Dining News

The 15 Best Oklahoma City Restaurants to Try Right Now

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.

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Mauree Turner becomes first Muslim elected to Oklahoma state legislature

Oklahoma currently has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the country, making criminal justice reform that much more important. In their announcement, Turner noted that criminal justice reform impacts other areas of political issues including housing insecurity, substance abuse, and a lack of access to education and job opportunities. 

When asked about their inspiration to run for the State House, Turner told the Council of American and Islamic Relations (CAIR) Oklahoma chapter that growing up in a single-parent household as the child of an incarcerated parent impacted their decision. ”When we don’t have someone with shared lived experiences advocating for us inside the capitol it makes it a lot easier for us to be carved out of the solutions that govern our everyday lives – and that is also what I stress to the students I talk to in middle and high schools around the state,” Turner said.

“I always said I would never run for office, but would always be devoted to finding the best candidate out there. I live in House District 88, one of the most liberal places – if not the most liberal place – in Oklahoma, we should be driving the conversation, and action, around what inclusive and equitable policy looks like.”

Representation played a big part in Turner’s decision to run as they hope this new position will allow future generations to have a relatable role model. “As a child, I honestly remember having conversations with my mom where I thought that things would just be better if I was white, or if I was just different in some way, shape or form,” Turner said. “So, it means a lot to be able to provide that visibility for other folks.”

According to HuffPost, despite the district consisting of 20% Latino and 10% Black residents, there have been no Black or Latino representatives in Oklahoma’s 88th District. In an interview with the HuffPost in October, Turner said that it would be “formative for young Muslim folks to see” should they be elected as the state’s first Muslim lawmaker. “We are no longer fighting for a seat at the table,” Turner said. “We’re creating a whole new table where everybody eats.”

Turner grew up in a multifaith household and learned about Islam from their father after he converted in prison. Prior to running for office, the hijab-wearing progressive worked as a field director for the American Civil Liberties Union’s criminal justice reform project, Campaign for Smart Justice. Additionally, Turner has worked in direct policy advocacy at the state capitol since 2018.

In sharing what their experience has been in running for state office as both a Muslim and person of color, Turner was simultaneously vulnerable and truthful. “In this fight my community is fighting to no longer have an ally represent us, but actually be our own representation,” Turner told CAIR Oklahoma. They said that the experience has been difficult, with people encouraging them to back out and run for school board or city council instead.

Reflecting on the Quran’s Chapter 2 Verse 177, Turner said that while they felt heartbreak from the people who would not support them, they felt healing in the reason why they chose to run, and encouraged others to read the Quranic chapter to “think about what that means in the context of where we are in the nation.”

“I also found peace in seeing folks show up for this movement I would have never expected. We have had folks hold fundraisers for us in other states, we have had artists create artwork for this movement, and around this campaign, we have had donors from across the country,” Turner said. “To be able to find, educate, and build community across the nation has been wonderful, Alhamdulillah.”

Black, Muslim, and Queer, Turner’s win is historic.

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Two students test positive for COVID-19 after taking ACT in Oklahoma

Two students tested positive for COVID-19 one day after taking the ACT at an Oklahoma high school, CNN reported. The students took the exam on July 18 exposing not only those in the room taking the exam with them but 200 other students in the facility. “Upon learning of these positive tests, the school immediately contacted local public health officials, notified ACT, and we have informed all students and test monitors in attendance that day,” Tarah DeSousa, the spokesperson, told CNN.

“As part of ACT’s test center social distancing guidelines, students and monitors were asked to complete a series of COVID-19 symptom and travel screening questions, instructed to practice social distancing guidelines while on campus, and it was recommended that masks be worn by all.” While staff members were required to wear masks, students are only required to wear masks if local mandates require so. This allows students who are potentially carrying the virus to have a greater chance to infect others and puts the health of hundreds at higher risk especially if protractors are not as cautious. 

Parents, students, and test administrators all received emails from ACT officials alerting them of the situation on Sunday, including those who spent time between 15 minutes to hours with the infected students. Seat assignments allowed for ACT officials to contact the parents of children in the presence of these students for multiple hours during the exam. As test centers fail to adequately respond to the pandemic, students not only have to worry about doing well on their exams but contracting coronavirus as well.

One high school student, who tested at a facility that has not reported any positive cases of the virus, told CNN that he is observing quarantine because he is afraid he may have been exposed and does not want potentially infect others who are more vulnerable. Frederick DeCoster told the news outlet that during his exam he was placed in a room with about 16 students, only one of which was wearing a mask.

“The proctor waited to ask us if anyone tested positive for Covid or came in contact with someone who tested positive after we were already sitting grouped together,” DeCoster told CNN. “Almost no one was wearing a mask, even the proctor was constantly taking it off. I didn’t feel safe. Then there was a kid sitting behind me sneezing, coughing hard, breathing really heavily. If you were to describe someone with coronavirus showing all the symptoms, it would be this guy. I was really worried.” 

According to CNN, this isn’t the first set of criticism ACT officials experienced this weekend. While some parents considered the announcement a blessing in disguise, 1,400 students showed up to testing locations Saturday without being alerted exams were canceled. For a student to contract the deadly coronavirus from a testing facility is not only unfortunate but at the fault of ACT officials who failed to implement safety regulations and protocol. While students should not be coming to facilities if they have been exposed to COVID-19, testing facilities also have the responsibility to ensure the safety of students if they decide to remain open.

Thousands of students and parents are coming together in efforts to protest the implementation of college standardized testing, including the SAT and ACT, during the novel coronavirus. Students have expressed not only a lack of concentration due to the stress of contracting the virus but the advantages privileged students have over others. In addition to the costs of tests, many students have to travel and incur other costs of taking tests in different locations amid the pandemic.

“Many students don’t have the chance to take off work or travel to take the ACT,” DeCoster said. “I’m lucky to be able to study and then travel to retake the test, but in doing so, me and my family’s health has been put at risk because they ignored all screening and mask guidelines.”

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Oklahoma Governor Hosted Trump’s Rally And Now He Has Coronavirus

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt hosted Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa and confirmed that he has tested positive for coronavirus.

The news:

Without proper contact tracing, it is impossible to know for certain where the governor got the virus, but it is confirmed that people who were working the rally for both the White House and the Trump campaign have tested positive, so while it is possible that Stitt could have gotten the virus elsewhere. There is a good possibility that he was exposed at Trump’s rally.

Former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain attended Trump’s rally in Tulsa and later tested positive for the virus.

It is almost like health experts knew what they were doing when they begged Trump to cancel the rally because it would spread the virus and make more people sick.

Trump wouldn’t listen. He wouldn’t follow his own administration’s health guidelines, and now people who were at the rally keep getting sick.

The virus denying Republican death cult keeps being reminded that not only is the coronavirus real, but also that following the lead of Donald Trump is a great way to get sick.

For more discussion about this story join our Rachel Maddow and MSNBC group.

Follow Jason Easley on Facebook

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Voters in deep-red Oklahoma approve Medicaid expansion

The decision in a Republican-leaning state is rich in political significance. Oklahoma becomes the fifth state in which voters have passed ballot initiatives to expand Medicaid by employing a tool to circumvent the will of GOP governors and legislatures. Another Medicaid-expansion vote is pending in Missouri early next month.

The 50.5 percent vote in favor of Oklahoma’s ballot question, announced late Tuesday night, shows that, even in red states, voters are significantly less hostile to the Affordable Care than President Trump, whose administration is trying to invalidate the law in a case before the Supreme Court. The ACA is the law that gives states the ability to expand Medicaid, a program run jointly by states and the federal government that originated out of the 1960s’ War on Poverty. With Tuesday’s vote, all but 13 states have decided to allow adults without children at home and those with slightly higher incomes into the program.

“It’s important for the country to know what happened in Oklahoma last night,” Amber England, campaign manager for Yes on 802, the grass-roots group leading the effort to pass the measure, said Wednesday. “In the middle of the pandemic, Oklahomans stood up to deliver health care to our friends, families and neighbors.”

Question 802 was the number of the initiative on the state’s primary ballot. She said volunteers collected 313,000 signatures — a state record — to get the question before voters, and hosted Zoom happy hours instead of house parties in this pandemic spring. Both proponents and opponents ran ads.

The vote results do not expand Medicaid in the Sooner State immediately or automatically. Under the wording change to the state constitution, the expansion will start in one year. The state is required within 90 days to submit to federal health officials a request to make the change to its Medicaid program. And the state legislature would need to agree to pay for the state’s portion of funding for the expansion, at least 90 percent of which is covered by federal money under ACA rules.

Approving the change “is huge, but it’s also just the start,” said Carly Putnam, policy director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, which favors the expansion. “We are finally at the point where we can do the hard work to get this implemented.”

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) immediately made his opposition clear.

“Our Oklahoma legislators now have the difficult job of deciding where we will find an estimated $200 million in funding to support this constitutional mandate,” Stitt said in a statement Wednesday.

With states’ finances eroded from shutting down large parts of their economy to help protect people from the coronavirus, Stitt said, “we are currently looking at a $1 billion deficit for this upcoming year, and the options on the table are raise taxes on hard working Oklahomans or cut finding to core services, such as education, roads and bridges or public safety.”

In Oklahoma, the Medicaid vote occurred against a complicated backdrop. The state is the only one so far that had taken the Trump administration up on an offer to abandon the program’s traditional status as a federal entitlement, in which each state is paid a fixed amount for each person who qualifies. Instead, the administration has said it is willing to free states from a lot of federal rules if they switch to a per-person cap — or a block grant, in which a state’s federal money would be fixed in times of economic crisis, such as a pandemic, when more people would qualify. Oklahoma applied for such a switch this spring, and it is unclear how the expansion vote will affect that.

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, Oklahoma’s unemployment rate for the civilian labor force shot up from 3.2 percent in February to 14.7 percent in April.

Stitt cited the sharp rise in unemployment — and a bigger pool of residents who now qualify for Medicaid — in May when he vetoed a bill that would have provided money for the first phase of the Medicaid transition to a block grant the governor has asked federal officials to approve.

In embracing a more expansive version of Medicaid, residents of Oklahoma — a state in which about two-thirds of voters supported Trump in the 2016 election — fit within a broad political shift. A May poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health research organization, showed that two-thirds of people in states that had not expanded Medicaid thought their state should do so. That preference was even more common (72 percent) among adults in those states who said they or someone in their home had lost pay or a job during the pandemic.

Oklahoma’s Medicaid ballot initiative was different from the four others, because it called for a change to a state constitution rather than state laws. Others have hit snags after the vote. Maine passed a ballot initiative in late 2017, but Medicaid did not expand there until a Republican governor was succeeded by a Democrat in early 2019. Political wrangling ensued in Utah and Idaho before the expansions began there. Like those two states, Nebraska approved an expansion in November 2018, but it is not scheduled to take effect until this fall.

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Breaking New

Oklahoma City University virtual graduation hacked with racist attacks

“Although we took safety precautions, unfortunately the digital platform we used to connect has become a target,” OCU President Martha Burger said on Twitter Saturday. “The Class of 2020 has been champions of diversity and inclusion, and we will continue to show love and support to each other as a university family in the aftermath of this hate.”
Schools across the US have closed to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and these social distancing efforts mean hallmark moments like graduations have had to move online.
The Saturday ceremony was brought to a halt when a racial slur and swastika appeared while a student was giving a blessing and pictures of students were on display, CNN affiliate KFOR reported.

Burger said the school has begun a report with federal and state authorities and will pursue “every avenue to ensure that those responsible are held accountable under the law.”

Though the hurt cannot be undone, Burger said, the university will continue to value integrity, respect, diversity, inclusion and collaboration.

The Twitter statement quoted the graduate who gave the blessing, Jay Williams.

“Where there is injustice, may we not be silent. Where there is harm, may we be makers of peace. Where there is hate, may we be agents of love.”

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Breaking New

Oklahoma judge blocks state order restricting abortion during coronavirus outbreak

US District Judge Charles Goodwin wrote “that while the current public health emergency allows the State of Oklahoma to impose some of the cited measures delaying abortion procedures, it has acted in an ‘unreasonable,’ ‘arbitrary,’ and ‘oppressive’ way — and imposed an ‘undue burden’ on abortion access — in imposing requirements that effectively deny a right of access to abortion.”

Several states’ officials opted to include elective abortions in limiting medical procedures during the coronavirus outbreak, pointing to the need to conserve personal protective equipment, while abortion rights supporters have disparaged the move as politically motivated.

Many of the court battles have a potentially long future ahead of them. Federal judges in Texas, Ohio and Alabama moved last week to block those states’ orders limiting elective abortions. While an appeals court then reversed course and temporarily allowed the Texas order to go into effect, another appeals court on Monday affirmed the lower court’s ruling blocking Ohio’s order.
In Oklahoma, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt issued an executive order in March that he later confirmed applied to “any type of abortion services” that are not a medical emergency or necessary to “prevent serious health risks” to the woman.

In the order Monday, Goodwin cited evidence that medication abortion, a type of abortion typically involving taking two pills without any surgical intervention that would have been included in the ban, “is safer and requires less interpersonal contact and PPE than surgical abortion.”

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said that he was “very disappointed” by Monday’s court order, with his office confirming the state plans to immediately appeal it to the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

Excluding abortions from the order “may encourage a flood of other judicially conjured exceptions, completely undermining the state’s ability to combat the worst public health crisis in Oklahoma history,” he said.

Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, said that while the ruling was a relief for patients, “they should have never had to wait for a judge to rule before accessing the time-sensitive care they needed.”

She accused Stitt of “wasting valuable time and resources using the COVID-19 pandemic to score political points.”

CNN has reached out to Stitt’s office for comment.

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Breaking New

Another University of Oklahoma professor uses the n-word

A history professor issued a “trigger warning” before reading a “historical document that used the ‘N-word’ repeatedly,” the university’s interim president, Joseph Harroz, Jr. wrote in an apology.

“It is common sense to avoid uttering the most offensive word in the English language, especially in an environment where the speaker holds the power,” Harroz said in a statement posted to the university’s Twitter page.

The professor has not been identified.

“While she could have made the point without reciting the actual word, she chose otherwise,” Harroz said, adding that this was another painful experience for the students in the class as well as their community.

Harroz said the latest incident occurred before the university had a chance to roll out its action plan following the uproar almost two weeks ago, when another OU professor apologized after telling his students that saying “OK, boomer” to someone is the same as calling someone “n***er.”

All OU faculty, staff, and administration are now required to go through a diversity, equity, and inclusion training, and the university will release details about an incident response protocol they are developing “in the near future,” Harroz wrote.

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Breaking New

Oklahoma to resume executions now that it has ‘reliable supply’ of lethal injection drugs

A ban on executions was put in place several days later as the state investigated whether the wrong drug was mistakenly used and a grand jury reviewed the execution protocol.

The state will now use a revised version of the protocol that includes recommendations from the 2016 multicounty grand jury.

“I believe that capital punishment is appropriate for the most heinous of crimes and it is our duty as state officials to obey the laws of the state of Oklahoma by carrying out this somber task,” Gov. Kevin Stitt said at a news conference

The three drugs that will continue to be used are midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride, according to Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter.

“There are sufficient drugs to begin the process of scheduling executions,” he said.

The state prison that holds the death chamber in Arizona is closing
The review of the process came in the wake of the 2014 botched execution of Clayton Lockett. Having been sentenced to death for the 1999 shooting of Stephanie Nieman, Lockett was scheduled to die by a three-drug lethal injection cocktail in April 2014 at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. Thirty-three minutes after the administration of the first drug began, the execution was halted.

“The doctor checked the IV and reported the blood vein had collapsed, and the drugs had either absorbed into tissue, leaked out or both,” according to a previously released timeline. Lockett died of a heart attack 43 minutes after the execution began.

After Warner’s execution the following January, officials learned their drug supplier had sent the Department of Corrections potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride, Fallin said at the time.

She said: “Until we have complete confidence in the system, we will delay any further executions.”

Hunter, the attorney general, said Thursday that carrying out a death sentence is his most profound responsibility.

“The additions that we’ve made to the protocol simply add more checks and balances, more safeguards, to the system to ensure that what happened in the past won’t happen again,” he said.

The updated protocol includes verifying execution drugs at each step and more training for execution teams.

He said he will pursue working to gain the ability to use a gas, nitrogen hypoxia, for executions. A 2015 law says the state cannot use nitrogen hypoxia unless the three-drug combination is not available.

There are 47 people sentenced to death in Oklahoma, 26 of whom have exhausted their appeals, according to the attorney general..

Hunter said the state’s Department of Corrections cannot set execution dates for people who have no more appeals until 150 days have passed.

He said state law prohibits him from releasing information about the drug supplier or suppliers.

CNN’s Dave Alsup, Debra Goldschmidt, Michael Nedelman and Dakin Andone contributed to this report.

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Breaking New

Moore, Oklahoma: Second runner died after a truck hit members of a high school track team

And the driver — arrested on initial charges of manslaughter and leaving the scene — had lost his own son to a separate car crash in the same city a day beforehand, and appeared to be impaired, police said.

The pickup, driven by Max Townsend, 57, struck six Moore High School athletes who had just started a run about a half-mile from school Monday afternoon, authorities said.

Police say they’re still trying to figure out what led the crash that has left the community just south of Oklahoma City in mourning.

“I assure you: We will find out why and exactly what happened, and how it happened, and then deal with the individual that caused this,” Moore police Sgt. Jeremy Lewis said at a news conference Tuesday.

Two students have died; four have been treated at hospital

The students were struck around 3:30 p.m. Monday, and preliminary information indicates they were on a sidewalk at the time, Lewis said.

Two of the six runners have died, police said:

• Yuridia Martinez, a sophomore, died of her injuries Tuesday.

• Rachel Freeman, a senior, died Monday at the scene.

Freeman intended to sign a collegiate scholarship for cross-country on Wednesday, according to Dustin Horstkoetter, the school district’s safety and security director.

The other four injured are, according to Horstkoetter:

• Kolby Crum, a senior who was in critical condition at a hospital Tuesday.

• Joseph White, a senior who still was in a hospital Tuesday for unspecified injuries. His condition wasn’t available.

• Shiloh Hutchinson, a junior who was in surgery Tuesday for a broken arm, leg and ankle. Her condition wasn’t available.

• Ashton Baza, a sophomore who was released from a hospital Monday after being treated for a broken leg and ankle.

Driver was arrested three blocks away, police say

Townsend was arrested Monday after police found him stopped about three blocks away, Lewis said.

“There were signs of impairment due to the … field sobriety test that we gave him, and that was part of the investigation … and why he was arrested,” Police Chief Todd Strickland said Tuesday.

Townsend was booked on initial charges of first-degree manslaughter and six counts of leaving the scene of an injury accident, Lewis said.

The charges “can and probably will change, especially as conditions change of the victims,” Lewis said.

Results of a blood-alcohol test are pending, according to Lewis.

Townsend was being held Tuesday at a Cleveland County jail, police said. It wasn’t immediately clear if he had an attorney.

Driver’s son died in a crash on Sunday, police say

Townsend’s 29-year-old son, Max Townsend Jr., died Sunday in a separate crash in Moore, Lewis said.

The younger Townsend’s vehicle “struck a vehicle, ended up hitting a telephone pole, flipping over, which is what” killed him, Lewis said.

The elder Townsend is not from Moore, police said, without elaborating.

Asked where he was going, Lewis said: “He does have family in that area.”

“We’re trying to … piece back as far as we can to see Mr. Townsend’s conduct and events over the last couple days,” Strickland said.

The high school held a vigil Tuesday evening

Moore High School held a vigil for the victims in its gym Tuesday evening.

“That’s going to be one of the first steps as we process and express our feelings and allow students and staff to express their feelings in working through this tragedy together,” Superintendent Robert Romines said before the vigil.

The victims were part of the school’s track and cross-country teams and “just like any normal day, the kids were out … running during their practice,” said Horstkoetter, the Moore schools safety and security director.

School officials have praised students and coaches who were at the scene Monday. Horstkoetter told CNN that they jumped into action, giving first aid and other assistance to those who needed help.

“We live in a really good community and we’re going to get through it,” Horstkoetter said. “This community is strong, and we are resilient but it’s tough … my heart is hurting, it’s broken,” Horstkoetter said.

Some students who saw the incident were “actually pointing out the direction the vehicle continued on, which helped us locate the vehicle four to five blocks away,” Lewis said.

Although no motive has been established, evidence shows the driver had “struck vehicles before and after striking the students,” according to Lewis.

Thirty mental health specialists — including 16 from the school district — were at Moore schools on Tuesday, helping students and staff process the incident, Romines said.

Monday’s incident comes more than six years after a massive tornado crushed houses, businesses and two schools in Moore, killing 24 people, including nine children.

“We’ve obviously faced unspeakable tragedy,” Romines said Tuesday. “Again, we will continue to hold each other. We will continue to grieve together, and we will continue to work in healing and beginning that healing process.”

CNN’s Pierre Meilhan and Joe Sutton contributed to this report.

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