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):

Restaurant Guide–St Louis

Restaurant Guide Main Index


Missouri


  • Date indicates the most recent update of the restaurants listed
  • Bold indicates my recommendations; others come from what I consider to be good sources (see bottom of page for further explanation)

Alton, IL

Morrison’s Irish Pub–200 State St. (Irish) Closed Mon.  An Irish pub that puts as much emphasis on the food as it does the drinks (has a very interesting menu selection). (4-27-17)

Creve Coeur, MO

Mayuri–12513 Olive Blvd. (Indian) Open Daily.  Very good south Indian food with thali available. However, customers are disappointed if they get the buffet or if they order north Indian food (this restaurant is best for south Indian). Dosas are recommended. (4-21-17)

Edwardsville, IL

Cleveland-Health–106 N. Main St. (New American) Closed Sun.  Serves locally sourced food. Some dishes are Asian (ginger tofu, etc) and Mexican (tacos, etc). The Asian dishes get better reviews, though. Everything here is healthy and good (at least if you appreciate fresh flavors as opposed to things being highly salted or spiced). Apparently Cleveland and Health are the names of the owners (but “health” is also the objective of the food they serve). (4-21-17)

Granite City, IL

Itty-Bitty–512 E. Chain of Rocks Rd. (American). A small diner with good burgers, fish sandwich, chicken and dumplings, etc. Breakfast is also popular. (4-21-17)

Petri Cafe–1416 20th St. (American) Breakfast & lunch only. I found the following information about this restaurant that is interesting: (1) it has been in the same family since 1946, (2) serves a bowl of chili that is very popular and seems to be a good representation of the regional style here, (3) Hungarian cabbage soup is another very popular dish. The bottom line is that it is an authentic diner that may have ethnic roots. The fish sandwich is another recommended dish. (4-21-17)

Mascoutah, IL

Roemer Topf–1415 McKinley Rd. (German) Closed Sun & Mon; closed Sat lunch.  Good German food in a family run restaurant. Has lunch specials. Beer choice is very good. Dessert (strudel) is very good. Some say, though, that it is sometimes closed at non-posted times (so it may be a good idea to call ahead if you have to make a long trip to get there). (4-21-17)

Olivette, MO

Sugarfire Smokehouse–9200 Olive Blvd. (BBQ) Open Daily.  One of the top barbecue restaurants in SL, but the reviews are more inconsistent than some of the other restaurants. Pulled pork and brisket have good reviews (and many like the smoked turkey). Many say the sauces are one of the big draws, and desserts are a must. (4-27-17)

Overland, MO

Chef Ma’s–2336 Woodson Rd. (Chinese) Open Daily.  A small restaurant in an old Taco Bell that has a short menu of the owner’s special dishes (mostly Hong Kong and Cantonese style). Braised tofu is popular. Prices are very cheap (probably the cheapest in St. Louis for authentic Chinese food). Note: apparently some items are pictured on the wall but are not listed on the menu. (4-21-17)

Haveili Indian–9720 Page Ave. (Indian) Closed Mon.  Probably the most authentic Indian restaurant in town, based on the reviews of people from Indian. (4-27-17)

St. Charles, MO

Hendricks BBQ–1200 Main St. (BBQ) Open Daily.  This is considered one of the top barbecue restaurants in SL, but Yelp reviews are not quite as high as some others. It is still very good, though. The strength here is that you don’t just go for the BBQ–it is a family restaurant and the total meal (with sides and dessert) is a very good dining experience. (4-27-17)

Spiro’s–2275 Bluestone Dr. (Greek) Dinner only (closed Sun & Mon).  Upscale restaurant with Mediterranean food, but the most popular items are Greek (such as the saganaki). I think you have a choice of very expensive dinners or more moderate (but still good) ones. (4-27-17)

Tango–2012 Campus Dr. (Argentinian) Dinner only (closed Sun & Mon).  Empanadas are the specialty. (4-27-17)

St John, MO

El Comal–8724 St. Charles Rock Rd. (Mexican) Open daily 10 am to 9 pm.  Owner is from Oaxaca and has a few Oaxacan items on the menu, but can prepare a few others by special request (reviewers say they were very happy with this food). (4-30-17)

St. Louis, MO

Anthonino’s Taverna–2225 Macklind Ave. (Greek & Italian) Closed Sun.  Serves both Greek and Italian food, and reviewers say both are excellent. Most go for the Italian food, though, because there are more menu items and many say this is some of the best Italian food they’ve ever had (pizza is the most recommended item). Greek menu is limited. (4-21-17)

Baida–3191 S. Grand Blvd. (Moroccan) Closed Mon.  Good reviews, and it looks as if it has an extensive menu. (4-21-17)

Blues City Deli–2438 McNair Ave. (Sandwiches) Closed Sun; open 11 am to 4 pm other days except that it’s open until 8 pm on Thu.  Very good sandwiches that would bring you here just for that, but it has the added attraction of live blues music Sat. and on Thursday evening. (4-21-17)

Chaparritos–2812 Cherokee St. (Mexican) Open Daily.  A highly rated authentic Mexican restaurant, but one which is not upscale and does not charge alta cocina prices (this restaurant specializes in tacos and similar dishes). (4-30-17)

Italian on the Hill (these are some of the most famous Italian restaurants in the city):

  • Cunetto House of Pasta–5453 Magnolia Ave. Closed Mon; closed Sat & Sun lunch. Best known for its chicken spedini (but locals order quite a few other dishes). The house salad is very highly acclaimed. (4-21-17)
  • Guido’s–5046 Shaw Ave. Open daily (open until 11 pm weekdays and midnight on weekends). Best known for its pizza. People also recommend their tapas and the salad. (4-21-17)
  • Lorenzo’s–1933 Edwards St. Dinner only (open daily).  Northern Italian style. Risotto, penne with eggplant, and gnocchi are some of the specialties.  (4-21-17)
  • Trattoria Marcella–3600 Watson Rd. Dinner only (closed Sun & Mon).  Menu is very representative of “St. Louis style” Italian food. The popular dishes here are the Italian standards–lasagna, ravioli, rigatoni, etc. (4-21-17)

Nixta–1621 Tower Grove Ave. (Mexican) Dinner only (closed Sun & Mon).  Reviewers really like the mole negro, and everything else seems to be good as well. Alta cocina food that is authentic in the “modern” tradition of Mexican food. The menu on Yelp showed the mole as costing $29, but a lot of other dishes are considerably less expensive. (4-30-17)

Onesto Pizza–5401 Finkman St. (Italian) Lunch Fri-Sun; dinner daily.  Has a full menu, but it’s best known for its east coast style pizza. (4-21-17)

Pappy’s Smokehouse–3106 Olive St. (BBQ) Open daily except Sun evening.  World class BBQ, especially the ribs and burnt ends (according to reviewers). Line is long but customers say don’t panic–you will get a table. (4-21-17)

Sidney Street Cafe–2000 Sidney St. (Fine Dining) Dinner only (closed Sun & Mon).  Excellent food at expensive prices. The owner is the grandson of the couple who opened La Tertulia in Santa Fe (the best New Mexican food I have ever experienced). Some sources say the restaurant serves some of the dishes from La Tertulia, but the only possible one I see on the April 2017 menu is the Sweetbread Tostada (an appetizer). Still, I’m listing the restaurant in case they have other choices on other menus. (4-21-17)

The Shaved Duck–2900 Virginia Ave. (Soul Food) Closed Sun.  This appears to be a very upscale restaurant but does not have “fine dining” prices. Meatloaf and BBQ (ribs, pulled chicken, etc.) are some of the most popular entrees. Cornbread, mac & cheese, and smothered fries are recommended side dishes. There is not a dish to avoid, but some say the burnt ends are not up to KC standards. (4-21-17)

Wei Hong–3175 S. Grand Blvd. (Chinese) Open 11 am to 9 pm (closed Tue).  Cantonese food (has authentic Chinese menu). Reviewers recommend the dim sum. (4-21-17)

University City, MO

Cate Zone–8148 Olive Blvd. (Chinese) Closed Mon.  Sichuan style food that can be fiery hot (ask about it if you’re not sure). Reviewers say the food is excellent. (4-21-17)

Dao Tien–8600 Olive Blvd. (Vietnamese) Closed Mon (and closed between 3 and 5 pm).  Broken rice with pork chop is the favorite. Large menu. (4-21-17)

Private Kitchen–8106 Olive Blvd. (Chinese) Closed Tue.  Some call this upscale, but it is mainly because they have some upscale dishes such as Peking duck. It specializes in Shanghai style food, though, so a good choice is the Lion’s Head soup or the soup dumplings. One diner also mentioned the baby pork rib in plum sauce. (4-21-17)

Salt + Smoke–6525 Delmar Blvd. (BBQ) Open Daily.  One of the top barbecue restaurants in SL. Probably the biggest strength here is that all meats are good, so order something you normally would not choose at other restaurants. (4-27-17)

Tai Ke–8604 Olive Blvd. (Taiwanese) Closed Mon.  Reviewers say this is the real deal. It has cheap prices and a large menu. Dishes are a little different from those in most Chinese restaurants, but they have many “safe” dishes along with the more adventurous ones. (4-21-17)

Wei Hong–7740 Olive Blvd. (Chinese) Open daily 11 am to 9:30 pm.  Authentic Cantonese food. Has dim sum, but reviews seem to indicate that the St. Louis location has better dim sum. (4-21-17)

Wildwood, MO

Thai Bistro–2436 Taylor Rd. (Thai & Lao) Lunch Tue-Fri; dinner Tue-Sun.  People say the food is flavorful and owner talks to customers to see if they want anything specially prepared. Reviewers say the pad thai is especially good (I see this a lot for restaurants which serve Lao food). (4-21-17)

 

Notes About This List:

This is a “master list” of restaurants that I have seen on the Internet or other sources and would like to try, or that I think would be of interest to others.  I do not mean for this to be an exhaustive list of every good place to eat, but it should represent a good sample of the most interesting or unique restaurants, along with a few that best represent an area’s regional cuisine.  My own recommendations are in Bold.

I am not looking to include:

  • Fine dining (unless they are unique because of regional specialties)
  • Low end restaurants that are popular with locals but may not be of much interest to travelers or people in general (everyone will have to use their judgment on this one)

Extra consideration for the following:

  • The food is organic, fresh, healthy, or farm to table
  • The restaurant serves a relatively hard to find type of ethnic food and reviews are good

In addition to the regular guidelines I try to include:

  • The best Asian restaurants in the area even if they are not totally authentic
  • Particularly good Mexican restaurants (this usually means the food is from a particular state in Mexico or it is one of the best examples of a U.S. regional style)

Please feel free to leave your own comments or suggestions.

 

Sources:

Chowhound (St. Louis)

St. Louis Magazine (St. Louis Italian Food)

Urbanspoon.com (former web site which I used for preliminary research)

Yelp (Missouri)

Zomato (St. Louis)