Best of OKL 2018
The votes for the 2018 Best of OKL have been tallied! Check out these local favorites taking home the title.
Best TV Personality: LeAnne Taylor
By Miguel Rios
Photo by James Pratt
This month marks LeAnne Taylor’s 20th anniversary with KOTV News on 6, so it’s no surprise she has her morning routine down to a science.
She jumps out of bed when her alarm goes off at 2:40 every morning, and by 4 she’s at the station preparing and proofreading her parts of Six in the Morning, the station’s morning show.
“My part starts at 5 a.m. and we’re on the air until 9 a.m.,” she says.
Taylor’s work day is usually done by 11 a.m., a schedule she says has allowed her to spend time with her family.
“For all those years, I was able to pick up my daughter from school and be involved. We had a son as well, who is now a senior in high school, so those are times that were incredibly important to be able to be there watching them grow up and be a working mom,” she says. “It’s really the best of both worlds. I’m exhausted, but that’s what’s best for me.”
Tulsa has been Taylor’s hometown since she was 18, and she’s been on air there since 1984.
After graduating from Oral Roberts University with a telecommunications degree, she began her career with Tulsa’s Channel 8. She worked there for 14 years before leaving to work at Six in the Morning.
In 2003, Taylor announced her battle with breast cancer on air.
“I was a former medical reporter so I had a lot of experience with stories about breast cancer and then all of a sudden I became a breast cancer patient,” she recalls.
Taylor received the “You Make a Difference” Award for making her battle with breast cancer public. She became a survivor and decided to give back to the community.
“I’ve used that as my opportunity to pay it forward,” she says. “As a 14-year breast cancer survivor, I’m incredibly involved in the Tulsa community in Komen Tulsa.”
Taylor received the “Promise of One” award for working with the Susan G. Komen Tulsa affiliate.
Taylor says she loves interacting with her viewers, and she feels very connected to them.
“I’ve worn a lot of hats. I’m a former Miss Tulsa, so I kind of have a pageant background. I was in 4-H, so I have a cattle-raising background.
I’m active in my church,” she says. “I see a lot of people all the time and I’m honored and so appreciative that they have invited me into their lives.”
Taylor recalls a dentist appointment where a man greeted her by name, saying, “I have two cups of coffee with you every morning.”
“I love it when people approach me. My family has become very understanding and they’re really good at taking pictures for me,” she says. “I’m very involved in the community and I love that interaction.”
Taylor says she feels overwhelmed and speechless being voted “Best Oklahoma TV Personality” by OKL readers.
“My time is their time because they’re watching, they’re supporting me. That’s what I do for a living is connect with folks,” she says. “For me to be speechless is ridiculous, but I am speechless.”
Most Beautiful Small Town: Guthrie
By Miguel Rios
Photo by James Pratt
It began as a railroad station, then became Oklahoma’s first capital; now it’s the readers’ choice for “Most Beautiful Town.”
The city of Guthrie’s history began after the Land Run of 1889, but much of that history still stands.
“We have a large historic district where the majority of the buildings were built between 1890 and 1910, and those several blocks have been pretty much preserved as pristine,” Leroy Alsup, Guthrie’s city manager, says. “It’s kind of like walking back into early Oklahoma history when you visit our community.”
Historical tourism is an important industry for Guthrie, the largest urban historic district in the state with more than 2,000 buildings.
“It’s like stepping back in time, but being able to enjoy modern amenities,” Andrea Post, Guthrie’s tourism director, says. “The pace of life here is a little bit slower, but you do have this gorgeous architecture through our downtown. It’s kind of a small town feel with big city access.”
Alsup says a combination of things make Guthrie beautiful: from its atmosphere and community to its architecture and history.
“There’s not another Guthrie in this region of the country,” he says. “We have a group of citizens in our community who are working very hard to make us a good tourist community.”
Alsup’s favorite thing about the town is its history—especially the fact that so many significant Oklahoma things got their start in or tie back to Guthrie.
“I think the city has done a good job in making sure that, as we grow, we preserve that history and that atmosphere,” he says. “We’re trying to make sure we’re very aware and protective of our heritage.”
Guthrie hosts a variety of events throughout the year including a bluegrass festival, an ‘89er land rush celebration and summer concerts downtown.
“There’s so much arts and culture here. That’s another thing I find unique about small towns, this small town in particular,” Post says.
Best-Kept Secret: Beavers Bend
By Miguel Rios
Photo by Elaine Warner
Despite being voted “Best-Kept Secret” in Oklahoma, Beavers Bend Resort Park is one of the most popular parks in the region.
“Beavers Bend was actually one of the original seven state parks that were established in 1937,” Mike Willeby, assistant park manager, says.
Beavers Bend Resort Park includes Beavers Bend State Park, Hochatown State Park, Lakeview Lodge and Cedar Creek Golf Course.
It is roughly 1,300 acres with about 40 cabins and more than 300 campsites including RV, primitive and electric areas. All sites are first-come, first-served, except RV sites which need to be reserved at gocampok. com.
Located in southeastern Oklahoma, Beavers Bend is in the foothills of the Kiamichi Mountains where it overlooks Mountain Fork River and has access to Broken Bow Lake.
“The natural beauty of the area is something special and I think that’s why a lot of people come here,” Willeby says. “The scenery—the mountains, the river, the streams—it really reminds people of more of an environment like Colorado. It’s not really something people think about when they think about Oklahoma.”
The park offers a variety of outdoor activities for the whole family.
“We have several lake access areas. Most of them provide all kinds of outdoor activities for folks, including hiking, camping and fishing,” Willeby says. “We have trail rides for horseback riding, a miniature train ride, paddle boats, canoes, kayaks and paddle boards.”
A variety of recreational services and activities like horseback riding, mini golf, float trips and paddle boats are available through private concessions.Visitors are encouraged to contact the concessions for hours and prices. A list can be found online at beaversbend. com.
“My favorite thing is the natural beauty of the area,” Willeby says. “I grew up around here and you kind of take things for granted when you don’t see other parts of the country, other parts of the world. I moved away for a while and really missed it.”
Best Place to Give Back: Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma
By Hayley Leatherwood
Courtesy of Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma
A father with two little girls, possibly ages 4 and 6, pushes his cart down an aisle picking out the family’s food for the week. His love and affection for his girls is evident, but what can’t be seen is that he’s struggling to make ends meet.
Today this father will not have to check out with standard payment—his gratitude and multiple thank yous are more than plenty for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, readers’ choice for “Best Place to Give Back.”
In Oklahoma, food insecurity and hunger starts as an economic problem and ends as a health problem. About 16 percent of the population (one in six Oklahomans) struggles to have enough access to healthy food and often resort to some other measure such as dumpster diving or going without meals. Furthermore, one in four children in our state (about 215,000) is food insecure.
“We take seriously the vast majority of the clients we serve are in circumstances beyond their control,” Katie Fitzgerald, Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma CEO, says.
The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma has 1,300 partner organizations in the counties it serves and distributes more than 50 million pounds of food per year. Beyond the metro area, partner organizations are deeply involved in feeding rural communities. Often referred to as “food deserts,” there are many rural areas that do not have easy access to a grocery store. The only option is to purchase food from a convenience store where produce is not available or abundant.
To help meet this need in Oklahoma, the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma has implemented a dual strategy: to feed the line and shorten the line.
“We do all we can to create a ‘client choice’ mini market environment,” Fiztgerald says. “When we are feeding the line, it is important that people have choice and dignity.” “We encourage people to come without shame because we often have knowledge or access to other resources that can reduce their need,” Fitzgerald says. “In that way we help shorten the line.”
Because there is so much work to be done, the need for volunteers is tremendous. In 2016, more than 42,000 volunteers donated time to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, saving the organization more than 4 million dollars in labor costs.
One of those volunteers is Barbara Niccum, Oklahoma Living reader and nominator for the Best of OKL award.
“My daughter, my granddaughter and I volunteer there once a month, and a sweepstakes club I’m a member of raises money and donates to the Food Bank when its donations are doubled,” Niccum says. “The food bank does an excellent job feeding our hungry Oklahomans, especially the kids.”
The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma has secured purchasing and procurement power so that every dollar equates to five meals. Of every dollar donated, 96 cents goes directly to hunger relief. The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma serves 53 counties in central and western Oklahoma and the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma serves 24 eastern counties.
Best Date Night Restaurant: Charleston's
By Taryn Franklin
Treat your honey to a delightful meal at our readers’ favorite date night spot, Charleston’s Restaurant.
Since its first restaurant opened in 1987, Charleston’s has prided itself on its casual atmosphere, well-priced menu and traditional American dishes—made from scratch daily.
Today, they are owned by Hal Smith Restaurants and have 10 locations across the state in cities like Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Norman. But, according to Hank Kraft, chief operations officer for Hal Smith Restaurants, they don’t consider themselves a chain restaurant business. Each location puts their heart and soul into serving their community, he says.
“It’s a great honor be voted the best of the best by the public,” Kraft says. “Our employees make us great, and I think our customers keep coming back because they know our food and service is consistently good.”
From their steak dinners to chicken fingers, Charleston’s is an exceptional dining experience for anniversaries, birthdays and other celebrations.
“Their food is top notch, their service is spot-on and the atmosphere is cozy and comfortable,” Oklahoma Living magazine reader Tracey Veal says. “What else could you ask for?”
Best Chicken-Fried Steak: Kendall's
By Laura Araujo
Photo by Laura Araujo
For 31 years, Kendall’s Restaurant in Noble, Oklahoma, has been drawing crowds—from near and far—to enjoy their famous chicken- fried steaks.
“We’re kind of a destination place. You wouldn’t believe the people who come to this little bitty town from all over the world,” says Kendall’s co-owner Dee Downer, an Oklahoma Electric Cooperative member. “When people want to visit a place that serves Oklahoma food, this is where they come.”
Downer’s business partner, Kim Lock, is the daughter of the restaurant’s original owner. When Brenda Mantooth opened the restaurant, she named it after her granddaughter, Kendall, who had just been born.
“Brenda was a wonderful cook and passed that down to her daughter. We’ve been doing it ever since,” Downer says.
Downer reveals the secret behind the famous chicken fry.
“We use fresh round steak. It comes in twice a week,” he says. “We stay on top of the quality of the meat we get. That’s one of the important things.”
In addition, the steak is seasoned simply with salt and pepper, hand-breaded, and topped with a generous portion of homemade brown or white gravy.
“We cook with seasoning here. We don’t like bland food,” Downer says. “We put a lot of love into it.”
The chicken-fried steak is served with a salad, mashed potatoes, green beans, a biscuit and, for dessert, a cinnamon roll.
“We have amazing cinnamon rolls; they’re homemade every day. The best way to describe them is they’re like eating the middle out of every other cinnamon roll you’ve ever had,” Downer says. “Everyone’s meal comes with one.”
The adventurous eater may wish to try Kendall’s Chicken Fry Challenge: three chicken-fried steaks with gravy, double green beans and mashed potatoes, a biscuit, a salad, and two cinnamon rolls. Eating the meal within an hour earns you a t-shirt and notoriety.
“We’ve had people from all over, professional eaters, who come in and attempt it. Thousands have tried and 39 have finished,” he says.
Those wishing to take on the challenge—or just enjoy a chicken-fried steak—will find Kendall’s at 100 South 3rd Street in Noble. The restaurant is open Wednesday through Saturday, 11a.m. to 8 p.m. Payment is by cash and check only.
For more information about Kendall’s Restaurant, watch this OKL Table Talk video.
Best Construction Company: T.J. Campbell Construction
By Taryn Franklin
For 40 years, T.J. Campbell Construction has proudly served the greater Oklahoma City area and its construction needs. It’s no surprise that you, our readers, voted them the best construction company in the state.
T.J. Campbell Construction is a Duit Holdings, Inc. business offering aggregate sales, hot-mix asphalt products, road building services and concrete and asphalt recycling services.
“T.J. Campbell Construction can do it all,” Oklahoma Living magazine reader Jordyn Frazier says. “They are friendly, passionate and get the job done well.”
In addition to their superb work, T.J. Campbell is one of the largest producers of commercial asphalt in the Oklahoma City Metro area, and it’s also the largest recycler of concrete materials in Oklahoma City.
T.J Campbell’s family owned the business until 2012, but their staff still includes second and third generations of the Campbell family. President of the T.J. Campbell Construction Arlen Halvorson has worked in the construction business across the country, but he’s grateful to be in the Sooner State.
“It’s great to be recognized by people who understand the value of quality work completed on schedule,” Halvorson says. “We’re blessed to work with great Oklahoma companies, their employees and our customers.”
Best International Cuisine: Thai Cafe
By Laura Araujo
Photo by Bailey Lefthand
For more than 10 years, Thai Cafe, in Stillwater, Oklahoma, has been serving up Asian favorites to locals and college students alike.
After living in Taiwan and Japan and working in kitchens in both countries, the restaurant’s owners, the Lim brothers, brought their culinary creations stateside.
“We mainly serve Thai dishes, but since we’re in a college town, we have a bit of variety as well,” Grace Lim, TITLE, says.
One of the restaurant’s most popular offerings is the Coconut Chicken—tender chicken coated in coconut, fried and served with a homemade sweet and spicy sauce. The fried catfish with homemade jalapeño cream sauce is another favorite.
“All our vegetables are fresh and cut here. Our sauces are made here as well. Nothing comes frozen,” Lim says.
Meals are served with vegetable or egg drop soup and a green salad with homemade dressing.
“Our unique dressing makes the salad special. We have people who come in just to buy the dressing,” she says. “A couple weeks ago we had someone call in and have a shipment sent to New York.”
Thai Cafe has a number of vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options. In addition, the restaurant serves nine flavors of Thai-style bubble tea. Stop in between 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. for bubble tea happy hour and receive $1 off a tea.
Thai Cafe, located at 502 South Husband Street in Stillwater, is open
- Sunday: 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.;
- Monday- Friday: 11 a.m. to 8:45 p.m.; and
- Saturday: 11:30 a.m. to 8:45 p.m.