Top 10 Oklahoma Food Staples
11:38 AM EST on February 28, 2018
When visitors from out-of-state are looking for something “Oklahoman” to eat, what do you serve them? After some contemplation, we at TLO have come up with what we think is the definitive list of Oklahoma foods that any “fried and true” Okie would be proud to diplomatically recommend.
10. Theta Burger
While the origins of this collegiate favorite are continually under dispute, one thing is definitely for sure: a little hickory BBQ sauce, some shredded cheddar cheese and a couple of dill pickle slices on top of a charbroiled patty make for a tasty, if not overpriced, little burger. And while the most famous restaurant known for peddling these patties, the Split-T, is long gone, the Theta has become such a state-wide favorite that almost every burger joint, no matter where you go in Oklahoma, willfully has their own take on this second-place state-sanctioned favorite on the menu.
Where to get it? Johnnie's Charcoal Broiler
9. Fried Pies
Sure, these heavenly little pockets of fruit-stuffed fried dough are seemingly ubiquitous now thanks to the good people over at Hostess, the legendary Arbuckle fried pies were once the preferred snack of cowboys and cattlemen who, after a long day on the range, would pop a cherry, an apple or maybe even a peach-filled confection as either a sugar-filled pick-me-up or a moment of self-care for a job well done. Straight from the mountains to your mouth, any self-respecting Oklahoman can’t let a visitor leave without trying at least one of these fresh-from-the-fryer fruit pies.
Where to get it? Arbuckle Fried Pies
8. Ranch Dressing
We’re not big salad eaters here in the Sooner State, but when our cardiologists tell us we need to start getting more greens in our diet, that’s where big chunks of hardboiled egg, large cubes of toasted bread, a couple of bulbous cherry tomatoes, plenty of shredded cheese and copious amounts of a distilled form of liquid sexual ecstasy known as ranch dressing helpfully come into play. Being Oklahomans, however, we have managed to turn a delicious salad compliment—originally from Nebraska but stolen and adopted by us with virulent pride—into an absolute table-top necessity, both a dipping sauce and a side-dish that is seemingly served at every meal, much to the quizzical shock but eventual awe of visitors.
Where to get it? Hideaway Pizza
7. Calf Fries
Whether you call them Rocky Mountain oysters, Cowboy caviar or, perhaps as we know them at their biblically best, calf fries, any and all self-respecting Oklahoma steakhouses from here to the panhandle proudly offer up this range-roving delicacy of plump and juicy bull testicles, rolled in flour and house spices then deep-fried to a golden hue, served with a smile and, yes, a side of ranch. While some consider them an aphrodisiac and others a true rustic delicacy, let’s be honest: most of the time we order them to trick unknowing out-of-towners—especially children—into stuffing animal balls down their gobs for our cruel amusement.
Where to get it? Cattlemen's Steakhouse
Much like the land they done stole, white settlers seem to always get the credit for the creation of cornbread, but it was the dominant Oklahoma tribes—the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Creek—that refined the use of cornmeal and the recipes that made it famous, making cornbread a constant staple of southern America’s diet well into the most of the 20th century when it was apparently replaced at the dinner table by the invention of sliced white bread. But even the bastards at Mrs. Baird’s couldn’t top—and still can’t—the taste of a wafting hot serving of this frontier miracle-food, especially with a big heaping bowl of pinto beans, buffalo meat and chopped onions, all served out of a well-seasoned cast-iron Dutch oven on a cold day.
Where to get it? Florence's
5. Fried Catfish
Few things truly say “small-town Oklahoma” like being wistfully invited to a Baptist church or a volunteer fire department for an ol’ fashioned fish-fry fundraiser. Sure, perhaps the fish they typically serve—catfish—isn’t the most glamorous of all seafood offerings, especially with its decidedly earthy flavor that some might rudely call an “acquired” taste, but let’s get real, son: when that thick filet is rolled in a dusty corn meal, as well as a few other choice Southern spices, and they are deep-fried en masse to a patiently waiting crowd lining up with their plates at the ready, fish don’t get no better—or more Okie—than that. Pass the ranch.
Where to get it? Beef and Buns Mr. Catfish
4. Free “Cheese Sauce” with the set-up
Yes, plenty of other restaurants across the country offer Tex-Mex fare—some better than others—but with Oklahoma so close to both Tex and Mex, we tend to get a masterful influx of everything from the most authentic regional street-fare to beautifully intricate delicacies worthy of an empty wallet, but if there is one thing that the Sooner state has bragging rights to and continues to astound and confound outsiders and interlopers with, it’s our prideful passion for complimentary tortilla chips and the free queso or “cheese sauce” that goes with it. It’s a privilege we take for granted that most Mexican eateries in other states typically force their customers to pay top dollar for as an appetizer—meanwhile, we get as much as we want just for showing up. It’s truly la Norma de Oklahoma in action.
Where to get it? Chelino's
3. Indian Taco
While there are those that vehemently say that frybread was a creation of the Navajos, the truth is that practically every Native American tribe can lay some sort of claim to this starvation savior, born out of necessity in the late 1800s when government rations of lard, flour, salt and baking powder were ingeniously combined to become the thing of culinary legend. But no matter where frybread was first made, with the National Indian Taco Championships centered in Pawhuska, Oklahoma deep in Osage country, this otherworldly concoction of said frybread, beans, meat, cheese and other various toppings has certainly made its permanent home here, with a constant availability, from weekend fundraisers and pow-wows to omnipresent food trucks and State Fairs, not seen anywhere else in the country.
Where to get it? OK Choctaw Tribal Alliance
2. Chicken Fried Steak
The official state food of Oklahoma, this brutally pounded piece of cheap rubbery beefsteak, liberally coated in seasoned flour and skillet-fried nine ways to Sunday, was originally based on classic wiener schnitzel recipes brought over by European immigrants, but, true to form, we managed to co-opt them and make it our own over time, especially with the popular addition of a white cream gravy to smother the damn thing in. We like them really big, really smothered and really well-battered, with a thick protective crust that is practically a meal all its own, health consequences be damned. Hell, even the state’s most protective vegetarians and vegans can’t resist the call of the CFS and have their own mildly comparable versions, bless their enlarged hearts.
Where to get it? Kendall's
1. The Onion Burger
While Tom Joad and his family of grapes were wrathing themselves to California in search of a better life, those of us brave Okies who stayed back spent our last buffalo nickels on onion burgers – an ingeniously-filling meal consisting of a hamburger sandwich, mercifully stretched out by adding practically a whole onion to each and every patty.
It was a Depression Era stroke of genius – onions were cheap, beef wasn't – that smartly survives today, a wholly original Oklahoma creation that is often imitated—remember when Burger King tried their version in the early aughts?—but, true to the adage, never duplicated. A noble stab at hunger born out of economic necessity, like many popular Okie eats have tended to be, it makes one wonder what edible arrangement we’ll whip up during the next inevitable economic collapse.
Where to get it? Sid's Diner
Did your Oklahoma food fave make the list? Surely it did, Mr. Fried Okra Lover. Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler.
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