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CHELIO’S DINER: The ultimate experience in greasy spoon dining

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OKLAHOMA CITY – I’m always on the lookout for a good diner. Always.

You see, to me, nothing says “America” quite like a hole-in-the-wall greasy spoon, a tired old joint that might have seen some better years but it’s just holding on thanks to its grizzled regulars, complete with a menu more diverse than this country’s melting pot, covering everything from pizza and hamburgers to stir-fry and lasagna, all at varying rates of quality.

With Chelio’s Diner, 1621 S. I-35 Service Rd., I hit the motherlode.

When driving north down I-35, somewhere around the 15th street exit, I can vaguely see a while building on the hill, a weather-beaten, flapping sign that proclaims this joint has the “best pizza” in the city. Since moving back to OKC, it’s intrigued me for quite a while and I constantly made plans to stop and check it out, but never got around to it.

Until now. After an evening movie screening, my partner and I were looking for a place to get a late-night meal and it seems like all the Denny’s in town have shuttered their doors and Waffle House is just too much of a trip. Proudly open until midnight, we decided to try out Chelio’s in what had been a long time coming.

With its odd design, I’m not sure what the restaurant used to be in its former life—a couple of people in various online haunts believed it was a former member of the Sambo’s franchise. Either way, the unintentionally kitschy décor wouldn’t have felt out of place in a hyper-stylized Quentin Tarantino action sequence. I immediately felt at home.

It was around 10 p.m. and the place had a steady flow of locals looking for late-night grub. The waitress was all smiles as she brought our menus and waters. The first thing that caught my eye was the liver and onions—hoo-boy, it’s been a while since I’ve had some good liver and onions—but changed my mind when the waitress recommended the made-from-scratch chicken fried steak meal ($6.50), complete with mashed potatoes, fried okra, dinner rolls and liberal amounts of some of the creamiest white country gravy this side of the Red River. Throw on the sparse but dutiful salad bar for a couple dollars more and shoot, even if the food was bad to my tastebuds, at least it wouldn’t be bad to my wallet.

But here’s the deal…it wasn’t bad. It wasn’t bad at all. This was some seriously delicious homemade chicken fried steak , crispy on the outside, moist and tender on the inside, seasoned expertly. The potatoes were creamy and the okra crunchy, the rolls hot and ready to sop up any wayward gravy. Yep, I basked before the glory of this meal—this is how you do diner food.

Out of curiosity though, I couldn’t help but ask about the claim regarding their pizza. Surely a roadside diner can’t do pizza as good as say, an established neighborhood pizzeria, right? Just in case, though, I went ahead and ordered a small pepperoni and sausage pizza ($6.00).

And you know what? It was damn good. I don’t know if it was the best in town, but it’s certainly the best I’ve had in a long time. There was a very unique sweetness to the whole combo that really mingled beautifully with the tart tomatoes. The crust was crisp, buttery and, yes, sweet, and the toppings were plentiful, with an even stronger sweet flavor hiding underneath it all. Chelio’s definitely adds a secret ingredient to their pies, making them definitely a memorable experience, so much so I kick myself for not living in their delivery area to have this unique concoction on my dinner menu more often.

There’s a few other items on the menu I’m still dying to try—yes, that means you, liver and onions—and am pretty sure that Chelio’s just might be my new late-night haunt. What a better place to head down to for a hearty bite after taking in a screening at Harkins, where two people can eat cheaper than what they paid for the movie?

And that, my friends, is what a good greasy spoon is all about.

Chelio's Mexican Restaurant
1621 S I-35 Service Rd
Oklahoma City, OK 73129
Phone: (405) 670-5644

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Louis Fowler

Güicho. Gadfly. Chicano. Choctaw. Cristero. Freelancer. Leftist. Activist. Vilified. PKD....

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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