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Papa Dio's Italian Restaurant

10712 N. May Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK
(405) 755-2255

Papa Dio's is actually two restaurants in one: The right door (under the sign) leads to the regular restaurant
The left door is the entrance to the wine bar

Papa Dio's is the type of place that does not always get a lot of publicity compared to some of the city's newer, splashier Italian restaurants, but its large group of loyal customers are evidence that it remains one of their favorites. Located in an aging strip mall in the Oklahoma City suburb of The Village, I suspect it is not a place many first time visitors to the city would likely go for Italian food. For residents who are more interested in good food than popular tourist areas, though, it remains one of the most popular restaurants in the city.

I will admit that I am a little biased about Papa Dio's. I have been going for so many years and enjoying it so much that it has largely become my idea of what Italian food should be. I always enjoy trying other people's versions of good Italian food, and especially if I know it is authentic (but authentic Italian food can be many things, and I understand the food in Italy is as varied as in any other large country). Papa Dio's has so many items that are my all time favorites, though, that if I found something spectacular at another restaurant it would likely become one of my "co-favorites," rather than replacing what I know and love at Papa Dio's.

Not everything at Papa Dio's is the best I can find anywhere, but there is a pretty long list for a restaurant located in a suburban strip mall. Even items that I do not consider my favorite are nevertheless enjoyable, and among the best in OKC.

The cacciatore sauce for many years has remained the best I have tried anywhere. The reason seems to be a combination of fresh ingredients and a good mix of flavors. Papa Dio's serves chicken cacciatore, but a rather unique item here is ordering spaghetti with cacciatore sauce on top (or one of the other various types of pastas that are available).

I would classify Papa Dio's as country Italian cooking, and it is the kind of place where the food comes from family recipes. It is a "red sauce" restaurant, but the sauce is a higher quality than most. Most of all, though, I enjoy the items covered by the sauce. The meat, cheese, eggplant, and just about everything here has an exceptional flavor.

There are two dining rooms, with the more informal one located next to the kitchen. The owners maintain a good family atmosphere, and used to go so far as to provide crayons for kids to write on the walls (but this is no longer encouraged). Large family style tables are available, as well as smaller tables. Bread sticks are supplied to each table, making a good accompaniment to a salad or just serving as a before dinner snack.

A separate dining room serves as Papa Dio's wine bar. This upscale area with white tablecloths has mostly small tables for intimate dining, but serves the same food as in the regular dining area. Instead of bread sticks, though, patrons are treated to excellent fresh bread that may be dipped in olive oil and garlic, leading to the danger of becoming quite full before the meal ever arrives.

Papa Dio's salad
Papa Dio's salad is one of my favorites

The House Salad at Papa Dio's is one of the best anywhere. The iceberg lettuce may not be anything remarkable, but it is raised to new levels of flavor when saturated in this Italian dressing. Black olives seem to be very popular in restaurants, but I am a huge fan of green olives, of which Papa Dio's has made liberal use in the house salad. This salad may not match the ones at some upscale restaurants such as Boulevard Steakhouse, but for the ingredients that are used at Papa Dio's I have never encountered another salad in which they are put together so skillfully.

The Bean Soup makes another good appetizer, and a second variety of soup is usually available.

Chicken cacciatore
A half order of Papa Dio's chicken cacciatore with spaghetti

One of the best dishes at Papa Dio's is Chicken Cacciatore, with a strong wine taste, herbs, and fresh vegetables that is about as good as can be found anywhere. The few other Italian restaurants that even attempt this dish have not measured up to the one at Papa Dio's, or at least I have not found such a restaurant. While it is traditional to serve a whole or half chicken, Papa Dio's only includes white meat. It is primarily the sauce, however, that has enamored me so much with this dish. If I can find someone to split the dish with me, I prefer a half order that will either be done at no extra charge, or at an extra cost if an extra salad is included (most entrées come with Papa's Salad or another appetizer).

Spaghetti served with Cacciatore Sauce is available as a side dish with either the Chicken Cacciatore or any other entrée. I do not mind the fact that the pasta is just for some substance; the flavor of the sauce is just as good as on the chicken, and is the standard by which all others are to be judged. At times I have ordered this as a main dish instead of chicken, something I would recommend if there is no one with which to split a cacciatore dish.

Manicotti
Papa Dio's manicotti

The Manicotti (listed under "Italian Specialties") is one of the better dishes served that comes under the standard "red sauce" variety. Papa Dio's serves all of the cheese and pasta dishes normally found at Italian restaurants, and probably very few not found at other restaurants. The ones here are of consistently good quality, but other than the manicotti there are not any that I can say are my favorites.

Chicken parmigiana
Chicken parmigiana

Two dishes of about equal quality (and are among the best dishes at Papa Dio's) are the Eggplant Parmigiana and Chicken Parmigiana. Both use excellent ingredients, with the herbs and spices giving them a flavor that I think is about the best I have ever eaten. The crust on the chicken parmigiana is probably the best feature of the dish, although the meat itself is also of excellent quality. The cheese on the dish does not seem to be any more outstanding than at any other restaurant, or maybe it is that the other ingredients are so good I do not really notice the cheese. The chicken dish is quite filling, and in my opinion is large enough for two persons. The eggplant is just slightly less filling.

Spinach lasagna
A half order of Papa Dio's spinach lasagna

Spinach Lasagna uses a light tomato sauce that is not overly spiced so that the other components--pasta, cheese, and spinach--can be enjoyed on an equal basis with the sauce.

If you believe that "simple is good" when it comes to Italian food, you will enjoy Papa Dio's. This is my "everyday" favorite Italian place, even though I may find other restaurants with individual dishes that I think are better (or at least do them a little differently to provide some variety).

In the past I have complained about Papa Dio's prices, but it is not expensive by the standards of upscale Italian restaurants (and I would call the food here upscale, although probably not the menu selection).

One good feature of Papa Dio's is that they will split dinners at no extra charge (as with the spinach lasagna and chicken cacciatore that are pictured). For my appetite most of the dinner entrées at Papa Dio's are too large to eat by myself, but they do have smaller portions at lunch (available Tue. - Fri.).

For me personally, Papa Dio's is one of a small group of restaurants that I would miss the most if it were to close. Judging from its popularity, though, I do not think that will happen for quite some time.

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RESTAURANT DETAILS

RATING: 25

Cuisine: Italian
Cost: $$$
Hours: Dinner Mon. - Sat.; Lunch Tue. - Fri.
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No Smoking
Alcohol: Beer, Wine

Most Recent Visit
Nov. 5, 2010

Number of Visits: 10+

Best Items
Chicken Cacciatore, Spaghetti Cacciatore, Chicken Parmiagiana, Eggplant Parmiagana, Papa's Special Salad

Special Ratings
Chicken Parmiagiana:
Chicken Cacciatore:
Spaghetti with Cacciatore Sauce:
Manicotti:
Spinach Lasagna:
Pizza: pesto
Papa's Special Salad:



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