The itinerary: Before heading to game, sample the best food and culture
Norman, Okla., lies on the outskirts of Oklahoma City in the heart of Tornado Alley. It’s also the heart of Barbecue Country -- while Carolina, Memphis, and Kansas City may get all the national BBQ glory, don’t discount the barbecue in Oklahoma, which is better than OK. Oklahoma BBQ borrows from its neighbors: a little twist on K.C. sauce, and plenty of Texas-style brisket and smoky flavors. Around the OU campus and up to OKC there are tons of BBQ joints, but there’s a surprising amount of other options as well -- Greek, Italian, Mexican, even Banh Mi. Expand your palette and sample some Sooner specialties.
This joint gets its name from Belle Starr, one of the most famous female outlaws in Oklahoma history. Since opening in 2002, Iron Starr has become as infamous as the lady gunslinger, thanks to their dynamite fried okra, pimento cheese, and all manner of smoked meats.
Ribs, sausage, sweet homemade sauce, and plenty of folks who will fight you if you don’t declare it the best barbecue joint in all of Oklahoma. Make sure to try the smoked bologna, an Oklahoma specialty that is nothing like those sad bologna sandwiches you used to eat as a kid.
A great place to watch the game if you can’t get in to Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. The Garage boasts one of the best burgers in town, Tijuana fries (with jalapenos and onions), and plenty of dipping sauces.
The home of the aforementioned Banh Mi, the Vietnamese specialty sandwich that you would hardly expect to find in the heartland. Coriander takes your choice of meat or tofu, slathers it with house-made chicken pate, and tops it with daikon, carrots, and garlic aioli.
A staple for OU students for more than 45 years, right off Campus Corner and not too far from the stadium. With one of the happiest happy hours around (dollar beers!!), the place is plenty packed on game day, and is considered a Norman institution.
Come for the queso, stay for the Sooner Swirl. The Mexican cheese dip is well-known on OU campus, and the Swirl is the stuff of legend -- it’s a frozen sangria/margarita mashup that will definitely put you in the Sooner spirit.
If you’re looking for some culture in between heaping piles of barbecue and people screaming “Boomer Sooner!”, try OU’s fantastic art museum. The FJJMOA contains one of the largest collections of French Impressionism in the country, as well as plenty of Native American art that accurately represents the history of frontier-era Oklahoma.
The other big historical attraction on OU campus swaps out the Van Gogh paintings for dinosaur bones, including some of the largest pre-historic skeletons on earth. Jumping ahead a few million years, the museum also details the 30,000-year history of human civilization in Oklahoma, as well as the history of the oil industry that still pumps through the state today.
Up the road in Oklahoma State is the Cowboy Museum, a great place to experience the history of the frontier and indulge your inner cowpoke. From pre-settlement days through the Civil War and on, you can check out antique firearms, cowboy clothing and art, and the history of rodeo. Giddy-up!
No, there are no actual Thunderbirds at Lake Thunderbird, unless you happen to drive up in one. And no, there probably isn’t a giant octopus haunting the lake like a Midwestern Loch Ness monster. But it is a fantastic place to spot bald eagles, since the migratory birds set up camp in the park during the winter. A word of warning: despite how they appear on leather jackets, bald eagles rarely clutch American flags in their talons.