This list is a transcription of notes I took about Mexican restaurants in Oklahoma City in 1983. The full list includes restaurants I copied from the telephone directory (and which were listed as “Mexican restaurants” in the yellow pages). Star ratings are for the ones I visited.
Oklahoma City had a much greater percentage of one-star and two-star restaurants than other cities included in this series of historical posts. In this respect I think Oklahoma City was actually representative of most cities in the United States at the time. It had more Mexican restaurants than most cities, but to me the quality seemed much lower than in Texas and New Mexico cities.
Some of the one-star restaurants had pure Anglo style food that did not even rise to the level of the Tex-Mex served at the majority of restaurants. There is term which is now used called “Okie-Mex,” and I think this also would describe most of the Mexican food in 1983. I did find some restaurants on the south side (Capitol Hill) that served more authentic Mexican food, either exclusively or in addition to the Tex-Mex menu. I remember Las Rositas as having some dishes I had found in El Paso at some of the better restaurants there.
I remember A&T Garcia’s as being the best Mexican restaurant in town, and this seemed to be a combination of California and New Mexico style Mexican food (with red and green chile used in place of the brown gravy-like “chili” used in Tex-Mex restaurants). Mostly, though, I thought they just had better quality food.
The difference between 1983 and today for Mexican food in Oklahoma City is striking, and I would say authentic styles of food are prevalent in the central and south areas of the city. A large number of restaurants serve Aguascalientes (Calvillo) style food, although many also offer American style dishes on the menu. You are probably more likely to find truly authentic food if you go to a take-out restaurant, taco truck, etc. than in a sit-down restaurant where they serve you at the table.
In the lists I made for Austin and Albuquerque, I could see how the regional Mexican styles which had developed in the area (Tex-Mex and New Mexican cuisine, respectively) had seemed to make the population more accepting of authentic Mexican food which came along later. Oklahoma City did not have its own regional style of Mexican food, but early restaurants such as El Charrito made Tex-Mex the preferred style here.
The more authentic Mexican food served in a number of restaurants now may be largely due to an influx of immigrants from Mexico, but a large number of long time residents have become fans of this food as well. In these and other ways I think Oklahoma City is very representative of a number of U.S. cities.
My goal for this article is not only to provide nostalgia but also to allow trends to be observed about how Mexican food has changed in the U.S. over a relatively short period of time.