‘Man,” a Tulsa World photographer said during a recent restaurant assignment, “I’m shooting a lot of tacos these days.”
Truer words have not been spoken, because in the past few months there has been a number of new, locally owned restaurants opening in Tulsa serving up a wide variety of foods from south of the U.S. border.
Some opened just as the COVID-19 pandemic caused most businesses to shut down, while others opened once the restrictions had been somewhat eased and diners were slowly returning to dining out.
Most of these establishments try to give a personal twist to what is essentially comfort food, to set themselves apart from the typical offerings, while others offer foods that represent specific regions or countries.
So, if chain restaurants no longer ring your bell, or if fast food tacos strike you as “no bueno,” check out these recently opened local restaurants on your next “Taco Tuesday” — or whenever you’re in the mood for a good meal.
These are all restaurants featuring Central and South American foods that the Tulsa World has reviewed in the past year or so. And don’t worry, we know of about a half dozen more such establishments that recently have, or soon will, open in the Tulsa area.
311 E. Second St.
James Beard Award-winning chef Kevin Nashan brought the tastes of northern New Mexico — along with memories of his family’s iconic restaurant in Santa Fe — to Tulsa with La Tertulia. The space will make you think you’ve crossed a couple of state lines, and the food is superb. Get a sampling of much of La Tertulia has to offer with the Deluxe Combination, or try the grilled rainbow trout with roasted potatoes and chimichurri sauce.
CALACA FRESH MEX
6902 S. Lewis Ave.
Owner Frank Villalovos wanted to recreate the flavors of the Mexican food he discovered in California, and Calaca Fresh Mex was the result. The seasonings are subtle but unique, and are designed to highlight the flavor of whatever protein is in the dish. Even the rice and beans, which are usually after-thoughts at most Mexican restaurants, are clean-your-plate tasty. Big appetites will appreciate the large, well-stuffed burritos, while the street tacos are savory morsels. A second location, at 32nd Street and Sheridan Road, is due to open soon.
EL PASO MEXICAN BAR & GRILL
5209 S. Sheridan Road, in the Farm Shopping Center
One of the city’s newest restaurants promises “tradition with a twist,” and delivers with dishes such as the Molcajete El Paso, a combination of grilled steak, chicken, al pastor pork, shrimp, cactus and onions that is brought to the table in a heated volcanic rock vessel. It’s a flavorful as it is eye-catching. Another popular dish is the goat birria, with the meat stewed until it is meltingly tender.
918 MAPLES CAFE AND CATERING
8151 E. 21st St.
Chef and owner Jose Bamaca offers a diverse menu, which includes burgers, catfish and pasta dishes, that reflects the “Catering” side of his restaurant’s name, but it’s items such as his Mexican dishes that are the true stars. Try the birria platter — four corn tortillas generously filled with tender, shredded beef, cheese, onions and cilantro then griddled, and served with a cup of the broth in which the meat is stewed. Equally good are the Hawaiian tacos, with grilled shrimp, pineapple, red onion, cilantro and baby spinach, and topped with a tangy aioli.
UNCLE PACO’S MEXICAN GRILL
8222 E. 103rd St., in the Plaza Shopping Center
This family-owned restaurant caters to the fans of traditional Tex-Mex cuisine, with a variety of fajita preparations, burritos, tacos, chimichangas and more. Some of the standouts are the shrimp cocktail, a ceviche-style blend of shrimp, cucumber, jalapeno, onion and cilantro in a tomato-based sauce that is clean and sharp in flavor; the grilled fish tacos; and the “La Parrillada” fajitas, with chicken, steak, shrimp, chorizo and carnitas atop a mound of onions, bell peppers and tomatoes. For dessert, try Uncle Paco’s take on sopapillas.
TACOS X MEZCAL
39 E. 18th St.
The goal of the owners for this newly opened eatery was to provide “sophisticated street food and fine mixology,” specifically featuring the broad range of mezcals now being produced. Goal attained: the menu at Tacos x Mezcal may be concise, but head chef Sebastian Renner has made certain every bite is packed with flavor. Start with the queso fundido or one of the guacamoles, then work your way through unique spins on tacos — the shrimp and swordfish tacos we highly recommend.
CASA DEL TEQUILA
6000 S. Lewis Ave.
It did not take long for Casa del Tequila, which took over the space that was the long-time home to Cardigan’s, to find an audience. Generous portions of traditional Tex-Mex are the order of the day, with appealing touches such as guacamole made to order and house-made tortillas. It also offers about 20 different maragaritas, including some over-the-top creations like the Rock N’ Roll Mangonada.
8036 S. Yale Ave.
The menu here is filled with family recipes brought from Venezuela by owner and chef Carolina Marino, including arepas and empanadas. Try the pabellon criollo dinner, seasoned, shredded beef with sides of white rice, black beans and tajadas (fried sweet plantains), or the delicious reina pepiada, loaded with a mayo-based chicken salad topped with a sizable portion of smooth avocado. For dessert, there is quesillo, a version of flan made with whole eggs and cream cheese and accompanied by a not-too-sweet syrup that easily could be habit-forming.
6703 E. 81st St.
While dishes from other South American countries are on the menu, the principal focus of Manos Peruanas is Peruvian cuisine. Start with palta con camarones, an appetizer that is a whole avocado overstuffed with a tasty shrimp salad, topped with lime juice and a mellow mayo-based dressing, then move on to aji de gallina, a stew of shredded chicken, aji amarillo peppers and spices in a rich, creamy sauce made with ground walnuts, served over rice and potatoes, and topped with an olive and a slice of hard-boiled egg. Wash it down with a refreshing glass of chicha morada, made with purple corn, pineapple, apple, clove, cinnamon and lemon.
1124 S. Lewis Ave., in the Mother Road Market
Chef Alex Figueira began Doctor Kustom as a food truck to highlight the popular street foods of his native Brazil. Earlier this year, he took over a permanent space in the Mother Road Market, which has given him the chance to broaden his menu. Of course, the original menu items — the picanha, or steak, sandwich with polenta fries; the coxinha (shredded spiced chicken coated in flour and potato and fried); the pastels (flaky pastry will savory and sweet fillings); and the little explosions of chocolate known as brigadeiros — are as good as always. Follow Doctor Kustom on social media to learn about specials such as feijoada, a rich stew of black beans that is Brazil’s national dish.
105 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Que Gusto features food from the highlands of Ecuador, where pork, beef, chicken, yucca, potatoes and plantains are the most common ingredients. They are found most often in empanadas — and here the choices include pork and potato, ground beef and olives, organic chicken breast and cilantro, portobello mushrooms and seitan, a meat substitute made from wheat gluten. The dough is made in house, and the majority of empanadas are baked, rather than fried.
Recently opened, review to come
MADRE’S MEXICAN KITCHEN
6823 S. Yale Ave.
Madre’s recently opened in space formerly occupied by Mahogany Prime Steakhouse. One of the owners told us that the concept for Madre’s is to offer “a more modern Mexican cuisine, with not too much Tex-Mex.” Stay tuned for that review.
El Paso Mexican Bar and Grill review