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Classic cuisine: OSU students, alumni share their favorite restaurants in Stillwater history

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Eskimo Joe's on Saturday, April 4, 2020 in Stillwater.

There are certain restaurants that just smell and taste like college in Stillwater, Oklahoma, but these restaurants change between generations. 

For Oklahoma State University alumni and current students, however, memories of favorites remain.

During the early 1970s, restaurants like, Ma Williams Diner and The Ancestor were popular among college students. 

“When I was a student at OSU, my favorite restaurant was Ma Williams Diner,” Oklahoma State University graduate Charles Shields said. “Cheap and really good food served family style.” 

Ma Williams Diner used to be housed in the building that is currently Eskimo Joe’s, but the diner has since closed. 

The Ancestor, an old steak house in Stillwater, used to be the spot for special date nights. 

“After we were married and making money, my favorite was The Ancestor on the south side of town,” Shields said. 

Not all popular restaurants from the ‘70s have closed their doors. Hideaway Pizza and Eskimo Joe’s are still serving up unique flavors. 

Hideaway Pizza began in Stillwater and has since branched out to other locations across the state, but past students still remember eating at the original Hideaway. 

“Hideaway reminds me of college, because it was the best pizza around,” Shields said. “And it is one of the only ones I can remember still in existence.” 

Eskimo Joe’s is probably the most known restaurant in Stillwater, but before all of the merchandise and cheese fries hype, students used to eat there just to kick back with friends. 

“When Joe’s opened, it was my go-to place to eat back then,” Shields said. “I considered it fairly cheap with good burgers and cheese fries.” 

Fast forward 20 years, and most of the beloved local restaurants have been replaced by new favorites. 

Instead of enjoying comfort food from Ma Williams Diner, students during the 1990s frequently ate at Shortcakes Diner. 

“Some of my favorite college memories were early mornings eating greasy Shortcakes food at 2 a.m. after the bars closed,” OSU graduate Kristine Ervin said. 

The Ancestor was replaced by Stillwater Bay as the hot spot for nice date nights. 

“Stillwater Bay reminds me of the first dates with my now husband,” Ervin said. “Unfortunately, it’s no longer open.” 

Students in the ‘90s tried their best to eat on a budget, so places like NY Bagel Shop and Pizza Shuttle became popular for a quick, cheap bite. 

“For $5 we could order an 8-inch pizza and a soggy Dr. Pepper,” OSU graduate Stacy Engle said. “But, we tended to only crave Shuttle when we were all studying in the middle of the night.” 

Everything bagels with cream cheese from NY Bagel Shop were just a dollar, so students loved to chow down on these without breaking the bank. 

“We ate at the Bagel Shop one or two times a week when we didn’t like what was served at the sorority house,” Engle said. 

Although many local restaurants changed between the 1970s and 1990s, two of them only grew in popularity: Hideaway Pizza and Eskimo Joe’s. 

“Hideaway Pizza was my favorite back in the day and now,” Engle said. “Nothing beats the Big Country pizza.” 

Eskimo Joe’s did change slightly from being a regular local restaurant that just served up greasy American food to focusing more on Stillwater night life. 

At night, Joe’s would turn their restaurant into a bar and dance club with live music. 

“I loved Thursday nights at Joe’s when they would clear out all the tables and turn the restaurant into a dance club,” Ervin said. “It was the go-to spot in town, at least when I was there.” 

Joe’s also kept its prices reasonable for college students, so that only added to the popularity. 

“We hung out at Joe’s because we could eat cheap Little Joes and my friends could drink penny beer on Wednesday nights,” Engle said. 

Now current students have their own tastes of Stillwater. 

New restaurants like Cafe 88, Coney Island and the Ranchers Club have become student favorites during the 2000s. 

“Cafe 88 is right on my way home from campus, so since it’s cheap and delicious, I stop multiple times a week,” student Clayton Barbour said. “The bubble tea hits too.” 

Located right on The Strip, Coney Island has become a late-night favorite among students. 

“A chili cheese dog with tots at two in the morning might be my favorite thing about college,” student Caitlin Wardour said. “And I don’t go broke eating there.” 

Since The Ancestor and Stillwater Bay have closed in Stillwater, the new spot for formal dates has become the Ranchers Club.

This steakhouse is actually located on campus in the Atherton Hotel, and students are able to use their meal plans to pay for their meals. 

“We would eat at Ranchers for every date freshman year to get rid of our extra meal plan money,” Wardour said. “But, it’s so good that we sometimes go on our own dime now.” 

The most popular restaurants in Stillwater are still Hideaway Pizza and Eskimo Joe’s, but the crowds look a little different from previous years. 

“I only ever eat at Hideaway when my parents come to visit or it’s someone’s birthday,” Barbour said. “The pizza is amazing, but I never think to eat there really.” 

Eskimo Joe’s has stopped turning the restaurant into a dance club at night, so not as many students dine there throughout the week.

“I think I’ve eaten at Joe’s twice since I’ve been at OSU,” Wardour said. “And both times were weekends when my mom came to see me.” 

The local restaurants of Stillwater are able to travel customers back in time to reminisce on their days in college or bring current students together.

Even though these restaurants look different for each generation, there are a few that each class can agree are the most memorable tastes of Stillwater. 

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