Positives: outstanding food, outstanding service, convenient location
Negatives: a bit pricey
Many years ago, a Mexican restaurant called "Ted's Cafe' Escondido" burst onto the Oklahoma City dining scene. It quickly became "the" go-to place in town, attracting large crowds to their re-purposed building (it was formerly a dairy store.)
Our few dining experiences at the original Ted's were adequate, but not exceptional. Food was very good, but they always had problems seating our family of seven. Wait times were too long for a couple with five kids. We felt rushed as staffers silently encouraged customers to eat quickly and move along. This was no doubt an attempt to accommodate the crowd. Additionally, prices were noticeably higher than competitors, a major factor for a young family on a budget.
That was "then", and this is "now". In the intervening years, Ted's has opened several larger, site-built locations.
Customers still face a long wait during high-demand periods like Friday and Saturday evenings, but seating times at other times are shorter. Servers no longer push customers to leave, and we rarely feel rushed.
Prices remain on the high side, but improved service conditions and continued culinary excellence have caused us to become consistent patrons.
At this writing, Ted's has four stores in the Oklahoma City metro. I believe Norman is their latest addition. We recently visited it for the first time, and had our best experience ever!
Location, Parking, and Decor -
This restaurant sits in the middle of I-35's "restaurant row". Located on the west I-35 service road between Robinson and Main Street, it's easy to reach, even with current construction at the Main Street interchange.
Parking seems ample but is cramped during peak periods. We arrived about 7:30 p.m. on a Monday evening and still had to park away from the entrance. Good news for visitors: you won't need to drive if staying at one of several hotels located behind the building.
Ted's restaurants are conservatively decorated in a Mexican style. The Norman location is no different. Earth tones predominate. Walls feature a few murals and pictures but overall the dining area contains fewer "knick-knacks" than a lot of Mexican restaurants.
Best of all, this particular location appears larger than others we've visited. It has multiple dining areas that each seem a bit bigger. I think the additional space is the primary reason we were seated immediately. If you must wait, they've provided a lot of padded seating in the lobby. The restaurant also features a full bar; our server said it's the only Ted's equipped with one.
About the Food -
Ted's set-up items are legendary. Their freshly-prepared salsa, queso, chips and tortillas can almost be a meal in themselves. They offer vegetable relish and "atomic" salsa upon request. The latter is spicier than their standard salsa, but quite delicious.
Set-ups are brought to your table without question but aren't free. I believe the price is $6.95 for each person that doesn't order a meal from the entree' or a la' carte menu.
Food items are pretty standard for a Mexican restaurant: tacos, enchiladas, tamales and the like. The menu lists several oddly-named combinations such as Tacodilla (taco and quesadilla) and tacolada (taco and enchilada). Servers have said they will mix and match to make a plate of your choosing.
Regardless of location or era, we've always enjoyed Ted's food. Quality has been consistently high across the chain. Portions are ample but don't seem to be as large as in years past. (Perhaps a form of cost control. If so, we appreciate the effort to keep prices down.)
Our meals in Norman were among the best we've ever had at a Mexican restaurant. Set-up items were delicious. We noticed the atomic salsa wasn't as fiery as at other times...my wife even ate some!
For our main course, she ordered tacos al carbon; I chose two shredded beef tacos from the a la' carte menu. My first bite of was one of those extraordinary moments that will be remembered for a long time...it was that good.
Service the way it Should Be -
First rate. That's the only way we can describe the treatment we received. A server quickly came to our table, brought chips, queso and salsa, and obtained our drink order within a couple of minutes of arrival. He was personable, prompt, and professional. We felt right at home. From drinks to salsa, the staff kept everything refilled. Food was delivered in a timely fashion but we were never rushed.
My wife asked for to-go box for one taco and a small bowl for our remaining salsa. Without prompting, our server brought a large cup of fresh salsa along with a small bag of chips, plus a box for her leftovers. Talk about going "above and beyond"! Treatment like this makes turns customers into fans.
The Bottom Line -
Norman's I-35 corridor offers many dining options. Competition for customers is fierce. With so many good restaurants in a small area, it's hard to make a "bad" choice.
From our recent experience with Ted's as a chain, and our one visit to this location, we can strongly recommend this restaurant. They would certainly be our first recommendation for anyone wanting Mexican food while in Norman.