Pho Ca Dao
The Asian District offers plenty of pho, but Pho Ca Dao (that last word is pronounced “yow”) stands out for a few reasons, not the least of which is the presence of owners in the kitchen every day for 20 years. The menu is traditional Vietnamese, with a great mix of northern and southern options. Loan Nguyen is from southern Vietnam, but her family taught her influences from all over the country, including Hue, the historic capital of pre-France Vietnam.
While most Asian food lovers are familiar with pho, bun bo hue is less well known. The spicy noodle soup is much like pho, but the stock and the amount of meat are much different than pho. Loan Nguyen makes her own stock with beef bones, meaning the broth is rich and savory.
Another thing that sets Pho Ca Dao apart is the vegan pho. Yes, vegan pho. They use mushroom broth so our vegan friends can enjoy this Vietnamese specialty, too. The menu includes traditional favorites like spring rolls, vermicelli bowls, rice platters and main courses. Nearly any dish is available in a vegetarian option, a rarity in Vietnamese restaurants locally. If you want to dig a little deeper into the genre, go for the hu tiu (lighter than pho) or for the hearty appetite, Loan’s beef stew is outstanding. Of course, there is bubble tea as well.
Pho Ca Dao is open seven days a week from 10 am to 8 pm. Take out orders are available.
The Red Cup
The Red Cup started off as a coffee shop with a very limited food menu, but over time, and especially after the arrival of Chef Patrick Clark II, the coffee shop developed a reputation as a destination for vegetarians around OKC. The Red Cup is one of those places that all the locals know about, but it’s not in the normal tourism brochures. Tucked into a neighborhood on the eastern edge of the Asian District, the shop offers a large patio for coffee or dining in a quiet setting.
What Clark does not make in-house is sourced locally as much as possible, and his vegetarian and vegan dishes are locally famous for their quality, creativity and flavor. Breakfast, brunch and lunch menus are available, and all have gluten-free options, as well. For breakfast, it’s biscuits and gravy (mushroom cream) with “soysage” or the Egghead, a sandwich of scrambled eggs, beefsteak tomato and cheddar on your choice of locally sourced bread.
Lunch is the largest menu, and while the sandwiches are delicious and creative, you simply have to try the vegan chili. It’s flavorful, delicious and slightly spicy. You’ll not even notice it’s vegan. Clark is a genius with soups, so give the rotating daily soup a shot, too. His weekly pasta special features locally made pasta from OKC’s hidden gem Della Terra Fine Pasta. To see what vegetarian can truly be, try the Sloppy Jane, a vegetarian sloppy joe mix on house-made rosemary-garlic bread.
The Red Cup is open Monday through Friday 7 am to 5 pm, with lunch available after 11 am. Weekend hours are 9 am to 5 pm on Saturday and Sunday, and brunch is served both days.
This is hands-down one of the must-have brunches in Oklahoma City. The bad news is that the locals know that, too, so be prepared to wait. They have instituted a pager system, which helps somewhat, but peak hour waits on weekends can be up to 90 minutes. If you can do a weekday morning, there is typically a minimal wait. This is a restaurant you simply have to have if you are in town, though.
Café Kacao specializes in Guatemalan food, and offers breakfast and lunch—brunch is the breakfast menu. The menu is fairly extensive, but many of the items will be familiar: black beans, tortillas, eggs, sandwiches, etc. What makes Kacao special—besides the overall quality—are the traditional items that are unique from other metro menus. Try the Tikal breakfast (sliced flank steak, eggs and longaniza) or the Izabal breakfast (potatoes with peppers, onions and chorizo, eggs, and ranchero sauce).
The lunch dishes should sound familiar to most people, but the flavors are explosive, and even something as common as carne guisada is somehow extra delicious at Kacao. For the adventurous types, the Cochinita Pibil is a perfect introduction to Guatemalan food. It’s pulled pork cooked in citrus sauce and served with guajillo pepper corn tortillas. Or go with the Hilachas: shredded, tender beef in tomato-pepper sauce, and served with Russian salad, a house specialty. If the salad is not part of your meal, get it on the side. It’s potato salad Guatemalan style—served with peas, carrots and celery.
For dessert, it’s Plantains in Glory (how can you not love that name?): fried plantains in brown sugar, cinnamon, Kahlua and sour cream. The coffee is outstanding as well.
Café Kacao is open Tuesday through Friday 8 am to 5 pm, Saturday 8 am to 4 pm, and Sunday 9 am to 2 pm.