Funky Town OKC

Out and about in search of funky fun, we find there's a lot more to Oklahoma City than discovering its Western roots.

The gift section of the Super Cao Nguyen market in Oklahoma City's Asian District offers unique shopping finds.
Photo Credit: Shauna Lawyer Struby

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You can’t beat Oklahoma City for cowboy fare and pure toe-tapping fun; it just comes natural around here. But underneath the bright lights, this big city has developed a sophisticated, eclectic heart and soul that’s as sassy as its boot-scooting roots.

My friend Sandy and I set out for our funky night out on the town under a clear, star-lit night perfect for traipsing through metro streets. The goal: hit four distinctly different destinations for a little bit of shopping, fun and, of course, feasting, all in one night.

First stop, Super Cao Nguyen, a colorful Asian market bursting with character and international flavor, nestled in the heart of Oklahoma City’s bustling Asian District just north of the intersection of Classen Boulevard and Northwest 23rd Street.

Established in 1975 when thousands of Vietnamese refugees relocated to Oklahoma City after the end of the Vietnam War, Oklahoma City’s Asian District encompasses a wide variety of Asian cultures; Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai, Korean, Filipino and Japanese are some of the more predominant. The Asian population has carved its own special niche here, enriching Oklahoma City’s cultural fabric with festivals, food, music and shopping.

Although you’ll find other Asian markets in the district, Super Cao Nguyen is the largest, and with green, glowing neon palm trees surrounding the store and lighting up the night sky, it’s a safe bet you won’t miss it. Full of friendly folk chatting and shopping, Super Cao Nguyen is part grocery store, part community center, part exotic international shopping destination.

A full deli with sushi, spring rolls, soups, all manner of stir-fries and other Asian delicacies made fresh daily and sometimes hourly greets us at the entrance. Burrowing further into the store’s vast wares, we browse the fresh produce toward the back of the store wishing we knew how to cook with all the marvelously diverse veggie and seafood choices, and peruse the huge aquariums full of live crab, lobster and catfish.   

Every aisle here is a smorgasbord of festive surprises ranging from the practical to the sublime. Huge burlap bags of rice line one aisle, a row of delicate hand-painted tea sets captures the eye on the next, and just a few steps away we find utilitarian pots and pans in all shapes, designs and sizes. Our favorite in the expansive gift section is an intricately carved, wooden Buddha with a jolly, laughing face.

The heady smell of Super Cao Nguyen’s deli sets our stomachs to grumbling and we book it to Queen of Sheba,
an Ethiopian restaurant located in a strip mall at the intersection of Northwest 23rd Street and MacArthur Avenue. The restaurant’s inviting Ethiopian décor is first class, and the friendly demeanor of the owner, Mimi Younis, immediately puts you at ease.

Since Ethiopian food is traditionally eaten by hand, a warm, wet washcloth preps us for the tasting adventure to come. We’re famished by our shopping expedition and start off with an Ethiopian Bati beer and tej, a honey wine, and for appetizers, sambusas – delectable, light pastries filled with spices and vegetable or meat fillings. The Bati beer is smooth, mild and yeasty, the honey sweet tej sharpens the taste buds and the appetizers have just the right contrast of toasty crunch and flavor.

For an entrée, we settle on the Queen of Sheba platter for two, a steal at only $25. The platter is a colorful cornucopia of tasting pleasure, every tidbit perfectly seasoned and bursting with zingy flavors and comes lined with injera, a spongy Ethiopian bread, and dotted with dollops of various Ethiopian dishes – stewed beef, chicken, lamb, lentils, chickpea, potato and a small salad. Rolls of injera on a separate plate are both accompaniment and utensil.

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