Tag Archives: dining

Midwest Meets Northwest

October 1, 2018 by
Photography by Bil Sitzmann

When Seattle-area transplants Darrell and Laura Auld opened Twisted Cork Bistro in 2008, the cozy restaurant near 107th and Pacific streets accommodated just a couple of dozen guests and was open only at lunch. The owners have since added dinner service and Sunday brunch, made changes to the kitchen staff, and expanded the space. 

What hasn’t changed, however, is Twisted Cork’s commitment to showcasing the bounty of what the Midwest and Pacific Northwest have to offer. The motto on its website states, “Always natural, always wild,” and that’s still a big part of the bistro’s appeal a decade later.

Wild Alaskan sockeye salmon

Open daily, the restaurant focuses on natural, locally sourced food. The menu emphasizes fresh produce from area growers, handmade cheeses, and locally raised meat from Nebraska and Iowa farmers and ranchers. The eatery also embraces ingredients from the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, including fresh seafood and a lengthy list of wines exclusively from Washington and Oregon. 

The paper menu, which folds like a map, boasts several salads, soups, sandwiches, small plates, and larger entrees. Burger fans may want to try Twisted Cork’s beef-and-pork-based burger, which Food Network Magazine listed in its “50 States 50 Burgers” in 2009. 

Pistachio-encrusted Hawaiian ahi tuna sashimi

For our weekend dinner visit, my dining partner and I took our taste buds on a culinary trip that started in Nebraska with a selection of locally produced cheeses and ended in British Columbia with a chocolatey dessert based on a classic Canadian treat.

Perfect for sharing, the bistro’s cheese board features a trio of artisanal cheeses from Branched Oak Farm in Raymond, Nebraska, along with sliced baguette, sesame crackers, and a variety of accompaniments. Visually appealing and full of textural variety, the cheese plate is arranged with thinly sliced pears, honey, fig spread, mixed nuts, and a cluster of grapes.

Other scrumptious bites can be found among the small plates, like the Whidbey Island Shrimp—four perfectly cooked jumbo shrimp served with sliced avocado, grapefruit segments, and a drizzle of sauce similar to Thousand Island dressing.

Falling into the would-order-again category, a scallop entree featured three plump sea scallops that arrived beautifully seared, tender, and moist. Accompanied by lemon beurre blanc and sriracha, the sweet, buttery scallops were topped with a zesty gremolata—a condiment made with fresh herbs, citrus, and nuts—that cut through the richness of the seafood. 

A side of charred Brussels sprouts and a scoop of jasmine rice, both excellent, accompanied the scallops. Cooked in vegetable stock, the rice was so good I could have eaten a bowl of it. Don’t let it go untouched.

Piedmontese rib-eye from Nebraska with potatoes and asparagus

We also sampled a Piedmontese rib-eye from Lincoln. The grass-fed, pasture-raised beef is leaner than its grain-fed counterpart due to less marbling, but it’s still flavorful. Perfectly cooked to the specified medium rare, the hand-cut, 14-ounce steak is seasoned with a house rub and served with roasted potatoes and asparagus.

Diners who save room for dessert can choose from several decadent sweets, all made in-house. With its smooth, luscious filling, a slice of caramel pistachio cheesecake was rich but not heavy. Chocolate lovers will want to try a Nanaimo bar, a quintessential Canadian treat named after the city of Nanaimo, British Columbia, just north of Washington. The bistro’s version of the three-layered bar features a nut and wafer base, a middle layer of creamy custard, plus chocolate ganache on top. It’s super-rich, fudgy, and gluten-free.

Peaches and cream cheesecake

Twisted Cork’s combination of talented chefs, eclectic fare, and warm, welcoming service make for an inviting dining experience that highlights the best of land and sea. 


Visit twistedcorkbistro.com for more information.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Fruit and cheese board

Pinot and Pumps

August 12, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

While customers filled up their cars with gas, I filled up on a five-course meal and knocked back glasses of fine California wines. A gas station is the last place most people would go for fancy dining, but once a month local food and wine lovers gather around tables—set up just beyond the racks of Slim Jims and smokes—at the Old Market Cubby’s to savor elegant dishes paired with wines.

It’s not uncommon these days to find good, affordable bottles of vino at convenience stores, but few offer wine-tasting dinners like Cubby’s has for the last decade. The downtown Omaha convenience store, which includes a deli, produce section, and meat counter, hosts the popular wine dinners on the third Wednesday of the month. Cubby’s kitchen crew prepares the food on-site, and the menu, designed to appeal to a wide range of tastes, changes each month. 

Whether guests are casual wine drinkers or connoisseurs, the dinners provide a chance to enhance their knowledge—perhaps my favorite aspect of the event. At a recent dinner, fine wine specialist John Ursick of Omaha and others were on hand to describe the nuances of each wine and answer questions. The dinners are a relative bargain at $30 per person. Portions are generous, and so are the pours.

Crostini topped with olive tapenade and sliced prosciutto

On my visit, the first course featured a flavorful flatbread layered with dried apricot and figs, prosciutto, and fresh arugula. Edible flowers scattered on top provided an extra pop of color, while the sweetness of the dried fruit combined perfectly with the saltiness of the prosciutto. Also good was the accompanying glass of smooth, fruity chardonnay from The Crusher Wines.

A textural and visual delight, crostini topped with olive tapenade and sliced prosciutto was a satisfying blend of crispy, salty, and savory, but I would have preferred the prosciutto shaved thin. A juicy, easy-drinking red blend, also from The Crusher Wines, complemented the dish beautifully.

I also enjoyed a plate of plump, tender crab cakes that had a generous amount of lump crabmeat and a crispy, golden brown exterior. A glass of full-bodied Chardonnay from B Side Wines on California’s North Coast delighted with its crisp finish.

Crab cakes

Shrimp scampi arrived buttery, lemony, and just garlicky enough, but the accompanying pasta was slightly overcooked. It came paired with a Don & Sons pinot noir from Sonoma County, in the heart of wine country.

For dessert, a version of frozen s’mores delivered all the flavors one would expect from the classic childhood treat: graham cracker, chocolate, and marshmallow. A scoop of homemade bubblegum ice cream in the center was luscious and creamy, but the flavor clashed with the other ingredients. The dessert’s sweetness paired well with the slightly smoky notes of the Gunsight Rock cabernet sauvignon from Paso Robles.

Although a gas station is no match for the ambiance of a rustic winery or cozy bistro, wine dinners at Cubby’s are a fun way to sample a variety of bites and learn more about wine in a relaxed, casual, and unconventional setting. 

Cubby’s Old Market Grocery and Catering

601 S. 13th St. | 402.341.2900 

FOOD 3.5 stars
SERVICE 4 stars
AMBIANCE 3 stars
PRICE $$
OVERALL 3.5 stars


Visit cubbys.com for more information.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. 

Flatbread layered with dried apricot, figs, prosciutto, and fresh arugula

Don Hilpipre

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Stella’s Bar & Grill is paradise for burger-lovers. So, it should come as no surprise that the Bellevue eatery’s most loyal regular has been eating at Stella’s for more than 60 years. 

It’s not just any burger joint. On one wall there is the Wall of Fame, covered with photos of the rare conquerors of Stella’s signature food challenge, “The Stellanator” (a 4.75-pound burger stacked with six patties, six eggs, 12 pieces of bacon, peanut butter, and a host of other toppings all pinned between buns with a skewer). And of course, there is also the Wall of Shame for those unable to complete the monstrous burger with a side of fries within 45 minutes.

Confronted with the burger joint’s legendary reputation, a newcomer could easily overlook another of the restaurant’s famous staples—an elderly gentleman perched on the same black barstool day after day. His name is Don Hilpipre, better known as Stella’s most loyal customer.

Often wearing a baseball cap with statements like “U.S. Navy Retired,” the 92-year-old Hilpipre returns to the restaurant like clockwork—usually around midday, then again in late afternoon. Stella’s place in his daily routine has remained unchanged for a decade. 

“I’ve been coming up here every day for about 10 years now,” Hilpipre says, beaming with pride. “But I first came here around 1953. I remember Stella [aka Estelle Francois Sullivan Tobler, the restaurant’s original owner] making her hamburgers. Really, just the old-timers can say that.” 

Hilpipre, a native of Minnesota, discovered his love for burgers and the city of Omaha after moving here in the mid-1950s. Before his move to “The Beef State,” Hilpipre proudly served six years in the U.S. Navy and then went looking for his next adventure. 

His search for adventure led to the state of Nebraska. He worked as a postman in South Omaha for 28 years and treated himself to an occasional burger during his lunch breaks. That’s how his bond with Stella’s was born. 

He became a twice-a-day regular 10 years ago, upon moving into Harmony Court Retirement Apartments in Bellevue. Since then, he’s rarely missed the chance to sip a cold beer, nibble on a burger, and keep employees company. 

“He comes in normally twice a day,” says Stella’s co-owner, Pam Francois (the great-great-niece of the original Stella). “In the afternoons, he orders two Budweisers, gets hugs from all the girls, and then gets handshakes from all the guys.” 

If for some reason the loyal customer doesn’t show up, Stella’s staff will call him or check with his assisted living facility to make sure everything is OK. 

Overall, Hilpipre estimates he has eaten just about everything on the menu. He enjoys the burgers, chicken strips, and even the chili, but acknowledges that he does have a regular order: one Stella Staple Burger, no bun. 

But he has never tried the Stellanator challenge. Hilpipre says he doesn’t want to lose, and he knows he can’t eat that much.

While he’s quick to admit he loves the food, that isn’t the only thing that keeps him coming back. 

“I love everything here, but especially the girls,” he says with a grin. “They like me and I like them. I’ve got to give every one of them a hug before I leave.” 

For Hilpipre and those associated with the restaurant, being at Stella’s is as much about the food as it is about the family atmosphere. Overall, Hilpipre is just as much a part of Stella’s as the grease on the grill. 

“He’s part of the family,” Francois says. “He’s a reminder that you have to sometimes slow down and be that special person in someone’s life.”  


Visit stellasbarandgrill.com for more information about the restaurant.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha. 

Michael Sanchez’s Inspiration

August 5, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Why would a young, healthy finance graduate of California State University-San Marcos leave a prestigious and lucrative job in the world of Southern California banking to run a restaurant in Ralston?

For Michael Sanchez, a more appropriate question was, “How can I not do this?” 

In 2008, his grandmother Maria Sanchez, the woman he calls “my everything” and the namesake of the legendary Maria’s Mexican Restaurant, needed his help. Michael’s grandfather, Patrick, had died some years before. Maria was determined to carry on and manage a business they had started together in 1976. But when Maria turned 70, she knew the years were catching up with her. 

“Michael is like my husband because he’s really into the business side of the restaurant,” Maria says. Michael’s grandfather grew up in Colorado and was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base when he married Maria in 1959. While the couple lived overseas in Puerto Rico and the Philippines, Patrick set up a Mexican food cart on base during the weekends. The food cart was a hit with fellow service families. It eventually inspired their restaurant. 

Maria practically raised Michael from the time he was a baby. “He’s a creator,” she says, acknowledging the grandson inherited her husband’s financial acumen. “I told him, ‘Come home, Michael. We’d love to have you.’”

“It took a lot of planning, mostly over the phone, to make the arrangements for me to come back [as majority owner and operator],” says Michael, 35. “Because she’s so passionate and wants the best for her business and her employees, I think she wanted to advance the business, but she just didn’t have the wherewithal.” 

Michael knew exactly how to advance the family business when he returned to Ralston. His vision coincided with the same thing customers had been telling his grandmother for years: Maria’s didn’t have enough space. 

A remodel and expansion job began immediately on the Burlington Street restaurant in the heart of Ralston. Michael added a party room and doubled the seating capacity. Ten years later, the growing popularity of Maria’s signature fried puffy tacos taxes the new floor plan. 

“Even now that we’ve expanded, it’s a long wait sometimes,” says Maria, in what may be the understatement of the year. Patrons congregate outside the restaurant before the doors open. 

After unleashing his inner entrepreneur, Michael embarked on a creative and professional tear. 

Over the past decade the Creighton Prep product has added a satellite Maria’s Mexican Restaurant inside the Ralston Arena, created the sensational Mula in Omaha’s hip Blackstone District, developed a new taco eatery in Benson, drawn up plans for a fast-casual dining experience, earned a graduate degree in business from Creighton University (completed in one year), and won a seat on the Ralston City Council. In addition, he helps raise two sons, ages 12 and 9.

Michael grew up at Maria’s (“My crib was in the back office of the restaurant,” he says) and can perform every job within his businesses. Although he prefers working outside the kitchen, his vast knowledge of Mexican food has paid dividends in his business ventures.

“Living in California and traveling often to Mexico opened my eyes to how many varieties of Mexican food there are,” he says. “Omaha-style Mexican is very similar to Maria’s, which has a heavy Texas influence. It’s all about sauces, cheese, and beans.”

The Tex-Mex influence comes naturally to Maria. “My mother was raised in Texas,” she says. “We use her recipes. We’ve used them from the beginning, when Patrick cooked.”

As he conceptualized a culinary creation of his own, Michael strived to bridge the gap between Americanized Mexican food and the traditional fare immigrant families dish up along Omaha’s South 24th Street—fare similar to the street food made-to-order from vendor carts on Mexican street corners.

He chose to establish Mula (Spanish for mule) at 40th and Farnam streets because he felt the community would travel there to sample his contemporary version of Mexican street food. The location struck gold. 

“When we moved here to the Blackstone District in 2014, there was nothing around, I mean nothing,” Michael says with a touch of awe. “Now it’s become the hottest part of the city.”

Relying on social media and word-of-mouth, Mula found its footing within a year and exceeded expectations. 

The décor reflects the Old World, with statues and icons of the Virgin Mary and colorful votive candles with images of saints lined across the back bar. Hundreds of bottles of tequila rest on rustic bookshelves, giving credence to Mula’s billing as a “Mexican Kitchen and Tequileria.”

Diners experience flavors outside the realm of taco seasoning, with fresh red cabbage, chile crema, a splash of citrus, and “a hint of vanilla” integrated into some of the offerings. Unlike many Mexican restaurants, portions at Mula don’t rival the size of houseboats, although the tortas, Mexican sandwiches stuffed with meat, can easily feed two. 

With Mula running smoothly, Michael turned to a simpler concept and a new restaurant debuting this summer: Taco Co. at 61st and Maple streets in Benson, a margarita garden that pays homage to his grandmother. 

“We serve nothing but margaritas and her fried puffy tacos,” he says, referring to the pita bread-like quality of the taco shell. “We also have finger food, salsa, and guac.”

Always one to stay up on trends in the business, Michael and his trusty culinary director, chef Kyle Lamb, have an idea for a line of fast-casual restaurants. “Counter service, not full service, is the largest growing segment,” he says matter-of-factly.

While Michael plans for the future, his beloved grandmother, whose smooth skin and bright smile belie her age, basks in the goodwill bestowed on her at the restaurant. As she welcomes third- and fourth-generation customers to Maria’s, she takes comfort knowing her family’s culinary legacy will continue for years to come. 


Visit mariasralston.com to learn more about Maria’s in Ralston, visit mulaomaha.com for Mula in Blackstone, and find Taco Co. on Facebook at @handmadetacos.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Omaha Offers a Travel-Worthy Food Experience

July 26, 2018 by

There are numerous reasons why visitors travel to Omaha. Some are in the city for business or a convention, while others come for an extended weekend getaway to see attractions like the zoo and museums. But there is another reason Omaha is growing in popularity—our food.

In every corner of the city, you’ll find authentic cultural culinary creations that make Omaha quite the foodie destination. You can eat pizza certified by the Italian government at Dante in West Omaha and savor a steak prepared by a James Beard Award nominee at The Grey Plume in Midtown. In North Omaha, nobody does soul food like Big Mama’s–just ask the folks at the Travel Channel. And, despite a culture of fast food, in South Omaha you’ll find the Lithuanian Bakery, where bakers take three days to make a mouth-watering old-world Napoleon torte. 

 Having restaurants that offer such unique cuisine is the cornerstone of building Omaha’s travel-worthy reputation, an equally important component is letting visitors know about our great food scene. In April of this year, Visit Omaha hosted a Foodie Blogger tour to see how many bloggers would be interested in telling Omaha’s story—25 bloggers expressed interest. Out of those 25, Visit Omaha selected four bloggers with the most impressive audience numbers and invited them to enjoy Omaha’s food scene on us. 

The bloggers traveled from Missouri, Iowa, Ohio, and Minnesota. They visited Monarch Prime and learned how the restaurant dry-ages its steaks in-house. They took a culinary class at Provisions by The Grey Plume and experienced making their own pasta. The bloggers also enjoyed samplings at half-a-dozen foodie hot spots on an Omaha culinary tour. They did not leave disappointed; each was impressed with their Omaha dining experience and now plans to share Omaha’s story with a hungry audience of more than 357,000.

 The economic impact when visitors explore Omaha’s food scene is huge. Research shows that out-of-town guests spend $304 million every year on food and drinks while visiting our city. Those dollars help keep people in our community employed. These people—from wait staffs, to chefs and their kitchen staffs, to the drivers delivering the supplies to the restaurant—all have jobs thanks, in part, to all the tourists spending their money here. 

If it has been a while since you have had an evening out, give Omaha’s food scene a try. Omaha Restaurant Week (Sept. 14-23) is a great opportunity to try a new restaurant, or a new dish at an old favorite. After all, if people are traveling from places like Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, and Ohio to sample the flavor of Omaha, it’s definitely worth the trip outside your neighborhood. 


Visit omaharestaurantweek.com for details.

This letter was printed in the August/September 2018 edition of B2B.

Keith Backsen is executive director of the Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Dinner, Drinks, and a Show At the Holland

July 23, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Dinner and a show is essentially the “little black dress” of nights out on the town. The combo is always relevant, always in style, and it looks great on everyone. 

Since opening in 2005, the Holland Center has offered a wonderful venue for enjoying a performance or concert; the deal is even sweeter now that they also welcome audiences for dinner, drinks, and even a pre-show performance on some occasions—all under one roof.  

“Zinc is our full-service restaurant and Ovations is our bar in the lobby,” says Danyel Siler, vice president of marketing and communications for Omaha Performing Arts. “They’re both located right in the Holland Center, so you can plan an entire night out here, park once, and visit Ovations for drinks and an appetizer or go to Zinc for an excellent meal made by a local chef with fresh, seasonal ingredients. We also offer valet parking to make the experience complete, so people can just come once, have a nice meal or drinks before the show, and then enjoy a night of entertainment.”

Zinc, which opened in 2015 and is helmed by chef Diana Browder, is open two-and-a-half hours before all Omaha Performing Arts performances, as well as all Omaha Symphony shows except their family series. Siler recommends making reservations via OpenTable or by calling Ticket Omaha, as Zinc fills up fast. 

Foodies will find that Zinc offers creative, flavorful cuisine—from flatbread appetizers, to sandwiches and salads, to entrees—on par with some of Omaha’s best dinner destinations. Dishes feature flourishes and elements that elevate the menu; one of those attributes is the fact that Zinc is an environmentally conscious restaurant.  

“Zinc’s menu changes with the season to ensure freshness,” Siler says. “The menu features fresh, organic, seasonal, locally produced food. We also feature grass-fed, free-range, hormone-free meat and sustainably caught and handled seafood.” 

If you’re just in the mood for drinks or perhaps a smaller bite, the Holland’s lobby bar, Ovations, has you covered. Ovations, which opened in 2012, is open for all Omaha Performing Arts and Symphony performances. 

“Ovations offers a variety of drinks and some great small plates and appetizers,” says Siler, noting that the bar menu rotates frequently. Some of her recent favorites have included mini Asian tacos, stuffed tater tots, and a charcuterie board with specialty jam, mustard, pickled vegetables, and lavosh.  

“They’re just really nice, easy bites to eat while you enjoy a drink before you go see the show,” Siler says.  

Adding another layer to the experience, Omaha Performing Arts added a cover-free, pre-show happy hour performance series in 2017, adjacent to Ovations. After sporadically offering them in the past, they hosted five happy hour performances throughout the 2017/2018 season, and plan to double that for the 2018/2019 season due to the great response they’ve received. Siler says the new lineup will be announced in September, closer to the start of the season.   

“Our happy hour performances encompass all ages and genres of music, and we help spotlight our community partnerships and education programs,” Siler says. “For example, this year right before the Hot Sardines performed in the main hall, we featured Sophie & Evan [a group consisting of Sophie Keplinger and Evan Johnson] from the Blues Society of Omaha’s BluesEd youth artist development program. It’s an opportunity to enjoy the Holland in a different way, and it brings the lobby to life with great atmosphere. There’s plenty of space to gather with friends, to visit and enjoy each other, but then also enjoy the music.”

While the Holland offers a great one-stop-shop for folks with tickets to the main event, Siler says that everyone is welcome to visit Zinc, Ovations, and happy hour performances even if they don’t have a ticket to the main show. 

“We really encourage everyone to come to a happy hour or for dinner and drinks at Zinc or Ovations,” Siler says. “It’s an amazing experience that we want to share with as many people as possible.”


Visit omahaperformingarts.org for more information.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. 

The Pick of the Zip

June 29, 2018 by
Photography by William Hess

Omaha has been named one of America’s “Best Cities for Foodies,” yet we often find ourselves in a self-imposed rut by heading to the same diners for breakfast, the same cafes for lunch, and the same restaurants for dinner.

It’s time to break the cycle and explore outside our daily routines. Whether you’re looking to find a new lunch place near your work, or if you’re planning date night logistics around soccer games and play rehearsals, we’ve developed a list of must-try dish picks for every zip code in the Omaha area (one dish per zip).

Along with zip codes in Omaha city limits, we expanded coverage to incorporate outlying areas (with the Platte River as our western and southern boundary). We also included three Iowa zip codes for a more complete presentation of the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro. Zip codes are arranged numerically in order.

We couldn’t do this on our own, so we reached out to some of Omaha’s leading food Instagrammers. These foodies know a thing or two about a beautiful meal. We sent them a list of the Omaha metro’s zip codes, and they replied with their dish picks. I curated excerpts from their contributed lists—supplemented by a few picks of my own—to complete this guide. 

Bon appetit!


Omaha-Council Bluffs Metro Area Zip Codes


Meet Our Instagram Foodie Consultants

@OOOOmaha_Eats (Heba Abdel-Rahim)

I started @OOOOmaha_Eats because when I lived in Austin, Texas, I always kept up-to-date with hip, new food joints through foodies’ Instagram accounts. When I moved to Omaha, I wanted to try new places and explore Omaha. I thought, ‘What better way to do so than through food?’ I already was taking pictures of all the new places I was trying, so I started my own foodie account.

@EatOurWorld (Margaret Davenport and Levi Campbell)

Our Instagram account, @EatOurWorld, is a shared endeavor. It began a few years ago when Levi had to design a website for a class and asked Margaret for help. We knew we wanted to do something food-related, so we decided to focus on local dishes, farmers, and products that make any region that we are visiting really stand out. There’s so much good food in Nebraska that has been made or produced here; some of our local dishes are just as good, if not better, than dishes you may find in the world’s leading food tourism destinations. Although we are primarily focused on Lincoln, we also frequent Omaha for dinner excursions.

@TheWalkingTourists (Tim and Lisa Trudell)

Our goal with @TheWalkingTourists Instagram account is to highlight and showcase the sights, eats, and fascinating activities from explorations of our backyard in Omaha and beyond. We hope to inspire people to get out and find new adventures. Together we wrote the book 100 Things to do in Omaha Before You Die, which is available for sale online and in local bookstores. We are also working on another book, Unique Eats and Eateries of Omaha, scheduled for spring 2019 release.

@OmahaEat (Yuko Dobashi)

I started my Instagram account to practice food photography and share my recipes and restaurant reviews in Omaha. Posting photos and interacting with other foodies gives me motivation to keep learning about my camera and Photoshop. My goal is to have more photos and recipes published.

@Omaha.Feast (Meredith George)

Instagram has been such a fun way to continue exploring Omaha and connect with friends and family—people love to talk about food and what their favorite places are. Running a “foodstagram” has helped me expand my tastes and push me outside my comfort zone. It’s also encouraged me to #eatlocal and continue to prioritize our awesome local restaurants and chefs.

@FoodOmaha402 (Neal Bierman)

I have loved going out to eat at local restaurants in Omaha ever since my parents started taking me out with them in the ’90s. I want to show Omahans, people in town for business, or folks vacationing in the Big O that there are so many amazing restaurants here. I truly admire and respect all the local restaurant owners, the risk and hard work they put in to start a restaurant, and the staff who make the dining experience so enjoyable. People in Omaha love going out to eat for entertainment, and I want to showcase that through Instagram.


Zip: 51501

Specializing in deep-fried catfish, carp, and Alaskan “walleye” (pollock), Council Bluffs’ Mo Fish (2403 Nash Blvd.) dips customers’ taste buds in an array of fried-fish flavors. Throughout the establishment, fish nets, fish replicas, and other fishy decorations hang from the walls and ceiling. Carpe diem with the carp dinner, which comes with toasted bread and two homemade sides: fries, coleslaw, or baked beans.  

  • Dish pick: carp dinner at Mo Fish
  • Price: $11.95
  • Website: mofishcafe.com
  • Chosen by: @FoodOmaha402

Top of page

Zip: 51503

Barley’s (114 W. Broadway in Council Bluffs) offers a broad menu and generous portions of upscale pub food. The Chicken Hawk Sandwich is a big bite: lightly breaded, fried chicken breast topped with ranch dressing, bacon, and Swiss cheese, served with a side of fries. Our foodie consultant declared, “Chick-fil-A had better watch out!”

  • Dish pick: Chicken Hawk Sandwich at Barley’s 
  • Price: $9
  • Website: barleysbar.com
  • Chosen by: @FoodOmaha402

Top of page

Zip: 51510

Tacos at Jonesy’s are a local Tex-Mex classic. They aren’t fancy (with their fried shells and processed American cheese), but they are humongous, tasty, and filling. Fans of Jonesy’s can get their fix at four area locations. Two brothers started the restaurant with locations in Aksarben and Council Bluffs; their children expanded the franchise with additional locations in Carter Lake and Council Bluffs. The Carter Lake location (1116 Locust St.) is an offshoot of the Aksarben branch, and it features more American dishes than available at the parent location.

  • Dish pick: tacos at Jonesy’s Taco House Carter Lake
  • Price: $3 (beef or chicken), $3.25 (fish), $3.75 (steak tacos), $2 (beef and chicken) during weekly Taco Tuesdays
  • Facebook: Jonesys Taco House Carter Lake
  • Chosen by: @TheWalkingTourists

Top of page

Zip: 51526

For more than 25 years, Pink Poodle Steakhouse (633 Old Lincoln Highway in Crescent, Iowa) has served sock-hop nostalgia with delicious fare. It was a throwback even when it first opened. Nowadays, not much has changed at the Pink Poodle (including the onion rings, décor, and friendly service). All dinners are served with soup and salad, and come in hearty servings with a poodle…er…doggie…bag that is almost guaranteed to be going home with you.

  • Dish pick: prime rib at Pink Poodle Steakhouse
  • Price: $25 (12-oz. regular cut), $35 (cut-and-a-half), $48 (Diamond Jim cut)
  • Website: pinkpoodlesteakhouse.com
  • Chosen by: @OmahaEat

Top of page

Zip: 68005

In Japanese, “omakase,” translates to “I’ll leave it up to you.” Although pricey, the meal selection is worth considering at any renowned sushi restaurant—especially when the chef is Keen Zheng, who spent roughly 13 years training and working alongside several of the world’s top sushi chefs at Michelin-starred eateries in New York City. Before moving to Bellevue, Zheng worked under Daisuke Nakazawa (head apprentice of Jiro Ono, featured in the Netflix documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi). Make the reservation a day in advance for the dining experience at Zheng’s Umami (1504 Galvin Road S.), sit at the sushi bar to watch the master at work, and enjoy. Presentations and fish selection varies. The meal may consist of several dishes of individually presented delicacies.   

  • Dish pick: omakase at Umami 
  • Price: $75-$100 per person
  • Website: umamiasianne.com
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke

Top of page

Zip: 68007 

If you’re visiting Bennington, roughly 10 miles outside of Omaha’s city limits, you’ll find there are only six or so options for dining. This includes fast food. So where should you dine in Bennington? The short answer is The Warehouse (15835 Center West Hadan Drive), which is known for their friendly service, late hours (they’re open until 11 p.m. or later), and wing sauces. 

  • Dish pick: wings with mango habanero sauce at The Warehouse
  • Price: $6.95 (six wings), $13.25 (12 wings), $24.75 (24 wings)
  • Website: benningtonwarehouse.com
  • Chosen by: @EatOurWorld

Top of page

Zip: 68010

The Visitor’s Center Café at Boys Town (13603 Flanagan Blvd.) offers a basic menu of comfort foods when comfort is just what you’re after. With standard cafeteria-style dining, it’s a taste of home, without the dishes and chaos. Open weekdays and open to the general public, breakfast is served 6:45-9:45 a.m.; lunch is served 11 a.m. to 1:15 p.m.

  • Dish pick: western omelet at Boys Town Visitor’s Center Café
  • Price: $4.19
  • Website: boystown.org 
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke

Top of page

Zip: 68022 

It’s easy to imagine Omaha is an island surrounded not by water, but by cornfields. An oasis of civilization surrounded by a rustic escape to homestead living. While that used to be an accurate portrayal, the cities and towns outside of Omaha’s limits have been growing, and now boast a burgeoning cultural scene for which you might want to make the drive. A day in Elkhorn isn’t complete without a stop at Bella Vita (2620 N. Main St.) for a hearty plate of tortellini di manzo, cheese tortellini tossed with sautéed onions, mushrooms, and beef tenderloin tips in a black peppercorn brandy cream sauce.

  • Dish pick: tortellini di manzo at Bella Vita Ristorante
  • Price: $19 (served dinner only)
  • Website: bellavitane.com
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke 

Top of page

Zip: 68028

Situated in Nebraska Crossing (21351 Nebraska Crossing Drive), Local Beer & Patio’s Gretna location brings variety to an area saturated with fast food. The freshest ingredients and the most artfully crafted beer pairings will be the highlight of a day of outlet-mall shopping. The menu’s sandwich choices are legit gourmet. Try the crispy mushroom sandwich: pretzel-breaded portobello mushroom, mayo, spinach, Swiss cheese, artichoke hearts, and tomato on a brioche bun. 

  • Dish pick: crispy mushroom sandwich at Local Beer & Patio
  • Price: $11.50
  • Website: localbeer.co
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke

Top of page

Zip: 68046

Papillion has seen a lot of growth in the last several years, attracting families and businesses alike. As the restaurant scene catches up to the traffic, a front-runner has emerged in Ollie & Hobbes Craft Kitchen (310 E. Gold Coast Road). The establishment is known for its family-friendliness, and your child can count on being treated like a patron rather than simply patronized. Adults are treated to a 3-6 p.m. happy hour and a tantalizing menu that ranges from elegant pesto shrimp gnocchi to hearty pork schnitzel. Our expert chose the pan-seared salmon, which is served with garlic mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus, hollandaise, and fried leeks. Make it an Oscar (add crab) for just $5 more. 

  • Dish pick: pan-seared salmon at Ollie & Hobbes Craft Kitchen
  • Price: $19 ($24 with crab)
  • Website: ollieandhobbes.com
  • Chosen by: @TheWalkingTourists

Top of page

Zip: 68059

The crispy Buffalo chicken sandwich at Trojan Tavern (167 Main St. in Springfield) is worth the drive. Served in the pub’s famous Ozzie Deluxe sauce, covered in melted Swiss cheese, onions, and tomato, this sandwich is then drizzled with ranch dressing to offer the perfect amount of cooling to the sticky heat between the buns. Also, look for the daily drink specials.

  • Dish pick: crispy Buffalo chicken sandwich at Trojan Tavern
  • Price: $9.95
  • Website: thetrojantavern.com
  • Chosen by: @TheWalkingTourists

Top of page

Zip: 68064

Just outside of Omaha in Valley, Simply Delicious (215 N. Spruce St.) has a big name to live up to. Served with mashed potatoes and gravy, the pan-fried chicken will transport you to your mother’s dinner table. A dish that’s never quite as good when you make it for yourself, Simply Delicious adds a pinch of love to get it just right.

Top of page

Zip: 68069

If you’re into cheese, check out El Bee’s (3200 N. 240th St. in Waterloo). While the establishment has been open for decades, they have no official website or Facebook page, but fans of the Tex-Mex spot have maintained a page for them since 2009. Although known for their friendly service and strong margaritas, the fried ice cream takes the prize at this spot. Sweet and crunchy, it’s the perfect ending to the spicy and savory meal.

  • Dish pick: fried ice cream at El Bee’s
  • Price: $5.90 (cash only)
  • Facebook: El Bees
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke 

Top of page

Zip: 68102

It seems nearly impossible to choose a place to eat while wandering the Old Market’s endless options, and no matter where you finally stop, you’ll find something a local food artist has tortured themselves to present to perfection. When we finally held their feet to the fire, two of our consultant foodies chose not only the same establishment, but the same dish—Block 16’s Croque Garcon (available at 1611 Farnam St.), a one-third pound, locally-sourced burger with ham, a sunny-side-up egg, mustard, and truffle mayo. How good is the Croque Garcon? Ask Food Network host Alton Brown, who named it his favorite burger in America. 

  • Dish pick: Croque Garcon Burger at Block 16
  • Price: $8.25
  • Website: block16omaha.com
  • Chosen by: @Omaha.Feast and @EatOurWorld

Top of page

Zip: 68104 

Booming Benson has turned Maple Street into the place to be when you’re hungry. Your many moods are sure to be satisfied somewhere between the upscale Au Courant and the cozy Leo’s Diner. While choosing one dish from the many options was difficult, our team of foodies couldn’t seem to keep the name Ika Ramen (6324 Maple St.) out of their mouths. Whether it’s the ancient tradition, the painstaking broth process, or the warmth of a bowl of hot, sticky noodles, Ika Ramen takes great care with each dish, and Omaha has taken notice.

  • Dish pick: tonkotsu ramen at Ika Ramen and Izakaya
  • Price: $12
  • Website: ikaramenandizakaya.com 
  • Chosen by: @EatOurWorld

Top of page

Zip: 68105

The picks for this zip were split, with almost an even number of votes for Greek Islands, Mother India, and Stirnella. So, we consulted Yelp to settle the score. Blame it on longevity, but the winner was the family-owned-and-operated Greek Islands (3821 Center St.). For 35 years, Laki “Bill” and George Sgourakis have offered their loyal patrons a taste of the Mediterranean and a seat at their table. The can’t-miss dish is the saganaki, a thin brick of warm baked cheese. It is brought to your table still sizzling from the oven, where it is doused with brandy and ignited to the festive cry of “Opa!” before being extinguished with the juice from a lemon slice and served on house bread.

  • Dish pick: flaming saganaki at Greek Islands
  • Price: $8.25
  • Website: greekislandsomaha.com
  • Chosen by: @TheWalkingTourists

Top of page

Zip: 68106

Jennifer Coco has gained a reputation for being one of Omaha’s best chefs. Her establishment, J. Coco (5203 Leavenworth St.), ran away with this nomination for the barbacoa short ribs, which are served with creamy corn risotto, tomatillo salsa, and queso fresco. 

  • Dish pick: barbacoa short ribs at J.Coco
  • Price: $27 (served dinner only)
  • Website: jcocoomaha.com
  • Chosen by: @Omaha.Feast 

Top of page

Zip: 68107

Taqueria Tijuana (5139 S. 24th St.) is known as one of the most traditional and authentic of Omaha’s Mexican restaurants. Reviewers praise the menudo, a labor-intensive dish consisting of tripe (beef stomach) and chili base. This dish is often made communally and is part of many family celebrations. Taqueria Tijuana believes that anytime you join them for dinner, it’s reason enough to celebrate with a warm bowl.

  • Dish pick: menudo at Taqueria Tijuana
  • Price: $7 (served weekends only)
  • Facebook: @TaqueriaTijuana402
  • Chosen by: @EatOurWorld

Top of page

Zip: 68108

For their intense, three-day pizza crust-making process, ornately tiled wood-fired oven, and their handmade pastas, Via Farina (1108 S. 10th St.) was the uncontested winner in 68108. Just outside the Old Market, the restaurant is intimate and friendly, with a knowledgeable staff and extensive wine list. The majority of our foodie consultants chose Via Farina, but there was some disagreement about which dish deserved the crowning glory. After cross-referencing online reviews, the egg yolk raviolio beat out the bianco pizza for the top spot.

  • Dish pick: egg yolk raviolo at Via Farina
  • Price: $14
  • Website: goviafarina.com
  • Chosen by: @Omaha.Feast

Top of page

Zip: 68110

Get-N-Go Fish (1706 N. 24th St.) is only open Wednesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. How did a restaurant that’s only open half of the week (and closes before most people have even realized they forgot to thaw something for dinner and need to order take-out) make this list? Simple. The catfish. When you do something really well, you get to choose when you do it. 

  • Dish pick: whole catfish dinner at Get-N-Go Fish
  • Price: $12
  • Website: getngofish.com
  • Chosen by: @OmahaEat

Top of page

Zip: 68111

When Big Mama’s Kitchen (3223 N. 45th St.) lost owner and chef “Big Mama” Patricia Barron earlier this year, the family pulled together to maintain her legacy and mission: to bring you to her table. Her special-recipe fried chicken never lost its ability to get the family to sit down and hush, and the owners make sure you know that even though Big Mama is gone, you’re still family. The restaurant is currently located in the 68104 zip code, but is scheduled to move into the 68111 zip code (2112 N. 30th St.) after the Highlander Accelerator’s construction completes. 

  • Dish pick: oven-fried chicken at Big Mama’s Kitchen
  • Price: $9.29 (two pieces with one side), $10.89 (three pieces with one side); $11.99 (two pieces with two sides), $12.99 (three pieces with two sides)
  • Website: bigmamaskitchen.com
  • Chosen by: @FoodOmaha402 

Top of page

Zip: 68112

A former food truck has emerged as one of Omaha’s hottest barbecue joints. Fat BBQ Shack (7440 N. 30th St.) still honors its former identity with heavy traffic from carry-out customers. But you might want to dine in, with blues music on the house speakers and wafting aromas of savory, sweet barbecue hot off the grill. Out of all the meat and sandwich options on the menu, the Shack Attack stands out. This mouth-watering behemoth comes with hand-cut fries topped with your choice of meat, barbecue sauce, shredded cheese, sour cream, ranch dressing, jalapeños, and chives. Don’t forget to share.

  • Dish pick: The Shack Attack at Fat BBQ Shack
  • Price: $8.99, add $1.49 for extra meat
  • Website: fatbbqshack.biz
  • Chosen by: @Omaha.Feast

Top of page

Zip: 68113

Offutt Air Force Base has its own zip code, but the meal options are limited to those with base access (or retired military and their families); however, Offutt does welcome the general public during certain special occasions. The public relations team at Offutt claims that Resa’s Famous Spaghetti at Peacekeeper Lanes has been a hit “for many, many years.” But for those lacking base access, there is the wonderful Korean House Restaurant (2413 Lincoln Road)—which is technically just outside Offut’s zip code in Bellevue—situated just beside the entry gate to the base. The restaurant looks a bit sketchy on the outside, but the tables are clean and the juicy kalbee (fried chicken bulgogi and beef bulgogi) is well-seasoned and comes with free kimchi side dishes. 

  • Dish pick: Resa’s Famous Spaghetti at Peacekeeper Lanes (for those with base access); house special at Korean House Restaurant (for those without base access)
  • Price: $6.25 full portion, $5 half portion (Resa’s Famous Spaghetti at Peacekeeper Lanes, served Wednesdays during lunch); $9.75 (bulgogi, chicken, kalbee, and drink at Korean House)
  • Facebook: @Offutt55fss & Korean House
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke (Peacekeeper Lanes) and @OmahaEat (Korean House Restaurant)

Top of page

Zip: 68114 

“El basha” was an Arabic term for “the elite society” during the Turkish and Ottoman empires. The unassuming atmosphere at El Basha restaurant (7503 Pacific St.) combined with the very reasonable prices may not strike you as “upper crust,” but the expertly balanced dishes and deep spices create the richest of flavor experiences. Our team chose the tender beef shawarma (which can also be made with chicken) from the extensive menu.

  • Dish pick: hummus with beef shawarma at El Basha
  • Price: $7.50
  • Website: elbashagrill.com
  • Chosen by: @OOOOmaha_Eats

Top of page

Zip: 68116

Wave Bistro (4002 N. 144th St.) boasts a large but focused menu of European- and Asian-inspired dishes created by chef/owner George Liao. His wife and co-owner, Connie, runs the front of the house, and the family’s warmth and charm are as much a reason to enjoy Wave Bistro as the exceptional food. 

  • Dish pick: shrimp roll with firecracker sauce at Wave Bistro
  • Price: $8.95 (served dinner only)
  • Website: wavebistrorestaurant.com
  • Chosen by: @Omaha.Feast

Top of page

Zip: 68117

Puerto Vallarta (4871 L St.) is a Tex-Mex party any day of the week. The restaurant serves various forms of meat and beans on tortillas and also has an exceptional salsa. But don’t miss the molcajetes: tender slices of ribeye, chicken, pork, shrimp, chorizo, scallops, or tilapia grilled with mushrooms, squash, Mexican onions, and nopal (cactus) served in a molcajete, a traditional grinding bowl. 

Top of page

Zip: 68118

An Omaha favorite for years, Pitch West (17808 Burke St.) offers house-cured meats, house-made pastas, and coal-fired pizza with an artistic touch. The Mia (pizza) features San Marzano tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella, fresh mozzarella, house-made fennel sausage, and pepperoni. 

  • Dish pick: The Mia at Pitch
  • Price: $20
  • Website: pitchpizzeria.com
  • Chosen by: @EatOurWorld and @Omaha.Feast

Top of page

Zip: 68122 

Chosen by three of our reviewers, each for a different dish, Mangia Italiana (6516 Irvington Road) has something for everyone. For a truly unique experience, get there in March and try their Italian Reuben pizza featuring an olive oil and fresh garlic base, roasted red pepper dressing, corned beef, sauerkraut, and provolone on Mangia’s signature crust.

  • Dish pick: pizza rosso (whole milk mozzarella, asiago, romano, parmesan, and provolone) at Mangia Italiana
  • Price: $13.99 (10-inch), $16.99 (13-inch), $19.99 (16-inch) 
  • Website: mangiaitaliana.com
  • Chosen by: @EatOurWorld

Top of page

Zip: 68123

The most devilish spot on our list—Sinful Burger (4005 Twin Creek Drive)—has an offense to fit any occasion. Choosing from the sins themselves is a crime, but Lust has never steered anyone wrong. A half-pound patty smothered in basil pesto, bleu cheese, and from-scratch garlic mayo.

  • Dish pick: Lust at Sinful Burger
  • Price: $8.99
  • Website: sinfulburger.com 
  • Chosen by: @TheWalkingTourists

Top of page

Zip: 68124

This area boasts at least two spectacular steakhouses, but we chose The Drover (2121 S. 73rd St.). The steakhouse has made a science of seasoning and artistry of marinade. Your cut doesn’t receive the whiskey treatment or the secret spices until after you order it. At that point, it sits and waits until the optimal flavor window before being grilled to your specifications. Time-consuming? Yes. Worth it? Yes. (Tip: Try adding marinated mushrooms to the order).

  • Dish pick: whiskey steak sirloin at Drover (served dinner only)
  • Price: $26.95, add $8.50 for a bowl of mushrooms (enough for two or three people) 
  • Website: droverrestaurant.com
  • Chosen by: @TheWalkingTourists

Top of page

Zip: 68127

Korea Garden Restaurant (5352 S. 72nd St.) offers authentic Korean cuisine in Ralston. The restaurant provides a range of fresh dishes, from plates of stir-fried octopus to bowls of bibimbap or the classic beef bulgogi (a popular Korean dish of marinated beef slices in a special house sauce cooked over a tabletop grill). Also, make sure to savor the banchan—appetizer dishes such as kimchi, gimbap, japchae, and potatoes—and don’t be shy to ask for free refills on the sides. 

  • Dish pick: beef bulgogi at the Korean Garden Restaurant 
  • Price: $10.95
  • Website: koreangardenomaha.com
  • Chosen by: @OmahaEat

Top of page

Zip: 68128

The La Vista area food scene is expanding, but nothing can overcome Omaha’s affection for any dish named after, well, us. The Omaha Potato Casserole at Summer Kitchen Café (12010 Giles Road) features lean ground beef grilled with onions and mushrooms, American, Monterey jack and cheddar cheeses, sliced tomato, and pickle chips.

  • Dish pick: Omaha Potato Casserole at Summer Kitchen Café
  • Price: $9.99 (junior), $11.99 (regular), $13.00 (king), add $1.39 for an egg on top
  • Website: summerkitchen.net
  • Chosen by: @TheWalkingTourists

Top of page

Zip: 68130

Legacy Gyros (16920 Wright Plaza) had some stiff competition but still managed to win this vote. Reviewers mentioned the Turkish coffee—which isn’t easy to find in Omaha—and the pride the owner takes in his establishment as reasons to visit.

  • Dish pick: the classic gyro at Legacy Gyros
  • Price: $6.99
  • Website: legacygyros.com
  • Chosen by: @EatOurWorld

Top of page

Zip: 68131

While Blackstone has no shortage of must-try eateries, Dante Pizzeria Napoletana (3852 Farnam St.) still manages to stand out for its quality ingredients, friendly staff, and fast-fine atmosphere. Choosing a single dish from the menu is akin to traveling with Virgil to the third circle of the inferno. Our reviewers failed to come to a consensus, so we executed judgment after much deliberation. The Diavolo was the eventual front-runner, with soppressata, link sausage, Calabrian chili, garlic, and mozzarella. It is truly sinful. 

  • Dish pick: Diavolo at Dante Pizzeria Napoletana
  • Price: $13
  • Website: dantepizzeria.com
  • Chosen by: @FoodOmaha402 and @TheWalkingTourists

Top of page

Zip: 68132 

Chef/owner Dario Schicke doesn’t serve food he wouldn’t serve his family, and his Northern Italian-inspired Avoli Osteria (5013 Underwood Ave.) is no exception. The seasonal menu always has something new to try, but the Bolognese bianco (pork and veal Bolognese) with toasted hazelnuts and pecorino Romano cheese on rigatoni won our reviewer’s vote.

  • Dish pick: Bolognese bianco (now simply called “rigatoni” on the menu) at Avoli Osteria
  • Price: $18
  • Website: avoliosteria.com
  • Chosen by: @FoodOmaha402

Top of page

Zip: 68133

Some zip codes on the periphery of Omaha offer slim pickings aside from national franchise chains and fast food. The southern reaches of Papillion are a case in point. The Hop House Bar & Grill (11425 S. 72nd St.) offers an alternative. Now to choose from the most-delicious deep-fried morsel on the menu. Why not get it all? The sampler platter offers just this opportunity with mac & cheese bites, onion rings, jalapeño poppers, fried spicy pub pickles, and fried battered cauliflower.

  • Dish pick: sampler platter at The Hop House Bar & Grill 
  • Price: $12.99
  • Website: hophousebar.com
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke

Top of page

Zip: 68134

A small spot with big, fat Greek portions, Jim and Jennie’s (3026 N. 90th St.) offers a vast menu filled with flavor. Loved for their generous dishes, authentic flavors, and warm atmosphere, Jim and Jennie’s was the destination of choice among our contributors, but the winning dish was up for debate. Ultimately, the stuffed eggplant papoutsakia came out on top. Eggplant filled with seasoned ground beef and béchamel, the dish is topped with kasseri cheese and served with Greek potatoes.  

  • Dish pick: stuffed eggplant papoutsakia at Jim and Jennie’s Greek Village
  • Price: $11 (served Saturdays only)
  • Website: jimandjennies.com 
  • Chosen by: @TheWalkingTourists

Top of page

Zip: 68135

Locally sourced, fun, and delicious, Over Easy (16859 Q St.) was the runaway winner for West O. While the establishment received hard nods for the corned beef hash, roasted portabello sandwich, and hash brown rounds, they won for their clever, house-made Pop Tarts. Choose between the seasonal fruit and Nutella, whether dining in or hitting the drive-through. Whatever you do, choose to pop by.

  • Dish pick: Pop Tarts at Over Easy
  • Price: $3.99
  • Website: overeasyomaha.com
  • Chosen by: @FoodOmaha402 and @TheWalkingTourists

Top of page

Zip: 68136

Ling’s Asian Cuisine (6909 S. 157th St.), previously known as “Vietnamese Restaurant,” sits humbly in a strip mall, just waiting to offer you a cup of iced Vietnamese coffee. You’re treated with the same hospitality whether you’re dining in or carrying out, and the menu offers most pan-Asian favorites, from pad thai to kung pao. The owners are originally from Taiwan and used to run a popular Chinese restaurant in Lincoln. They are bringing a special Taiwanese beef noodle soup to the menu in the future.

  • Dish pick: vermicelli rice noodle bowl at Ling’s Asian Cuisine
  • Price: $10
  • Website: lingsasiancuisine.com
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke

Top of page

Zip: 68137 

Shirley’s Diner (13838 R Plaza) hosts a cult following for being as warm as a greasy spoon, minus the grease. A clean and well-managed establishment, the staff is warm and the décor is updated old-school. The comfort-classic praised by our foodie was the Country Sunrise. The homemade biscuit with a sausage patty, scrambled eggs, and creamy sausage gravy will keep you satisfied until lunch…tomorrow.

  • Dish pick: Country Sunrise at Shirley’s Diner
  • Price: $9.99
  • Website: shirleysdiner.com
  • Chosen by: @EatOurWorld

Top of page

Zip: 68138

Azteca (9429 S. 142nd St.) is an easy stop off I-80 at 144th Street. The restaurant is a welcome place to rest for weary travelers, but locals make the stop for a variety of reasons. The generous portions, friendly staff, and the piña colada are all reason enough to pop in. Azteca offers a mostly basic Tex-Mex menu, but they do it well. The Azteca Burrito Supreme stands up to its name, showcasing the best of the basic. The monster starts off with rice, beans, and choice of ground beef, pork, or chicken in a flour tortilla, which is then smothered with burrito sauce and topped with cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and guacamole.

  • Dish pick: Azteca Burrito Supreme at Azteca Mexican Restaurant
  • Price: $9.95
  • Website: aztecaomaha.com
  • Chosen by: @EatOurWorld

Top of page

Zip: 68142

A fun spot to watch a game, grab a drink, or enjoy a casual dinner with friends, Ryan’s Food & Spirits (12221 Mary Plaza) does more than catering. Vegetarian and gluten-free options are available at the sports bar, with an extensive upscale menu available on the bistro side. The steak lafa wrap is a stand-out dish from an exceptional menu. The dish features herbed cream cheese, balsamic cranberry chutney, caramelized onions, and mixed greens with marinated grilled skirt steak.

  • Dish pick: steak lafa wrap at Ryan’s Food & Spirits
  • Price: $11.95
  • Website: rgcateringevents.com 
  • Chosen by: @FoodOmaha402

Top of page

Zip: 68144

Several of our foodie consultants selected Little España as their Rockbrook favorite, possibly unaware that the establishment closed April 14. (Don’t tell them, OK?) The other name on their lips was Jaipur Indian Restaurant and Brewing Co. (10922 Elm St.). Delicious, from-scratch Indian fare is perfectly paired with their jalapeño ale (brewed on-site), friendly staff, and biryani. The winning dish was the chicken tikka madras, spiced boneless chicken in coconut milk sauce. 

  • Dish pick: chicken tikka madras at Jaipur Indian Restaurant and Brewing Co.
  • Price: $18.95
  • Website: jaipurindianfood.com
  • Chosen by: @FoodOmaha402

Top of page

Zip: 68147

Known for their signature “Toad” (a unique take on a fried taco), Nettie’s (7110 Railroad Ave.) is an old-school community favorite. The huevos con chorizo comes with two eggs scrambled with Mexican sausage, served with rice, beans, and tortillas.

  • Dish pick: huevos con chorizo at Nettie’s
  • Price: $14.95
  • Facebook: @NettiesFineMexicanFood
  • Chosen by: @TheWalkingTourists

Top of page

Zip: 68152

The Cabin Bar and Grill (9226 Mormon Bridge Road) is not fancy. But it is filling. Frontier pioneers would have approved of these portions. The prime rib is as big as the plate, and comes with a hearty serving of veggies and potatoes on the side. The gizzards are hand-breaded. But our pick comes from the menu’s “signature items,” the Triple Decker Reuben. The Cabin’s signature Reuben comes with home-cooked corned beef and the traditional fixings of sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing, and is covered in melted Swiss cheese. 

Top of page

Zip: 68154

Generous portions of nutritious food in an eco-friendly environment make Greenbelly (210 N. 114th St.) a go-to destination for Omaha’s health-minded. Gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian options abound in the green-themed eatery, which also offers compostable, corn-based containers and cutlery. The Thai salmon salad won out, with grilled salmon, mixed spring greens, green onion, cilantro, and peanuts in a sweet Thai chili sauce and a side of Thai peanut dressing.

  • Dish pick: Thai salmon salad at Greenbelly
  • Price: $9.99 (baby), $10.99 (regular)
  • Website: thegreenbelly.com
  • Chosen by: @OOOOmaha_Eats

Top of page

Zip: 68157

The kitschy and fun 80’s Snack Shack (4733 Giles Road) that opened early this year across from Bryan High is an unassuming spot you may not notice if you aren’t looking for it. A glass of strawberry water is a fun twist and a refreshing kick after any of the spicy dishes on the Mexican menu. 

  • Dish pick: pork tamales with two street tacos at 80’s Snack Shack
  • Price: $6
  • Facebook: @80sMunchies 
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke

Top of page

Zip: 68164

Hiro 88 in West Omaha (3655 N. 129th St.), which famed Japanese architect Hiroshi Nakamura helped design, is a premier Omaha destination for high-end Japanese and pan-Asian cuisine. Three Instagrammers suggested separate dishes: tempura udon (soup with creamy noodles and crispy shrimp), the Golden Gate roll (with tuna, shrimp, crab mix, avocado, and cucumber), and the negi hamachi roll (with yellowtail and green onions). Call us biased, but we deferred to the judgment of the Instagrammer with Japanese heritage.

  • Dish pick: negi hamachi roll at Hiro 88
  • Price: $7.50
  • Website: hiro88.com
  • Chosen by: @OmahaEat

Top of page

Zip: 68178

Creighton University has its own zip code, but the campus dining options are restricted to students. In the 68102 zip code, across the street from campus, China Taste (1702 Cuming St.) is popular for affordable Chinese meals. The all-you-can-eat lunch buffet is only $7.75, and the steamed dumplings received rave reviews from Creighton students and staff. But when it comes to eating on campus, the Rev. Lorn Snow suggests the public drop by St. John’s Church for Mass at 10:30 a.m. Sundays, and stay for the free coffee and donuts after the service. 

  • Dish pick: Steamed dumplings at China Taste (next to campus); coffee and donuts at St. John’s Church (on campus)
  • Price: $4.65 (for six steamed dumplings); free (coffee and donuts)
  • Website: chinatasteomaha.com and stjohns-creighton.org
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke

Top of page


Do you have a local food Instagram account we should be following? Drop us a comment, and be sure to follow us back @OmahaMagazine. 

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. 

Choo-Choo-Choosey Sushi

June 25, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Who needs a menu with pictures when the actual dishes are floating past your table on a carousel conveyor belt?

Yamato Sushi Train & Grill leaves little to the imagination with Omaha’s only sushi train.

If you like what you see, just grab a dish. It’s a fun sushi experience that was first developed in Japan and has become popular in my hometown of Hong Kong.

I visit Yamato Sushi Train & Grill for a Thursday date night. As the steady stream of sushi plates make their way down the conveyor belt, a waitress explains that the color of each sushi plate indicates its price: black plates cost $5, purple costs $4.5, red costs $4, orange costs $3, and green costs $2.5.

Dancing Eel

Tongue-tied? Don’t worry. You don’t even need to know the name of what your heart desires. But be careful that you don’t grab too many items. The final bill adds up quickly with a stack of empty plates on the table.

Desserts are available on the sushi merry-go-round on Fridays and weekends, in addition to the otherwise daily train of maki rolls (where all ingredients are rolled into a sheet of seaweed), gunkan maki (where a strip of seaweed wraps around the rice ball leaving room for toppings), uramaki (where the seaweed holds fillings in the inside and the rice is on the outside), sashimi (slices of raw seafood), and appetizers (such as seaweed salad and edamame) for lunch and dinner service.

We snag a plate of uni (sea urchin) followed by salmon roe gunkan maki to start things off. Fresh sea urchin tastes sweet and creamy with bright and vibrant shades of yellow-orange. Yamato’s sea urchin is decent and pairs well with the juicy, red-orange salmon eggs bursting with saltwater flavor.

We wait and watch for the next plate to tantalize our grabby fingers. We catch octopus sashimi with lemon ponzu sauce, spice-rubbed seared ahi tuna sashimi, seaweed salad, inari sushi (rice ball wrapped in a tofu puff), Omaha roll (with spicy lobster, cucumber, avocado, imitation crab, and mango sauce on top), eel cucumber roll, and a Naruto roll (avocado, salmon, and tuna wrapped with a slice of cucumber).

We also order miso soup and a bowl of pork ramen noodles with tonkatsu (a pork bone-based) soup from the waitress.

California Roll

Tuna and octopus sashimi plates are highlights of the meal. Rubbed with Nanami seasoning (a seven-chili pepper mix), the ahi tuna sashimi was seared on the outside and rare on the inside. Drizzled in lemon ponzu sauce, the octopus tastes light and refreshing with slices of lemon placed between the slices of sashimi.

When asked about the most popular dish in the restaurant, both waitresses and the shop manager boasted a wide variety of menu options. The waitress recommends the bento box for its value—at $11.95, diners can select a chicken, beef, shrimp, salmon, or tofu main dish to go with side dishes including California roll, shumai, miso soup, salad, and rice. Shop manager Alex Walker says the fried rice at Yamato Sushi is “addictive” and also suggests the lo mein and pad thai.

Walker says Yamato receives shipments of seafood from both coasts three times a week. Although Yamato’s owner also runs the La Vista restaurant Dragon Café (serving Chinese and Japanese cuisine), also with sushi on the menu, the two venues are very different from a design standpoint. Contrary to Dragon Café’s traditional Chinese-inspired interior design, Yamato is going for a decidedly Japanese vibe with simplified, modern décor.

Hygiene and efficiency are a top priority in any establishment dealing with raw ingredients. Yamato does not disappoint. The sushi train is even enclosed with a clear roll-top lid (a feature not typical at the sushi trains I’ve experienced in Japan and Hong Kong). Walker says the train is cleaned two to three times every day.

Although dishes on the sushi train were sometimes lacking in their presentation—some rolls were not as tightly rolled as they should have been—this restaurant is a must-try for local foodies or folks looking for an entertaining, fast, and convenient bite to eat.

Assorted nigiri and Omaha Roll

Sushi Train from Japan to the World

In Japan, Yoshiaki Shiraishi is credited with inventing “rotation sushi” to solve his staffing problem in 1958. He was inspired to deliver “no-frills sushi” on a conveyor belt after visiting the Asahi Brewery. Dubbed “sushi innovator” by The New York Times, Shiraishi perfected the art of sushi train operation at a speed of 8 centimeters (approximately 3 inches) per second to ensure safety without sacrificing efficiency. The concept was an instant hit at the Osaka World Expo in 1970. His restaurant, Genroku Sushi, expanded rapidly between the 1970s and 1990s.

Genroku Sushi was introduced to Hong Kong—where I was born and raised—in the early 1990s, a time when Japanese pop culture was taking Asia by storm. Marketing its sushi at HKD $10 (approximately USD $1.28) and HKD $15 (USD $1.91) per plate, Genroku Sushi was a popular hangout for high school and college students as well as local families seeking inexpensive foreign food.

Unlike traditional Japanese restaurants, rotation sushi was accessible to the mass public with a price point comparable to fast food. Sushi train chains mushroomed across Hong Kong as my generation grew up playing video games from Japan, watching J-Drama, listening to J-Pop, buying Japanese fashion and cosmetics, and learning to speak Japanese. Genroku Sushi contributed to introducing the culinary art of Japan, inspiring many to pursue travel, study, or work in Japan.

Although Genroku Sushi has lost its international footprint and can only be found in Japan today, the conveyor belt sushi concept it pioneered has gained popularity around the world. And in the fall of 2017, a sushi train finally arrived in Omaha in the form of Yamato Sushi Train & Grill.


Visit yamatosushitraingrill.com for more information.

This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

The pictured sushi platter was plated by chefs at Yamato Sushi Train; it was not selected off the establishment’s sushi train.

May the Swartz Be With You

March 2, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

After being offered a third helping of matzo ball soup, Marilyn Monroe once famously quipped, “Isn’t there any other part of the matzo you can eat?” While the classic Jewish soup may not be everyone’s thing, when it’s done right—like it is at Swartz’s Delicatessen & Bagels in Omaha—it’s hard to turn down. I’d happily eat a bowl of the restaurant’s matzo ball soup any day.

Swartz’s house-made matzo balls (round, bread-like dumplings) have just the right texture: not too dense, not too soft. The broth is just as good. It gets its deep, savory flavor from a whole chicken boiled with carrots, onions, and celery. The mixture is strained, leaving a clear, aromatic broth that’s light yet flavorful. It’s that extra effort, along with quality ingredients and time-honored recipes, that makes the dish a menu highlight.

Swartz’s Delicatessen owner Shervin Ansari calls the soup “Jewish penicillin” for its ability to cure whatever ails you. Since opening in fall 2016, the restaurant has become a popular spot to savor not only soup—in addition to matzo ball, there’s chicken noodle and chicken with rice—but other Jewish deli staples such as pastrami on rye, bagels with cream cheese and lox, potato latkes, knishes, and more.

Ansari grew up in Maryland, graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, and later owned a deli on the East Coast. He moved to Omaha and spent 15 years working as an executive at Kiewit Corp. After noticing a lack of traditional Jewish deli fare in the city, he opened his own place in Countryside Village at 87th and Pacific streets. Business is strong, and the restaurant is already slated to expand. Ansari plans to open two additional locations in Dundee and Aksarben Village by late 2018/early 2019.

In true Jewish deli fashion, the menu includes heaping sandwiches stuffed with corned beef, pastrami, and other meats prepared in-house. Most are offered in three sizes: JV (small), regular, and piled high. Highlights include corned beef on rye that, when ordered Reubenized, comes grilled with tangy kraut, melted Swiss, and a slathering of sauce. Also good is the pastrami sandwich with chopped liver: a generous stack of lean, thinly sliced pastrami and a rich, smooth spread made with beef and chicken liver.

The deli uses fresh bread from Rotella’s Italian Bakery in Omaha (except the light rye, which is imported from back East). Bagels are shipped from New York and then baked in-house. Deli salads, including egg, tuna, chicken, and whitefish, are made fresh each day. Meat sourced from Nebraska and Iowa farms is cured, smoked, and cooked in-house. “There’s no preservatives, no nitrates,” Ansari says. “It really makes a big difference.”

Avocado burger with side of coleslaw and pickles

Prices are higher than a typical sandwich shop, but portions are generous, and the food is made in small batches using fresh ingredients, Ansari says. Guests order and pay at the counter, and there are a few stools with a view of the kitchen. The dining area is stylish and inviting, with black-and-white flooring, globe light fixtures, subway tile, spacious booths, and tables with French-style bistro chairs.

Like many Jewish delis, Swartz’s isn’t fully kosher but does offer some kosher items. Customers can order kosher sandwiches, which the staff prepare using designated cutting boards and separate knives. The kitchen knows its way around Jewish comfort food classics such as potato latkes and sweet noodle kugel. And there are modern touches, too, including more healthful options, brunch specialties, and online ordering.

The deli case up front is loaded with brisket, lox (cured salmon), potato and spinach knishes, assorted salads, and other specialties. But save room for dessert. A big slice of carrot cake—ultra-moist layers full of warm spices, nuts, and cream cheese frosting—is the perfect sweet finish.

Visit swartzsdeli.com for more information.

Western Omelet (with onions, green peppers, brisket, and tomatoes), with a side of hashbrowns and toast

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Legendary Legacy

February 11, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Despite his retirement from a long, fruitful career in the restaurant business, Chuck Caniglia can still be found doing what he loves best.

“You caught me with my hands full. I’m making homemade Venice Inn pizza,” says Caniglia, washing up and settling in to tell the story of his tenure serving up warm hospitality alongside great food. 

The Caniglia family famously lit up the Omaha restaurant scene for decades, with local favorites like Caniglia’s Pizzeria (which introduced pizza to Omaha after World War II), Caniglia’s Italian Steakhouse, Mister C’s Steakhouse, Al Caniglia’s Drawing Room, Palazzo ’Taliano, Luigi’s, Top of the World at Woodmen Tower, and others. A longstanding cornerstone of this culinary empire was Chuck’s father Eli Caniglia’s Venice Inn at 69th and Pacific streets, which opened in 1957. 

Caniglia started pitching in at his father’s restaurant at age 13, and his younger brother Jerry later followed in his footsteps. When Eli passed away in 1983, the brothers took up the mantle and ran Venice Inn until it closed in 2014. Caniglia was there until the bittersweet end; he locked the doors for the last time on the restaurant’s final day of business. 

“I never worked anywhere else,” Caniglia says. “That was our life, we felt honored to continue Dad’s work, and we enjoyed our customers so much. I miss interacting with them the most. We had very loyal customers and got hundreds of letters before we closed telling us , ‘Congratulations and best wishes, but we don’t want you to close.’ It was very bittersweet. But we’re happy now, even though we do miss it.” 

Around Chuck’s 70th birthday, after decades in the demanding, labor-intensive restaurant business, the Caniglia brothers decided it was time to retire and spend more time with family. With all their children already invested in their own careers, there was no one to pass the restaurant on to — and that’s when another family entered the picture.

Brothers Jamie and Nick Saldi expressed interest in the site, and that’s when Chuck and Jerry analyzed things and decided the time was right to close Venice Inn and sell the land. The Saldis own Legends Patio Grill & Bar locations in Omaha’s Cherry Creek and Lincoln’s Haymarket. 

“It’s kind of cool that our property has been sold to the Saldis, because they’re two brothers also,” Caniglia says. “So, those two brothers will carry on the legacy of our family property.” 

The Saldi brothers are on track to open their third Legends location on the old Venice Inn grounds in March 2018. The development, dubbed Aksarben Pointe, will house two additional, yet-to-be-named tenants.  

“We both went to UNO, so we’re familiar with the Aksarben area and had been seeking an opportunity in the area for a long time,” Nick says. “When the Venice Inn spot became available, we jumped on it right away and we’re excited to be there.”

He describes Legends as a “sports-themed restaurant.” 

“I try to avoid using the term ‘sports bar’ because it really is family friendly,” Nick says. “Most of our clientele [at the original Legends] is the neighborhood, family crowd, and we have many repeat customers. As a customer, you have a thousand places you could go to get a burger and a cold beer, but what sets us apart is that we try to create the right culture and experience for each customer and employee.”

Caniglia says that same sense of focus on customer experience is what facilitated Venice Inn’s longevity. 

“If you have a good restaurant, you serve good food at a reasonable price, you treat your customers well, and you’re always there to greet them, you can’t miss,” Caniglia says. “That’s what my father taught me.” 

The Venice Inn was so successful at creating that sense of community and loyalty that people still approach Caniglia with stories of how the restaurant was an important backdrop for their first dates, family celebrations, and other milestone events.  

“People love to share their memories of occasions at Venice Inn,” Caniglia says. “They’ll say, ‘Oh, we had our prenuptial dinner there,’ or ‘We had our anniversary party there,’ and that makes me feel good.”

Soon, the Saldis will welcome neighbors to make new memories at Legends. Although they are building a new restaurant structure, the brothers maintain a special reverence for the past.  

“In our Legends concept we have party rooms, and it’s a big theme of what we do as far as hosting receptions, birthdays, and special events for people,” Nick says. “So, I told Chuck I’d like to name one of our party rooms ‘The Venice Inn Room’ and do a memory wall there. He agreed to share some memorabilia that will let us create something to keep that building, that was so iconic in Omaha for so long, alive on one of our walls.” 

“I’m very honored that they want to do a Venice Inn memory wall in their place,” Caniglia says. “The Saldis are the nicest people, and they were great to work with. We made the best choice selling our property to them. There’s nobody else I’d have rather sold to than the Saldis.” 

The feeling is mutual. Jamie says their families connected while sharing their stories, and they enjoyed getting to know the Caniglia brothers throughout the sale process.

“When we first created a relationship with the Caniglias, we hit it off right away,” Nick says. “We talked very little about real estate and the property, but a lot about restaurants. We’re a very different concept than they had, but it’s remarkable how much their core values and ours align in the sense that they take care of their people and their customers, and we aim to do the same.”

Visit legendsomaha.com for more information about the restaurant concept coming to
Aksarben Pointe.

This article was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.