Greater Tulsa Reporter
FLOURISHING RESTAURATEUR: Libby Billings stands in her third restaurant venture, Rappongi ramen bar, 601 S. Boston Ave., which opened in November. Billings opened Elote in 2008, followed by The Vault in 2012. All three restaurants are located in downtown Tulsa’s Deco District.
BLAKE AUSTYN for GTR Newspapers
When individuals witness the enthusiastic, seemingly endless energy that is Libby Billings, they usually aren’t surprised to discover that in addition to running successful businesses, she continues to breed new ones.
Roppongi ramen bar, Billings’ third restaurant, opened Nov. 21 in downtown Tulsa’s Deco District at 601 S. Boston Ave., smack dab in between her two well-established restaurants Elote and The Vault.
Elote opened in 2008, with The Vault following in 2012.
Billings, a graduate of Booker T. Washington High School and Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology culinary school, has always only worked in restaurants.
Her first job was at Mexicali Border Cafe, where, allegedly, she said that one day she would open a Mexican restaurant in downtown Tulsa, according to a former fellow employee.
“But I don’t remember ever saying that,” she laughs.
Nonetheless, that’s what Billings did.
She opened Elote in downtown Tulsa at a time when restaurants, particularly along Boston Avenue, did not operate after the weekday workday ended.
So Billings needed to give people a reason to come downtown, particularly to the Deco District.
“When Elote opened, there was going to be some residential options coming soon to the area,” she says.
When that didn’t happen, Billings threw festivals: Luchador runs, salsa competitions, chalk fests. She partnered with Mod’s Coffee and Crepes, located across from Elote, in offering puffy tacos and gelato specials.
Now, with residential offerings coming quickly to the area. “I’m proud to have been a part of the change that we’ve seen in the Deco,” she says.
Bringing change to the Deco District, however, wasn’t exactly Billings’ initial aim when she opened Elote.
Sustainability, on the other hand, was.
Working in restaurants growing up, “I always saw waste,” she says.
Quite the contrast to her home life.
“I was raised by hippies, and I was raised vegetarian, so we did not have meat in our house, and I grew up composting. Having no waste in our house was normal.
“So, to go into restaurants and see them throwing away styrofoam and learning where the meat came from; for my personal sanity, I knew that I would need to do things differently.”
Billings, therefore, endeavored to create a menu featuring fresh versions of Mexican dishes with a restaurant engaging in green practices, including recycling and composting.
Billings chose to open Roppongi at the southeast corner of 6th Street and Boston Avenue because “I wanted this spot to be open at night between Elote and The Vault,” she says honestly.
As Elote inches towards its 10-year anniversary, it seemed a nice time to revisit Elote, 514 S. Boston Ave., the restaurant that Billings calls “her baby.”
For an appetizer, my friend and I started with the Roasted Jalapeno Screamers, roasted jalapeños filled with cream cheese and topped with strawberries and black bean corn relish. I can handle my fair share of spice, but this spice nearly blew me out of the water.
We were attracted to this dish due to the strawberry element, which added a lightness to the spice that we very much enjoyed.
For our entrees, we ordered the Elote’s Puffy Tacos, the most popular menu item, says Billings, and the Enchilada Tomatillos.
We chose to go with pork on the two puffy tacos. They were topped with carmelized onions, lettuce, tomato onion relish and a version of Mexican sour cream.
We sprang for three tomatillos, two with avocado and one with chicken. Each tortilla was also filled with poblano peppers, portobello mushrooms and cilantro tomatillo sauce.
Both entrees came with two side orders.
The combination of the airiness and crunchiness of the puffy tacos makes me understand why the dish has remained so popular. Elote even offers a breakfast puffy taco option at the Cherry Street Farmers Market during the summer months.
The tomatillos tasted very fresh, particularly the ones with avocado. Although, while I don’t eat a lot of meat, there was something about the added flavor of the chicken tomatillo that hooked me.
Elote’s menu contains appetizers, tacos, burritos and larger entree items, with no dish costing more than $13.99.
Elote serves lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, starting at 11 a.m.