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I’m a real ornery cuss. While I try to hold my tongue when it happens, I get awfully tired of people asking me for “the best Mexican restaurant” in Oklahoma City—made all the more awkward because I am the one who set myself up to be a personal Yelp of sorts.
This is a job I created myself, so it’s even more ridiculous that I’m so vexed by that question, but I cannot help it! I want to lead you all to the best of the best, but...look...we’re in Oklahoma City. We’re roughly 8 hours away from Mexico. Finding “the best Mexican restaurant” isn’t hard, but it’s also largely a matter of taste.
Le sigh. We’ve been over this before, but most Mexican food in Oklahoma City is of the Tex-Mex variety, and I’m happy with that. I love Tex-Mex food. I love cheese enchiladas covered in chili con carne. I love fajitas. I love tacos and burritos and nachos and the bounty of melted cheese, guacamole, and sour cream sauces.
But that’s not all Mexico has to offer, nor all you can find in Oklahoma City. For the latest #EMBARKEats review, I happily hopped a bus for a visit to a different kind of Mexican restaurant—Restaurante Los Artesanos.
I’m not about to tell you there’s no Tex in this Mex, but the amount of creamy cheese sauces and the use of ground beef are much lower than you’ll find at a Chelino’s and the like.
Restaurante Los Artesanos is tiny. Like...6-8 tables tiny. It’s in a little old house on South Walker Avenue, a stone’s throw from La 29, with a bright orange door set against a royal blue exterior and I love it.
When people use the term “hole in the wall” lovingly, this is what they’re talking about. It’s unassuming, maybe even a little frightening to those with a crippling fear of Spanish, but the people inside and the food they make is pure gold.
Number 1 on the menu, and in my heart, is grilled steak ($9) with shrimp (add $2.99). One thing you’ll notice on the menu is that a lot of ingredients come back again and again. Steak becomes asada for tacos. Chicken is grilled, stuffed in a chile relleno, and wrapped in a tortilla and fried for flautas. Shrimp is everywhere, thank goodness, because my big concern with ordering shrimp anywhere is volume.
Restaurants that have one shrimp dish on the menu might not go through it fast enough to ensure a steady supply of fresh meat. So seeing shrimp pop up in eight separate dishes at Los Artesanos set my mind (and stomach) at ease.
Grilled steak with shrimp is a classic. The steak is thin, but tender and flavorful. The shrimp are juicy and plump, soaking in the flavors of sauteed onions and jalapenos. Ringing the homestyle refried beans and rice are lightly fried potato rounds that I could easily make a meal of on their own. When I asked the owner her favorite dish, this was her answer and I can see why. It’s a must-have for sure.
There’s a thin slice of steak atop the red enchiladas ($9) and more of those fried potato rounds. I got the enchiladas filled with cheese, because that’s who I am as a person and I like it. The red sauce is thinner and soaks into the tortillas as they cook, imbuing them with that dark tomato richness without flooding the dish with moisture. Feel free to add hot sauce if you like, but these are easily mild enough for more sensitive palates.
Three tacos ($9) is a mostly accurate name for this dish of asada tacos, as there are three of them, but the price also includes a hefty portion of refried beans and rice. The tacos are great—I opted for flour tortillas after a recommendation from the owner’s son—and got them filled with steak. It’s a straightforward preparation, with lime for squeezing and finely diced onion and cilantro adding a lot of flavor.
The tortillas are worth highlighting as Los Artesanos makes their own by hand. Maybe I’m a broken record at this point, but fresh tortillas and store-bought are so different we shouldn’t even call them the same name. These are tender and light, with texture that nearly melts on the tongue.
For more taqueria-style fare, check out the last page of the menu for tacos, burritos, and gordita ($2 corn, $2.50 flour). I nabbed a barbacoa gordita and, for a couple of bucks, this has got to be the best lunch deal out there. It’s packed full of juicy shredded stewed beef, like a portable pot roast sandwich. It’s tasty, it’s filling, but it’s not so big that you’ll be yawning incessantly for the rest of the day.
I told you the shrimp would come back, right? While I was mightily tempted by the shrimp cocktail ($11.99), I ended up going for the shrimp in garlic sauce ($11.99) instead. Let me warn you up front on this one: they’re not playing around with the garlic here. Each piece of shrimp is coated in a garlic paste before they’re cooked and that means every bite straight up pops you in the palate with Big Garlic Energy. It’s delicious, but also a lot.
While the desserts looked good, I ended up just getting a big glass of the house lemonade at Los Artesanos and I feel pretty good about it. In addition to being very sweet and full of lemony goodness, the massive glass came with chunks of fruit mixed in and a sprinkle of chia seeds. Big thanks to the dude at the next table over for recommending it.
And I hope you accept my recommendation of Restaurante Los Artesanos. Feel free to call ahead for takeout, especially if you’ve got a big party, but this is definitely food you want to try. Is it the “best Mexican food in Oklahoma City”? I don’t know. But it’s good enough I’m planning to go back to explore the rest of the menu.
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