After five years of unmitigated growth, the 405 diningscape was due for some contraction coming into 2020. Years of expansion helped build Oklahoma City’s scene into a rich tapestry of cultures and flavors, including the vibrant Asian District north of downtown, a range of Mexican, Central and South American flavors to the south and west, and a community of Black-owned restaurants growing out of the East Side. Never forgotten was the local love affair with beef, pork, catfish, and chicken, particularly when they’re fried, smoked, or both.
The COVID-19 pandemic became a reality for Oklahoma City in mid-March, when a game between the hometown Thunder and the Utah Jazz was abruptly postponed. The expected slump morphed into permanent closure for many restaurants. While much of the state operates without a mask mandate, Oklahoma City, Norman, and Edmond all have municipal mandates in place, while indoor dining is allowed at 50 percent capacity with tables at least six feet apart.
With a lot of determination and a bit of luck, operators have made the best of pandemic-era dining. Those who had never considered carryout learned to love delivery and curbside pickup. Buffeted by assistance programs in Oklahoma City and suburban Edmond to retrofit parking spaces into outdoor “streeteries,” restaurateurs made clever use of outdoor seating, helped by a mild summer to attract customers to new patios and backyards. With a vaccine still months away and winter in between, outdoor heaters and even greater renovations are popping up all over the city. With a bit more luck — and plenty of support from diners — restaurants may just make it through the colder months too.
Here are 15 of Oklahoma City’s many deserving restaurants that are pivoting, remodeling, and even flourishing during the industry’s most challenging chapter.
Prices per person, excluding alcohol:
$ = Less than $15
$$ = $15 – $25
$$$ = $25 – $35
Dave Cathey has been Food Editor for The Oklahoman in Oklahoma City since 2008. He writes The Food Dude column, and is the author of Historic Restaurants of Oklahoma City and A Culinary History of Pittsburg County: Little Italy, Choctaw Beer and Lamb Fries.