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TLO Restaurant Review: Berta’s Mexican Buffet

4:27 AM EDT on July 6, 2016

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Everyone always asks me what my absolute, most favorite Mexican restaurant in Oklahoma City is. Normally, I shrug and say “How do I choose?”

I don’t know why, but a lot of the time, I feel like I have to keep the place to myself, like my own little secret, my own place no one knows about. Maybe it’s a fear of gentrification, maybe it’s a fear of the place changing, maybe it’s the fear of that look I see in the eyes of friends who I bring here who just don’t “get it.”

But, sadly, the fear of keeping places to yourself is that no one knows about it. And when no one knows about it, no one can spend money there. And if no one is spending money there, well…dammit. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so selfish.

Everyone always asks me what my absolute, most favorite Mexican restaurant in Oklahoma City is. The answer, without hesitation, is Berta’s.

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You can call it Berta’s Mexican Café, Berta’s Tacos or Berta’s Buffet—there is signage for all three names out front—but this hole-in-the-wall buffet, located at 635 SW 29th St., is everything that I believe truly represents what Mexican food is to me or at least should be, as a pure culinary artform while still maintaining a certain level of comfort food identity. Or something like that.

The buffet is loaded with stuff. Just a lot of stuff. Some of it is authentic, and made from time-honored recipes, while some of it is not, obviously delectable new creations thrown together in the kitchen like a científico loco. Some of it I know the names to, some of it I’m pretty sure the chef hasn’t even gotten that far. But you can count on one thing: all of it is Goddamn delicious.

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Sometimes there’s grand sopas, spicy and rich and fit for a Conquistador, and other times there’s Totino’s Pizza Rolls, possibly for the kids, but hey, I like pizza rolls too. There are numerous vegetable dishes, loaded with zucchini and squash and other fresh, healthy produce, while opposite from it might be some deep-fried tacos, just begging to be covered in scalding queso and fresh pico de gallo. But as soon as that plate is covered, here comes a pan of hot chicken mole and, what in the hell, I think that they’re bringing out some chilaquiles too.

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There is no rhyme or reason to Berta’s, and in all the times I’ve been, the buffet has never been the same. And while that type of non-consistency might throw many people not used to this style off—many of the gabachos I’ve tried to introduce the place to nod and smile but never go back for seconds—but for anyone who’s grown up in this culture, from the small diners of the rural RGV to your abuela’s maid, you never know what the special is or what you’re going to be offered. You just shut up and—with God’s name silently be praised on your lips—eat it. Con pasión.

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In addition to the ever-changing menu, I’m not sure how much anything costs there. Everytime I’ve been I’ve been charged everything from $10 to $12 to $15 for the buffet.  Just bring a $20 bill and deal, I guess. I didn’t even get to the massive gourmet dessert selections, from rice pudding and flan to tres leches cake and other pastries brought in from a local bakery, but that’s mostly because there’s never room for dessert.

Berta’s is more than just a Mexican buffet, it’s an all-you-can-eat-art museum, a South of the Border-infused studio where honest salt-of-the Earth artisans craft and create, perhaps even unknowingly, rhapsodic delicacies that  can either stand the test or time, or, for that moment you’re lucky enough to be there, capture it in a fleeting moment. Everyone always asks me what my absolute, most favorite Mexican restaurant in Oklahoma City is...

The answer, with genuine love, is Berta’s. Love, peace and Spanish grease.

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Louis Fowler just can't wait for you to tell him he's wrong in the comments. Follow him on Twitter at @LouisFowler.

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