Even though NE 23rd Street is one of the most historical streets in Oklahoma City, many locals tend to forget that it’s also home to some of the most grassroots and homegrown eateries in town, the best having a specific focus on soul food, barbecue and old-fashioned Southern cooking. NE 23rd Street restaurants are OKC’s culinary history all in a few blocks and really should be revered as such.
Winning big can be hungry, thirsty work. We scoured Oklahoma’s casinos for your best bets on sustenance whether you are on a winning streak, holding, folding, walking away, running, or just down to your last five bucks.
As a veteran restaurant reviewer, the first question I usually get asked by a new acquaintance is, “OK, so where’s the best restaurant around here?”
I usually answer, “In what category?” Steakhouses, barbecue, Mediterranean, Italian, Indian, French, Mexican, Cajun, German, Greek, Asian and on and on. They look at me and sigh. Believe me, I’ve tried them all.
Could Zen Asian Dining be the top spot for Asian food in Edmond? It is darn near.
Husband-and-wife team Lesly and Jamil Tran own and operate Zen. Chef Jamil’s sister, Kathy Tien, is a co-owner at Grand House China Bistro, known for its trendy weekend dim sum in Oklahoma City. They have been in the hospitality business for more than a quarter of a century.
Zen’s chefs are influenced by the best of specialties from Vietnam, China, Thailand and Japan. Although the restaurant is off the main street and tucked into a strip mall called the Edmond Exchange Building, people have no problem finding it and like to order the General chicken with egg roll, fried wonton, soup and rice ($6.25) for lunch. Mongolian beef with a sweet and spicy light soy sauce ($8.25), the pan-seared tilapia filet with basil sauce ($12.95) and salt-and-pepper calamari ($6.50) from the appetizer list are other favorites.
Among its best choices on the menu are duck, pho noodles and salads, plus good smoothies and chrysanthemum or raspberry teas.
After downtown Edmond’s annual LibertyFest parade, I headed over to Zen with many other paradegoers. I wanted to try the pad Thai, which I did not get to taste during many previous visits to Zen since it opened in 2006.
The combination pad Thai ($6.95) was listed on the lunch special, available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. It was a Thai stir-fried rice noodle dish with a good portion of large shrimp, chunks of chicken, sliced onions, red bell pepper, smaller hot peppers, egg and squares of fried tofu, all with decisive flavors of spice. Those who fear spiciness should have no problem here, as it tasted light and clean, with the chicken chunks almost a pristine white along with refreshing mint sprigs.
On another visit with a dining companion, it was the final day of the U.S. Open at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. Since my good friend had at one time belonged to the club, we considered carryout so we could catch the golf championship at home. But after a mention to our server, he graciously turned the channel from the baseball game to the golf match. Chef Tran, a golfer himself, came out to watch the final shots with us.
Dining on fine food right through the final moments, we began with mini Peking duck ($12.95) and frankly, there was nothing “mini” about it. The duck was tasty and tender, presented with buns and a sweet and spicy hoisin sauce. We followed it with well-prepared pork and black mushroom spring rolls ($4.95), a shrimp oriental salad ($7.50) and a cold cucumber salad ($3.95), which was so simple with soy sauce and sesame oil dressing — brilliant.
For our main courses, we let things kick off with fish and ordered the pleasing tilapia filet with black bean sauce ($12.95), plus a delicious Thai curry with chunks of salmon, scallops and shrimp ($17.95), all sparkling fresh. No shoe leather here.
For dessert, a shared piece of lemon smooth cake ($3.50) was outstanding.
Lesly Tran mentioned later that “zen” means “truth.”
“What you get at Zen is true, authentic Asian food,” she said.
Oklahoma Gazette’s restaurant review policy is to highlight the positive aspects, and include constructive criticism regarding food, ambience or service when appropriate.