Tulsa isn't a foodie paradise, but you're not going to go hungry, either. Unfortunately, chains kind of dominate the local scene. (Maybe you'll get lucky and stumble into a really good chain that at least you don't have back home.) Despite the proliferation of Chili's and T.G.I. Friday's, there are still some excellent independent restaurants to be found, ranging from packed breakfast spots to messy barbecue joints to fine dining restaurants where you can drop a buck or two. Outside of our top picks, your best chance of discovering a non-chain is to wander the Brookside or Cherry Street areas, where independent cafes co-mingle with interesting shops.
OK, so it's a bit spendy—so is everything else in Utica Square. Stonehorse is one of the few reliable places in Tulsa where foodies can indulge. Chefs prepare a seasonal menu in the open kitchen, and the selections vary not just by month, but by day, depending on what's fresh and fabulous. You could have rack of Colorado lamb one day and pistachio-crusted halibut the next (wood-fired pizzas are always available) and you'd have no shortage of excellent wines to pair it with. Their single dining room—a small one at that—is packed with 60 seats smushed in tight together. Between that, the dim lighting and the open kitchen that dominates the scene, Stonehorse doesn't leave a strong visual impression, but it’s all the better so you can focus on the food.
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Steak is staple here in the heartland, so don't you owe it to yourself to tuck into an enormous slab of beef? (Vegetarians, move along, there's nothing to see here.) The specialty is steak, whether porterhouse, strip, rib eye or filet mignon, although there is one chicken dish and a couple of seafood options if you really don't want to go all caveman. The entrees are pricey, and they don't include sides, which will run you $6-10 each. In other words, this is no cheap date. But the steaks are some of the best in town, and the staff seems to understand that you'd better be real nice when you're bringing someone a $40 steak with a potato that costs extra. (To be fair, there are less-expensive steaks to be had, as well.)
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You might be surprised to learn that Ti Amo is not part of a chain, although it does have a second location. It doesn’t have the Old Country warmth of a mom-and-pop bistro, nor the chic sophistication of Italian fine dining. But what it does have is consistently good Italian food in a pleasant-enough atmosphere that might be a little glossy and generic, but also doesn't resort to plastic grapes hanging from the ceiling. The variety of entrees would make any Italian mama proud, from chicken parmesan to veal picatta to all manner of pasta, including both covered in sauce or stuffed and baked. Save room on Sundays, because that’s when Ti Amo whips out the Chocolate Fountain Bar, which is—brace yourself—included with the purchase of your entrée, but only at the South Sheridan Street location.
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Few Tulsans can remember a time when there wasn't a Jamil's. The restaurant has been around since 1944, which, in restaurant terms, is pretty much forever. Its heyday was perhaps back when stars like Danny Thomas and Zsa Zsa Gabor were dining there. These days, the service isn't quite up to that sort of star quality, but the food experience is a Tulsa tradition that's worth a try. Jamil's is a steakhouse, but not the kind of country-and-western steakhouse you would expect in Oklahoma. It's a Lebanese steakhouse, which means that before your steak, you're regaled with several rounds of pre-meal snacks, such as hummus and tabouleh served with pita, followed by barbecued ribs and bologna. The legendary Jamil's has spawned more than one spin-off: other contenders to the Lebanese steakhouse throne are Eddy's and Silver Flame.
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Lunch and dinner are slightly different experiences at Rick's. By day, this casual cafe serves up affordable entrees like sandwiches and fried chicken, mostly under $10. Then the lights go down and Rick's gets a little swankier, whipping out the wine list and some upscale dishes like seafood mixed grill and filet mignon. (It's also one of the rare places in Tulsa where you can find escargot.) Dinner prices range from $13-25, and even the lunchtime hamburger gets an upgrade in both quality and price. Tucked away in the corner of a shopping center, this place is nicer on the inside than it looks from the street; the interior has an almost pubby feel, with lots of wood trim and a fireplace. Hint: They're known for their desserts, so save room for sweets.
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No one can fully agree on the best barbecue in town, but Albert G's is definitely a worthwhile contender for the bar-b-crown. Its location in a former filling station gives it a spiffy retro appeal, and, when the weather is nice, you can fill up outside where the pumps used to be (although the meaty aroma inside lets you work up a suitable appetite). Indulge in ribs, brisket, hot links and more, slathered with tangy barbecue sauce and served with your choice of sides, like baked beans and potato salad, and they'll slap down a couple slices of white bread at no extra charge.
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No need to head for the nearest golden arches when the occasion calls for burgers. This local restaurant serves an array of burger options, and, as the name would suggest, it also makes a mean pot of chili, used to top everything from the burgers to polish sausage to Frito pie (for the uninitiated, that's chili over Fritos). Of course, purists can eat it on its own instead of as a garnish, with sizes ranging from a dainty 8-ounce cup to a whopping 16-ounce bowl. There are actually seven locations around town of this mini-chain in the making.
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The Brookside neighborhood is known for its nightlife, but Brookside by Day gives early risers a reason to visit: breakfast. Sure, they serve lunch, but the sheer variety of breakfast goodness makes this casual little café quite the crowd-pleaser. (Come to think of it, night owls could probably use the morning-after assistance.) So what'll it be? Eggs over easy with a side of home fries and bacon? Breakfast burritos with salsa and guacamole? Strawberry and banana waffles? Biscuits and gravy? Come on the weekend and join the hoards of hungry people vying for a booth.
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This great little diner really packs 'em in. It doesn't hurt that Phil himself is there most days overseeing things, making sure the diner that bears his name doesn't disappoint. The staff has worked here for ages, and they're the kind of gals who will call you "sugar" and "hon" while they jot down your order. Since they open at 6AM and serve breakfast till they close at 2PM, Phil's does have a big following among the hearty-breakfast crowd (if you're really hungry, try the chicken-fried steak and eggs). But, if you're in a lunch mood, you can also find down-home classics like burgers, chicken-fried steak, liver and onions and corndogs.