It was a family run joint, owned by two gents related through the marriage of one to the sister of the other.
One of the owners was from Chicago, the other was from California.
The food was reasonably priced and good. Different, but good.
And most importantly (to my In-laws), the queso was tasty.
The owner, I'll call him Don (as in Don Diego de la Vega aka Zorro), upon hearing we were So Cal transplants like himself, pulled up a chair as if we were family and immediately launched into a discussion on his family history, our family history, the origins of his family recipes, and how he came to this growing Oklahoma town on the prairie, complete with introductions to all his family members that were currently working.
Before becoming an Oklahoma resident three years back, Don lived and worked in Inglewood, CA. Since I had spent a good deal of the summer of '95 in and around his neighborhood working on a movie (bad movie, good experience), we bonded over talk of this all-night taco stand, that corner store, and the many locations we shot at that he was intimately familiar with.
While we discussed, among other things, our shared experiences of our Okie-emigrant status, Don would occasionally whisper directions into his eldest daughter's passing ear and within minutes our table was adorned with items not on the menu, but culled from his own family's table favorites and prepared with speed and aplomb in the restaurant's kitchen.
When S mentioned her love for the fire-roasted green chile rellenos that my Step-Mom prepared, out came a sample of Don's favorite relleno-style dish. After some coaxing I admitted my missed cravings for North Hollywood street carnitas tacos with onion and cilantro relish and a red radish garnish. I was rewarded with a pork green chile verde version of my favorite sidewalk vendor dish that makes my lips curl just now thinking about it.
The fire-roasted mixed chile salsa that was his Mother's favorite was too good for words. When I suggested that he should include it on the menu, an astonished look crossed his face and he muttered, "sólo para la familia."*
What could I say to that? So I simply dipped another chip and munched away.
Don's favorite anecdote on opening a Mexican restaurant in Oklahoma involved the numerous "research" trips he and his family took throughout the state, once they decided to open their own joint here. He summed it up in one word...."queso."
Which drew a huge laugh from my So Cal gullet, as I nodded and heartily agreed with him when he proceeded to tell the story of how his family members were surprised that every Mexican restaurant in the state served up the complimentary melted cheesy dip along with the table setting and glass of water.
When I relayed the story of taking my In-laws for dinner to Olvera Street in LA, and how my M-i-L was upset when she found out we weren't getting queso dip with our dinner, Don nodded knowingly and chuckled right along with me.
You Okie's and your queso...I mean it.
*-for family only