We Can't Believe How Cool Oklahoma City is Being Right Now
Portlandia on the Great Plains? Not just yet—but it feels like it could happen
The signs were all there, really, looking back—let's start with the city's outsized love of public art, best represented by the sweeping Skydance Bridge, completed in 2012 to connect two pieces of a massive, highly-programmed urban park (now under construction) designed to connect Oklahoma City's quickly regenerating downtown down toward the Oklahoma River. Going back even further, there's Bricktown, the old warehouse district just east of the city center, years ago now thoughtfully-converted to a sort of miniature version of San Antonio's famous Riverwalk. And don't forget the heartbreaking, but also beautiful Oklahoma City National Memorial, a strikingly-designed, contemplative spot on the site of the Murrah Federal Building, the most famous building that doesn't exist anymore in a city known best to many Americans for one particularly tragic April day in 1995.
So there's stuff to see. Great. But cool? Oklahoma City? You kind of need to see it for yourself to quite believe it, but yes—and not only a little bit, either. From a slew of appealing new architecture to the occasional sensitive restoration of the old, it's also, increasingly, a really good-looking town, too. This may be one of those American cities you're probably not likely to visit on purpose, but if you get here, you'll find, well, quite the scene—from food trucks to ramen to thoughtful new restaurants, not to mention great coffee, Oklahoma City is, like so many other places that typically flew under the radar, busily working on becoming a really fun place to spend time. If you're fortunate enough to find yourself passing through, here are just a few essential stops in one of the most happening cities on the Great Plains right now.
Weekends at most times of the year—they close during the coldest winter months—this sizeable food truck park, complete with very busy outdoor bar, becomes one of the best hangouts anywhere around; it's open every day except Monday, though, with a rotating cast of trucks, offering up—for starters—all the essential regional staples, in one form or another: tacos, barbecue, and fried chicken. On quieter evenings, they do outdoor movies.
Smart visitors begin their mornings at this fashionable local roaster and café, where it's as much about scoping out the scene (and being scoped out) as ordering one of their perfectly-made espresso drinks. The city's got quite the little coffee community up and running these days, but Elemental is still the one that feels the most essential.
Kitchen No. 324
This clean-lined, wonderfully straightforward farm-to-table spot on a downtown corner—inside an equally-attractive restored historic building—functions as an all-day café of sorts for those in the know. They're open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., 7 days a week, slinging great breakfast plates (pastrami and eggs, biscuits with chorizo gravy), solid sandwiches and simple dinners (house meatloaf, get it)—their vegetable sides alone are worth stopping in for, from roasted cauliflower served with smoked cheddar fondue, to red quinoa with apples and sweet potato.
That must-have accessory in so many up-and-coming cities in the middle of America right now—a branch of the art-centric 21c Museum Hotel—has landed in OKC. Predictably, its on-site bar and restaurant has become a downtown hotspot. It's a smart room, but this is Oklahoma—no shame in ordering a local beer; look for breweries like Anthem, COOP, and Black Mesa.
Pretty much everyone agrees—this recently-launched wine bar is one of the best places to be in town right now. Located up in the early-adopter Plaza District, which was cool long before pretty much anything in Oklahoma City was cool, this smart spot works in all kinds of ways, depending on your mood—grab a glass and a bit of pate or cheese, come in for dinner (Chef Shelby Sieg is getting great notes for her small plates menu), or even a late-night cocktail; then come back on weekends for brunch. Whenever you're here, stick around long enough to try dessert—ask about the doughnuts. Everybody does.