Oklahoma has its fair share of tourist spots: Several roadside attractions line the highways. There are 35 state parks, some nestled between mountains, some boasting lakes and waterfalls. And there’s a festival nearly every weekend, spring through fall. But the food alone is worth traveling for. Some of the state’s best grub can be found in the least likely of places. Here are 10 reasons to hit the road.
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1. Fried Onion Burger, El Reno
Fried onion burgers were invented in El Reno, Oklahoma, in the early 1900s, when onions were cheap and meat was not. Legend goes that Ross Davis, owner of the Hamburger Inn in downtown El Reno, right on Route 66, would throw half an onion, shredded, on top of a five-cent meat patty and smash it together with his spatula, saving money on the meat while giving the burger enough flavor to make it last more than 100 years. You can taste one for yourself at Sid’s Diner, Johnnie’s Grill, or Robert’s Grill, or head out to the El Reno Annual Fried Onion Burger Day festival in May.
2. Café Bahnhof, Waynoka
Along with rolling sand dunes and more ATV rental joints than you can count, Waynoka is home to Café Bahnhof, a chef-owned authentic German restaurant whose five-star Bavarian menu has attracted diners from all over the world. And, it’s a Budweiser-free zone: The only beers you’ll find on tap are ones from Deutschland. And don’t even think about asking for ranch dressing. But do make a reservation before you make the drive.
3. Kumback Lunch, Perry
On the outside is a bright neon sign boasting Oklahoma’s oldest restaurant continually operating in the same location; on the inside is melt-in-your mouth chicken-fried steak, to-die-for homemade pie, and framed photographs of all the famous people who’ve dined there—including Pretty Boy Floyd, who, legend has it, held the place at gunpoint just to get a good steak.
4. Pete’s Place, Krebs
The Choc brewery is also home to some of the state’s best Italian cookin’. In addition to the traditional red sauce/white sauce fare, you’ll also find prime cuts of steak, house-made sausages, and lamb fries. And Pete’s isn’t the only place serving up homemade Italian food; Krebs is Oklahoma’s Little Italy, and there are several well-established restaurants to choose from.
5. Bob’s Pig Shop, Pauls Valley
Pauls Valley is a destination city—home to the Toy & Action Figure Museum, the Okie Noodling Tournament, the Living Dead Center Festival… and Bob’s Pig Shop, with its combination barbecue/ Mexican cuisine. The place has been around since 1933. Choose from pulled pork sandwiches, tamales, and much more. Pro tip: Ask for an extra helping of the red pepper pickle relish. They’re the only ones who make it.
6. Arbuckle Mountain Fried Pies, Davis
Nancy, “the fried-pie lady,” gets her recipes from her grandmother, who began filling and frying dough in 1893 to feed hungry cowboys and ranch hands. The fillings, either fruit or cream and some of them sugar-free, are all handmade and tucked into a pocket of crisp, flaky dough that fits oh-so-perfectly in your hand. The fried-pie thing has become something of a trend in Oklahoma, but you can’t beat the original.
7. McCormick’s Grill, Boley
Looking to feed your soul as well as fill your belly? Then head to the historically all-black town of Boley and nosh on some soul food at McCormick’s—also known around those parts as “Pookey’s.”
8. Restaurant of the Cherokees, Tahlequah
From fried chicken to fry bread, help yourself to some traditional American fare at this Tahlequah buffet, which also serves up several authentic Cherokee dishes.
9. Meers Store and Restaurant, Meers
The town of Meers was founded during the Wichita Mountains gold rush, and the restaurant was once a combination print shop/grocery store/pharmacy. Famous for its “Meersburger,” this place also serves up campfire steaks, barbecue, and plenty of fried sides (green tomatoes, corn on the cob, and okra, to name a few).
10. Frank and Lola’s, Bartlesville
Frank and Lola’s is a neighborhood restaurant and bar known for attracting diners far outside its neighborhood—including several celebrities who stopped in and chowed down while filming movies in the area.
Originally published in This Land, Vol. 5 Issue 3. Feb. 01, 2014.