in the sense that Ding made the default spiciness at a lower level than the same dishes would be at Szechuan Bistro if you just ordered from the menu and did not specify a spice level. In addition there was a list of more authentic “whiteboard specials” from Szechuan Bistro that they eventually incorporated into the regular menu while Ding never offered them on either the menu or as a special.

Ding's interior

Ding’s comfortable dining room

Ding was more of a “fusion” concept, serving sushi and Thai fried rice (I do not know if these are still available). The menu items I saw at Ding in 2018 still looked much like the ones at Szechuan Bistro, with mostly Sichuan style dishes along with a few that are definitely more “safe” for some people (chow mein, moo goo gai pan, etc.). A synopsis of this is that the Ding menu of 2018 was still very similar to the Szechuan Bistro of two years previous, but in that time Szechuan Bistro has expanded their choices to include many items which used to be listed as whiteboard specials.

The ambiance at Ding follows Szechuan Bistro’s upscale concept, prices are good, and lunch specials come with soup and rice (the hot and sour soup here is definitely among the best in OKC). When I ate here in 2018 I still thought I was eating at a Szechuan Bistro restaurant, based on the flavor of the food. I think Ding has a good beginning which they are continuing with new owners and mangers, but it is essentially the same food.

Shredded Pork in Garlic Sauce
I believe the main difference between Szechuan Bistro and Ding is that the latter has a more limited choice of items that I consider to have an authentic flavor. I used my past experience, though, to order the Shredded Pork in Garlic Sauce from the lunch menu on my first visit to Ding.

Shredded pork in garlic sauce

Lunch portion of shredded pork in garlic sauce

This turned out to be a great choice for lunch although at the time garlic was not an issue (I have already determined that I do not want to book a dentist appointment after eating this dish). The sauce was very well balanced and not too sweet. The vegetables were crispy and flavorful, and overall this makes a great lunch for me.

The ironic thing about this dish is that it serves as a replacement for what was my original favorite Chinese dish in Oklahoma City–the shredded pork at Lotus Mandarin (which was located on 38th Street a couple of blocks from where Ding is now located in the adjacent city of Warr Acres). So if there are any other “old timers” out there who enjoyed Lotus Mandarin as I did, I would recommend checking out Ding. (The flavors of Ding really remind me of Lotus Mandarin, except that I think Ding offers a greater variety of authentic Chinese dishes).

Kung Pao Chicken

Kung pao chicken

Lunch portion of kung pao chicken

The Kung Pao Chicken is another excellent choice, and has the authentic flavor without as much garlic (at least I think there is less garlic). The difference here is that it includes chunks of garlic that you can either choose to eat or not. The chicken is white meat, and there is a generous portion of celery and bell peppers, as well as red chiles. The sauce was very flavorful, but I think it was made more so by the fact that I asked for the dish to be made more spicy (the extra spice seemed to add a smoky flavor that made the sauce even more interesting in terms of flavor). The dish itself was not extremely spicy, but this is because I generally refrain from biting in to the red chiles.

I was a little disappointed in the number of peanuts that were included and the fact that it did not have any bamboo shoots, but overall I thought this was an excellent dish with a much better than average flavor. This dish was served after the ownership change at the restaurant, but the flavor seemed like the “old” Ding which was essentially the same as Szechuan Bistro (although less spicy).

Hot and Sour Soup

Hot and sour soup

Hot and sour soup

This is one of the soup choices available, and is the one I recommend if you like spicy food (although I don’t think the soup here is as spicy as at Szechuan Bistro).

A Note About the Spicy Sichuan Dishes
Ding has chiles on the menu next to spicy items–either one, two, or three chiles. The shredded pork in garlic sauce has one chile, which I found to be barely noticeable on the spice level. This is fine with me, because I liked the dish, but I just want to make the comment that a dish with one chile is barely spicy at all (and many menu items have no chiles).

While I think the flavor of Ding matches Szechuan Bistro, the spice level apparently does not. So far I think the “new” Ding has continued the same food they have had from the beginning, so I continue to be happy that a very good Chinese choice can be found in the Bethany area.


RATING: 24

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

Most Recent Visit: Oct. 24, 2018
Number of Visits: 2
Best Items: Shredded Pork in Garlic Sauce, Kung Pao Chicken

 

Asian Food Details

Tea: Jasmine/ Iced Tea
MSG: Yes
Buffet: No

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Shredded Pork in Garlic Sauce
star 5 Kung Pao Chicken
star 5 Hot and Sour Soup

 

Menu (Dec. 2016):

 

Hibachi Buffet–Weatherford, OK

Hibachi Buffet
1231 E. Main St.
Weatherford, OK
(580) 772-2408
Hibachi Buffet

Hibachi Buffet


One of my favorite stops along Interstate 40 used to be Young China Restaurant in downtown Weatherford. The food tasted more like what I would find in large cities than in small towns where Americanized Chinese is the standard. The owners were also able to prepare special requests to a limited extent, but mostly I relied on them to tell me what I could order that had more of a Chinese flavor than an Americanized one. These were the same owners who now have Hibachi Buffet, a much larger restaurant with both a menu and buffet as Young China had.

When I went to Hibachi Buffet the owners were not there but there was a large choice of items either on the buffet or available from the menu. I ended up getting what I thought was a very good dish, and I was glad to find out that the flavor seemed to be the same as it was as Young China. It threw me off a little bit seeing the name “Hibachi” and the fact that they serve sushi, but this is still a Chinese restaurant with a good selection of items.

Pork with Garlic Sauce

Pork with garlic sauce

Pork with garlic sauce

My choice of Pork with Garlic Sauce was somewhat influenced by my experience at Young China, knowing that the brown sauces are very good and that the restaurant had good vegetables. Although many of the vegetables were not Chinese style, such as the broccoli and carrots, I was happy with the quantity of vegetables that were served. They had a good flavor, and I particularly liked the fresh mushrooms that were included (the mushrooms were typical of those served in authentic Chinese dishes). The meat was good as well, and I liked the high vegetable to meat ratio.

The sauce was probably the best part of the dish, though, in the sense that this is usually where the restaurants make it too Americanized. This one had a subtle sweetness rather than an overwhelming one, and the flavors were balanced to make it taste Chinese. It was a little bit spicy, and if you want it more so you probably can ask for it (or likely just get some chiles from the buffet).

The Buffet
There was an impressive display of items on the buffet, but if you are not extremely hungry the menu has single items at a good price. I would guess that this buffet is probably better than most, based on what I tried from the menu. They also have sushi items available in the buffet.

The buffet is available both at lunch and dinner.

An Assessment
I am glad that the tradition of Young China now lives on in Hibachi Buffet. Weatherford is a town of about 10,000 people and does not have Chinatown style food, but it does have what I consider to be higher quality Chinese food than in most towns of similar size. This, combined with the price, is a very good deal.

My price category ($) is for the menu items, and if you get the buffet I think it would be $$ (still reasonable, though, compared to many other buffets).


RATING: 22

Cuisine: Chinese
Cost: $
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: N/A

Most Recent Visit: Aug. 13, 2018
Number of Visits: 1
Best Item: Pork with Garlic Sauce

 

Asian Food Details

Tea: Jasmine (bags)
MSG: N/A
Buffet: Yes (lunch and dinner)
Special Ratings
star 5 Pork with Garlic Sauce

 

Menu (Aug. 2018):

Stray Dog Cafe–Bethany, OK

Stray Dog Cafe
6722 N.W. 39th Expressway
Bethany, OK
(405) 470-3747
Stray Dog Cafe

Stray Dog Cafe


I have only eaten at Stray Dog Cafe once, but my reaction was positive. It started out as a hot dog restaurant, but they turned it into a cafe with a fairly extensive menu at breakfast and a variety of items at lunch. For dinner it is only open on Friday and Saturday nights, but they make the menu pretty interesting with choices such as the pollo loco that I ordered.

One thing it is famous for is having a popcorn machine and serving the popcorn to each table as an appetizer. I do not know if they do this at breakfast, which seems to be the most popular meal here, but it is available at other times.

This is a restaurant that tries to catch the spirit of Route 66, on which it is located. The food is a step up from the greasy spoon type of restaurants which dot the highway, but it is still down-to-earth everyday type of food.

Other sources say their specialties include the corn dog, a chili cheese dog, and their namesake “Stray Dog” which is a coney island style hot dog. Desserts are made by a third party and when I was there they seemed to have a very impressive pie display.

There is an overflow parking lot behind the building in case spaces are not available on the street.

El Pollo Loco

El pollo loco

El pollo loco

El Pollo Loco was one of the weekend specials (served Friday and Saturday nights) that expand the menu beyond the normal dishes. I am not sure what I can say about the regular menu except that my food had a good flavor and was of good quality. I enjoyed the food more than I thought I would from a non-Mexican restaurant, and I thought they really did their research to make it the right way.

This was a grilled chicken sandwich with two types of toppings (the ones on the left of the photo were American toppings and the ones on the right were Mexican). I used all of the Mexican style toppings except one, and one of the keys to this is that you can omit whatever you do not want. In my case I found it to be too spicy with the jalapeños, so these were discarded after I took the first bite. The sandwich came with a ghost pepper mayo, and this was plenty spicy enough. I thought the flavor was excellent, and I was especially impressed with the bun compared to the standard ones I find in restaurants. I was certainly a convert to this restaurant, even though what I tried is not served all the time.

Desserts

Coconut pie

Coconut pie

Desserts are a specialty of Stray Dog Cafe, and they have a pie display as well as other desserts which are available (such as a cinnamon roll for breakfast). The Coconut Pie was in the high range of what I would consider to be a good pie.

Recommendations
I definitely had a good experience with my dinner special at Stray Dog Cafe, but comments from reviewers on the Internet are also very strong that the breakfasts and lunches here are worthwhile. The Restaurant was featured on Discover Oklahoma, where the owner and some of the customers are interviewed. To me the most interesting food seems to be the dinner specials on Friday and Saturday night, but many people say the regular menu items are very good as well.


RATING: N/R

Cuisine: American
Cost: $$
Hours: Breakfast & lunch Tue-Sat; dinner Fri & Sat
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: No

Most Recent Visit: Jul. 22, 2017
Number of Visits: 1
Best Items: El Pollo Loco, Pie

Special Ratings
star 5 El Pollo Loco
star 5 Coconut Pie

Ly’s Cafe–Amarillo, TX

Ly’s Cafe
5615 E. Amarillo Blvd.
Amarillo, TX
(806) 383-1569
Ly's Cafe

Ly’s Cafe


Northeast Amarillo has a concentration of restaurants within about a three block area that serve Lao food, and I have only heard of a handful of cities in North America with a similar concentration of this type of cuisine. My first experience trying food from Laos was at Houang’s Restaurant, which was in the building now occupied by Ly’s Cafe, so this made me very curious to see if the food at Ly’s was as good as I remembered. I have now had the chance to try several of Amarillo’s Lao restaurants (some of which are now closed), and I can say that Ly’s ranks among the best.

Ly’s Cafe is located behind Thai House in the 5600 block of E. Amarillo Blvd. The area has been spruced up quite a bit since I first visited Houang’s in 2003, but it is obvious that this strip shopping center had been in bad decline before the influx of Asian restaurants and shops. The video stores in the shopping center sell Thai and Lao music, and other restaurants offer Thai and Vietnamese food.

Ly’s Cafe has a smaller Lao menu than Houang’s, its predecessor, but quite a few Thai dishes have been added. Lao and Thai food have different flavors, but Lao restaurants seem to be able to prepare Thai food very well, so I am sure that would be a good choice at Ly’s. I usually find Chinese food at Lao or Thai restaurants to be mostly an accommodation to Americans or people who cannot eat the spicy food from Southeast Asia, but I cannot apply this statement to Ly’s until I try some of its Chinese dishes. Since Chinese food is available almost everywhere, and Lao food is quite hard to find, I will probably stick with the Lao food on subsequent visits.

All of the restaurants on this strip of Amarillo Boulevard seem to stay open late, and in the case of Ly’s Cafe I think they close at 10 p.m. There are certainly not enough immigrants from Southeast Asia in Amarillo to keep all these restaurants in business, and I have observed people of many different ethnic groups enjoying the food at the places I have gone. Although I was not able to taste the full range of food served at Ly’s (from non-spicy Chinese food to somewhat spicy Thai noodles to spicy Lao food), I saw enough tables ordering different types of food to know that the owners are used to accommodating people with all kinds of tastes. If you are hesitant to order Lao food because you do not know what it is like, that should not stop you from at least coming to Ly’s and see what they have to offer. The spiciness is prepared to the customer’s taste, and they will not serve spicy food to anyone who does not want it.

Each table at Ly’s has a picture of a different Lao dish, and this should be very helpful in trying to decide what to order if you want to try Lao food. I definitely think it helps to see what you are ordering, and they realize that this type of food is new to many people. Looking at the pictures may not be very effective if all the tables have customers, but they will probably figure out a way to let you see what you want to order.

Chicken Soup

Chicken soup

Chicken soup

Chicken Soup seems like a good choice to start out a Lao meal, but surprisingly, Ly’s Cafe was the first place I have had chicken soup that I really thought had all the flavors that I could imagine Lao food would offer. This one was made with lemongrass, tomatoes, and other aromatic vegetables. It was not spicy, and I think it is one of the foods Lao people eat when they have had enough spicy food. The flavors, though, were pure Southeast Asian.

Lap

Lap Kai

Lap Kai

Chicken Lap (pronounced with a long “a” as in “laap”) is a traditional Lao dish that is also found in many Thai restaurants. In the case of Ly’s I know this is a Lao dish because it is listed on the Lao menu, and also because I asked. Lao dishes tend to be more salty than sweet, and this one had the distinguishing flavors I have found previously with lap. Mint, lime, and spices add a sharp taste to the ground meat, so that this is not a taste I think most people will have to acquire, but one which they will thoroughly enjoy (at least when this dish is prepared correctly). Cucumbers and lettuce are served on the side, and are a big part of the flavor mix of this dish, so I would say if you do not like lettuce or cucumbers it would probably be best to try something else.

In my past experience, restaurants have not been as successful in preparing chicken lap as the beef version, so I was very pleased with the result at Ly’s. The meat was well cooked, and was good quality, but cut into very small pieces. I usually think of ground meat as inferior, but this was more like small chunks without the fat or grease sometimes associated with ground meat. I think the small pieces gave the meat more of a chance to absorb the flavors of the sauce and spices, so this was a good thing.

Unless you are sure you want the lap spicy, they serve it mild, and let you add your own chile. I used some fish sauce with chiles to give it the flavor I had experienced with other versions, and it was not only good, but possibly the best lap I have ever had. I was a little bit disturbed that I was not offered the fish sauce until I specifically asked for it, not because it was a problem for me, but because others eating Lao food for the first time may not know to ask for it. Still, I thought the lap was so good I think others will enjoy it even if they get the default mild version (and other chiles are available on the table to make it spicy).

An order of Sticky Rice is traditional with this dish, but I thought the rice was too dry and was not good for dipping into the sauce as I understand is the custom with Lao food. With everything else being so good, this was the one down point to the meal.

Drinks
Several kinds of Thai tea and iced drinks are available. Even though Lao food tends to not contain sugar, the same is not true with the drinks. I tried the hot jasmine tea, though, with my meal.

Final Thoughts
One of the big advantages of Ly’s Cafe over other restaurants that serve Lao food is that there is no smoking, while other places have separate dining areas for smokers and non-smokers. I prefer an atmosphere in which smoke will not be coming from tables in another section of the building, so to me Ly’s offers the best chance to enjoy the meal.

Although Ly’s Cafe lists “Thai” cuisine first on its sign, it is the only restaurant I have found in Amarillo that I could say is primarily a Lao restaurant (although other places serve Lao food). The only difference this really makes is in the choices of dishes that are offered, and judging more from the pictures of items on the tables than the actual menu, I do believe Ly’s has a good choice of Lao food. I certainly know that I was not disappointed with the meal I had.


RATING: 23
Cuisine: Lao & Thai
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Mon.
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No Smoking
 
Most Recent Visit: Nov. 19, 2009
Number of Visits: 1
Best Items: Lap, Chicken Soup
 

 

Asian Food Details
Tea: Jasmine (bags)/ Thai Tea
MSG: N/A
Buffet: No

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Lap Kai
star 5 Chicken Soup
star 3 Sticky Rice