The owners and chefs at Santa Fe Cattle rely on old family recipes that demand steaks are aged and cut in-house, rolls are baked fresh each day, and signature sauces are mixed onsite. These touches transform the menu’s casual, regional eats into dishes worthy of John Wayne’s personal dressing-room buffet. Steaks, fajitas, and sliders are plated next to housemade sides of cole slaw, Santa Fe taters, and of course, a bucket of peanuts—which guests shuck directly onto the floor. The peanut shells add character to each one of the restaurant’s 20 locations, which evoke old-west saloons with touches such as brick walls draped in horse saddles and weathered wooden floors.
Though it’s now the oldest single-family owned barbecue restaurant in Oklahoma, the Shawnee Van’s Pig Stand wasn’t Van’s first barbecue shop. The family patriarch first began crafting his signature pork sandwiches and plates of ribs in 1928 and shared his recipes with family members as they opened up their own hubs throughout Oklahoma. More than 80 years later, Van’s descendants still grill up barbecue dinners and sandwiches with those signature recipes, that is, if they have taken the blood oath to keep them secret. Though they specialize in cuts of pig, the grill masters incorporate everything from brisket, turkey, chopped beef, and chicken into their dinners, pairing each meaty helping with two sides and a slice of texas toast. Sweet flavors, including sweet tea and pecan pie, cap off savory meals.
When Popeyes first opened in a New Orleans suburb in 1972, it wasn't exactly an instant hit. Known back then as Chicken on the Run, it experienced several months of lackluster sales. Not ready to give up, founder Alvin Copeland Sr. changed his recipe from traditional southern fried chicken to the native spicy New Orleans?style chicken. He then gave his eatery a similarly spicy new moniker: Popeyes, named after "Popeye" Doyle, the hardboiled detective in the hit movie The French Connection.
A little more than a decade later, the popular chain had opened its 500th restaurant, expanded to Canada, and added its fluffy buttermilk biscuits to the menu. It also introduced the country to crawfish, which?much like draping beads over everything from trees to the local alligator population?had been beloved by Louisianans for decades.
Nowadays, patrons can dig into the Louisiana favorites that made Popeyes famous, including breaded seafood, po' boys, and sides like mashed potatoes and red beans and rice. Of course, the main event is still spicy or mild chicken that marinates for 12 hours before being hand-battered, hand-breaded, and fried.