Golden Phoenix–Oklahoma City, OK

Golden Phoenix
2728 N. Classen Blvd.
Oklahoma City, OK
(405) 524-3988
Golden Phoenix

Golden Phoenix


Golden Phoenix (Kim Phung in Vietnamese) became aptly named when it arose out of a fire that occurred in 2011, and was reborn as a more upscale and arguably better restaurant. Both before and after the fire it has operated as a dual restaurant in a single building–there is an authentic menu for Vietnamese food as well as one for Chinese food, each of which has its own chefs. The menu is written in English, Chinese, and Vietnamese and is separated into the categories and styles of food served. It does not make an obvious division, though, between the dishes that come from China or Vietnam.

The Chinese food is Cantonese style, and reflects the cuisine served in Hong Kong except for the fact that they do not serve dim sum. The Vietnamese side of the menu is the one I initially found to be the most interesting, and before the fire I had designated Golden Phoenix as the best Vietnamese restaurant I had found in Oklahoma. After the fire I have tried several Chinese dishes, and have found them to be excellent as well. As it stands, both Vietnamese and Chinese food are among my favorite items at Golden Phoenix.

Vietnamese Food

Pork chop

Vietnamese style pork chop

Some of my favorite items at Golden Phoenix have come from the Vietnamese menu, but both of the ones pictured are ones I ordered before the fire occurred. One was a Pork Chop recommended by the waiter as one of his favorites, and it turned out to be one of my favorites as well. This came with tender meat, but the flavoring was so good that this is what made it so memorable. Most of the meats at Golden Phoenix have MSG, but the pork chop “didn’t have much,” and I was able to eat it with no ill effects. I really think this was one of the best Vietnamese dishes I have had in OKC.

I do not know where this dish is located on the new menu (or the old one, for that matter, since I was just following the waiter’s suggestion). There are several pork chops listed in the section labeled “Broken Rice Platters” with different side dishes, but I cannot match any of them to the one pictured. I would recommend ordering any one of them from the menu or that the staff recommends, and although the side dishes will vary the pork chop itself should be as much of a sublime experience as it was for me.

Bún bò Huê

Bún bò Huê

Bún Bò Huê is a popular soup in Vietnam, but Golden Phoenix is the one place where I was able to find an authentic version of it. This is number 214 on the menu in the “Rice Vermicelli Noodle” section.

The spicy soup had several types of meat and meat substitutes (such as congealed pig blood) that I probably would not normally eat, but I found the flavor to be good and overall I really enjoyed it. This was a deliciously flavored soup cooked with beef bones and lemongrass for flavor, and I found it to be surprisingly good. At least from the description of this dish I have found on the Internet, I think the one at Golden Phoenix was about as authentic as is be found in the U.S. I have had other versions of this soup in OKC, but the one I had at Golden Phoenix was the most flavorful (either in spite of or because of the blood balls).

The current menu lists this dish as “Hue style spicy beef noodle soup with beef, pork, balony and thick round rice noodle.” Absent from this is any mention of the blood balls, so perhaps this is something that has now been dropped. With or without the blood balls, though, I think the excellent flavor of this dish will remain.

Chinese Style Noodles

Flat noodles with beef and vegetables

Flat noodles with beef and vegetables

The Chinese items available before the fire are still on the menu, including Beef Flat Noodles. This was a delicious dish with a large assortment of vegetables mixed in with tender sliced beef. There are so many noodle dishes served I think it will take some experimentation to find the best ones, but I was happy with the one I had.

Pan Fried Noodles were recommended as an authentic dish from the Chinese chef’s home region of Guangdong, and consisted of a wreath of crispy noodles around the edge that resembled a bird’s nest with the customer’s choice of meats and vegetables on top. Mine had a light brown sauce, and was thoroughly enjoyable. This one had a larger portion of noodles than others served in Oklahoma City, but they did not scrimp on the vegetables. It would not be advisable to attend a business meeting after eating this delicacy, however, since a heavy garlic flavoring is a key component to its essence.

Congee

Congee

Congee, or rice soup

Congee, a traditional Chinese dish of rice pudding, makes a good breakfast or appetizer. Even though it comes with fish, chicken, pork, or other types of filler and flavoring, it is not generally considered a dish Chinese like to eat exclusively for a meal except for breakfast. Knowing that I do not generally expect a whole lot out of a bowl of congee, though, I thought the one here was very good. Grand House, across the street from this restaurant, is the only other place I know in town that serves congee (Grand House only has it on weekends and when dim sum is served), but even with a lack of competition in town I thought the rice pudding at Golden Phoenix compared favorably with ones I have tried in other cities.

Chinese Style Hot Pot

Bean curd with assorted meat hot pot

Bean curd with assorted meat hot pot

Several Chinese hot pot dishes are available such as the Bean Curd with Assorted Meat Hot Pot. This is a dish I ordered at night shortly before closing time, and they warned me that some of the meats could not be cooked that late in the evening but it did include several varieties of seafood. Some of the seafood was not as flavorful as I have had at other restaurants, and without the other meat this was a disappointment to me. Despite its apparent shortcomings near closing time, though, it still had good sauce, tofu, vegetables, etc..

The Vegetable and Bean Curd Hot Pot is one that I ordered at a “normal” time, and was very good with tofu, vegetables, and sauce. I thought it could have used some ginger, though. It contained more shitake mushrooms than I expected, and probably as a result of this was somewhat pricey for a vegetable dish.

While the hot pot dishes are very good, this is one case where Golden Phoenix faces stiff competition for other restaurants. I am happy to give my business to all of them, since hot pot dishes are definitely among my favorites.

Steamed Rice Dishes
One of the best dishes I have tried here was the Curry Chicken on Rice from the Steamed Rice section of the menu. It was not the kind of curry I was expecting, even from a Chinese style curry. The curry was a little sweet with a very complex and interesting flavor compared to most curries. I just had a few bites of it, but this was one of the best Chinese dishes I have tried in Oklahoma City.

Barbecued Meats

Barbecued meats

Golden Phoenix is well known for its display of hanging ducks and other meats

Golden Phoenix is probably the premier Chinese barbecue restaurant in Oklahoma City. First Chinese B-B-Q, a chain out of Dallas, was the original restaurant here, and when Golden Phoenix opened it seemed to be merely a name change with the new restaurant still being known for its meats. One of the most notable features of the restaurant is the array of hanging barbecued ducks, chickens, and other animals in a display case near the counter.

Chinese barbecue shares the technique of slow cooking with other barbecue traditions, but the meat can be anything from pork ribs to duck. The smallest portions of barbecued meat served at the restaurant are a half duck or chicken, except for some steamed rice dishes that come with individual portions of duck and other meats.

Roast duck

Takeout order of roast duck

I recently shared a takeout order of Roast Duck with some friends, and it reaffirmed the conventional wisdom that barbecued meats are one of the items Golden Phoenix does best. To me the flavor and quality were on par with duck I have had at some fine dining restaurants.

In 2020 I shared some roast duck on Mother’s Day (also a takeout order) which was so good that I have to list this as an official Steve’s Food Blog tip. The roast duck is always good here, but on Mother’s Day they seem to make a special effort to give you the tenderest and most flavorful roast duck possible. For me this was one of the top three or four examples of roast duck I have ever experienced. (I was told that the roast duck is only available after 12:00 noon but I do not know if this is only on Mother’s Day or whether this is the case every day).

Tea
The original Golden Phoenix served jasmine tea made with loose leaves that was on the house. Now it is made with tea bags and they charge for it. This, along with a new dining room and a somewhat new menu, makes me think they changed the management after the restaurant reopened. In any case, the tea was one item that was better at the “old” restaurant.

Recommendations
I have found consistently good quality with both the Chinese and Vietnamese food, and for both they seem to serve the food as it would be done in Asia. The menu is very extensive, and at times it has been hard for me to decide what would be best to order. The staff is usually a big help if you have some idea of the type of food you would like.

Really my only disappointing experience here has been going late in the evening. They were down to somewhat of a skeleton crew, and the waiter had advised me that they did not have all the ingredients to make some of the dishes properly. I am not holding this against the restaurant because they did advise me, but I will know in the future that when they warn me not to order something that I should not expect the best result from it.

Another lesson I have learned is that many dishes that are quite good did not sound all that appetizing on the menu, so for many of us this requires a learning curve. At the same time some dishes that do not sound very good are really not something I or other people would particularly enjoy. There are plenty of “safe” dishes here (the barbecued meats are hard to beat), but this really is a great place to explore the menu if someone is so inclined.


RATING: 26

Cuisine: Chinese and Vietnamese
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Beer and Wine

Most Recent Visit: May 10, 2020
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: (Chinese) Roast Duck (and other barbecued meats), Curry Chicken on Rice, Crispy Pork Bean Curd Hot Pot, Pan Fried Noodles, Congee, (Vietnamese) Pork Chop, Bún Bò Huê

 

Asian Food Details

Tea: Jasmine (bags)
MSG: Yes
Buffet: No

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Roast Duck
star 5 Vietnamese Pork Chop
star 5 Bún Bò Huê
star 5 Pan Fried Noodles
star 5 Beef Flat Noodles (dry)
star 5 Congee
star 5 Crispy Pork Bean Curd Clay Pot
star 5 Ginger Chicken
star 5 Curry Chicken on Rice
star 4 Vegetable and Bean Curd Hot Pot
star 4 Shredded Chicken with Garlic Sauce

 

Menu (Jul. 2017):

 

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):