Tag Archives: salsa

OJs Enchilada

August 2, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Ground beef and cottage cheese on an enchilada. The combination sounds strange, but it tastes amazing.

Creamy, melted cottage cheese oozes over hearty meat and shredded lettuce, tucked into a flour tortilla. Douse the whole plate with ladles of finely chopped hot salsa (made fresh every day), and dig in.

The menu warns in all-caps: “GUARANTEED A GUT-BUSTER!” It stretches across the plate like a log, coated with a blanket of cheddar and sprinkled with black olive slices. Twin mounds of rice and refried beans huddle beside the delicious monstrosity.

OJs1Ever since I learned of cottage cheese enchiladas, OJ’s Cafe on the edge of the Missouri River has called to me like a siren song for fat kids.

Mexican food is fairly common in the Midwest nowadays, but OJ’s Cafe was a trendsetter. Located next to the Florence Mill, just south of I-680’s 30th Street exit near the Mormon Bridge, OJ’s wood-paneled facade harkens back to the days of the Wild West.

The recipe for cheese and beef enchiladas belonged to the owner’s mother. The owner, 70-year-old Olga Jane Martinez (whose married name is Vlcek) was born in Anaheim, California. She opened the cafe 40 years ago. Vlcek says they added the Western-style facade a few years after opening.

Mexican food was hard to find in Omaha back then. The restaurant was situated in the site of a former dairy that sold milk, eggs, ice cream, hamburger, and cheeseburgers. At first, Vlcek followed suit. She kept the menu and added a daily special. Mexican dishes were the Thursday and Friday special.

“Then customers started asking for more Mexican food,” Vlcek says. “I said, ‘You know what? I am going to try to make a business of this.’ So, I cut everything else (about a year after opening).”

OJ’s now offers a full menu with tacos, burritos, vegetarian options, nachos, and a wide range of Mexican fare. The kitchen will even switch out flour tortillas for corn upon request.

Walk inside OJ’s today and find heavy wooden lacquer tables and booths. Kitschy decorations abound. Ceramic suns cover one wall. Promotional mirrors for imported Mexican beer cover another. There’s a stained glass window with cacti and a sombrero, a crucifix, family photos, and lots of other trinkets contributing to the down-home atmosphere.

A waitress asks for our order. I know what I want, but ask her suggestion anyway. She recommends the cottage cheese and chicken enchilada. I pause for a moment. I didn’t know the meat choice could be switched. I take a risk. Chicken and cottage cheese it is.

When I order a plate of tortilla chips, I ask for a mix of corn and flour ($3.75) and a Pacifico on-tap ($3.75 glass) from an ample selection of Mexican beers. The beer arrives in a frosty mug. A margarita ($4) with salt on the rim follows with the entrée.

Word to the wise couple: Those with smaller appetites should consider splitting the enchilada ($10.25). After essentially chugging half of the dish, I slow to contemplate the merits of beef vs. chicken and cottage cheese. The chicken is fairly bland, aside from the rich cheesiness common to both. I still prefer the beef (which seems more savory, possibly cooked with more seasoning); however, I’m not disappointed. Being perfectly honest, I dump so much homemade salsa on my plate that it probably doesn’t matter what I’m eating.

OJs3To wrap up the meal, a sombrero ($5.50) arrives. Luckily, I’m eating with a dinner companion. We share the two heaping scoops of vanilla ice cream towering over a cinnamon and sugar-coated tortilla, all drizzled with Mexican caramel. 

Completely stuffed, I wonder about the origins of my favorite enchilada. Who better to ask than Olga Jane Vlcek herself. She still works at her namesake restaurant every day (OJ’s is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., with a mid-day break that closes the cafe from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.)

“That’s my signature enchilada,” Vlcek says of the beef and cottage cheese enchilada, which happens to be her favorite, too. The cottage cheese and beef enchilada was on the menu in the early days of OJ’s, but it wasn’t popular. “Ironically enough, I couldn’t sell them,” she says with a laugh. “People wouldn’t buy them, so I took it off the menu.” She made a commitment to herself that if her restaurant became established, she would bring back her mom’s enchilada recipe. And that’s exactly what she did. Omaha Magazine

The Perfect Cuisine for El Día de los Muertos

August 29, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

El Día de los Muertos is right around the corner, and what better way to celebrate the Day of the Dead than with food? Keep an eye out for sugar skulls as you sample some of the best Mexican cuisine in Omaha along 24th Street.

La Michoacana (24th and E)

José Gaytan, owner of the small café La Michoacana, is hard-pressed to choose just one favorite from his menu but finally narrows it down. “For me,” he says, “the nachos are wonderful. The pico de gallo on them is made fresh every day.” As are all the meats. But if you’re looking for La Michoacana’s standout contribution to the South Omaha Mexican cuisine scene, skip the hot bar and go straight to the frozen cabinet by the cash register. A sign requests in Spanish that patrons allow an employee to open it. Ask for a mango paleta, or popsicle. It costs $1 and is made with milk, fruit, and not much else. The texture is smooth rather than icy, and the taste is creamy and not as shockingly sweet as frozen treats you’ll find elsewhere. It also melts with surprising speed the instant you step into sunlight, so plan on eating it quickly. No wonder they don’t want you standing over the freezer with the lid open.

Popsicles from La Michoacana.

Popsicles from La Michoacana.

Dos de Oros (24th and G)

“¿Cambio para el veinte?” One of the regulars at the Dos de Oros food truck taps another customer on the shoulder to remind him to get his change. There’s always a small crowd milling around the truck, patrons chatting as they wait in line or wait to order, so you’ll have plenty of time to study the menu on the whiteboard. If you’re okay with a bit of heat, try the chorizo burrito, a flavor you won’t find at a fast-food joint. Ladle some salsa verde over your plate, and grab a Mexican Coke from the cooler in the front of the truck. A bottle opener specifically for the sugar-cane soda swings in the breeze. These burritos are about half the size of the monsters at Chipotle or Qdoba, but for $3 and a great spicy flavor, who’s complaining?

El Ranchito (24th and H)

As tiny as its name suggests, El Ranchito keeps only a few picnic-cloth-covered tables in its café. Its menu has some standard lunch prices of $8 or $9 an entrée, but you can make a cheaper meal out of the tacos at $1.35 or the zopes (also known as sope) for $1.75. These soft, corn flour (or masa) tortillas are fried and then served open-faced with savory meat, lettuce, onions, and tomatoes. If you’re feeling brave, order the lengua zope. The seared beef tongue is tender, salty, and smoky. But consider ordering it for carryout—the telenovelas on that small TV in the corner can get loud.

Beef-tongue zope at El Ranchito is tender and smoky.

Beef-tongue zope at El Ranchito is tender and smoky.

Jacobo’s Grocery (24th and L)

The queue by the deli counter at the back of Jacobo’s Grocery is long but steadily moving. Kerry Hoiberg waits patiently for two quarts of what she calls the best salsa in town. She drives down regularly from the Field Club neighborhood to stock up on the grocery store’s salsa and homemade chips. “I like supporting local, but at a farmers market, a pint would cost about $5,” she says. “Here, it’s made fresh every day, and a quart is $3.25.” She also buys a small cup of hot sauce for 40 cents, saying she’ll mix it in later to spice up the mild pico de gallo.

The deli also serves an array of hot lunches, such as empanadas and chimichangas, but it just might be the pastry case at the end that will capture your attention. Order something at random, and you’ll be fine. The guayaba pastry, for example, costs 70 cents, is unbelievably flaky, and filled with guava jelly. You’ll make a mess eating it, but you won’t care.

There are plenty of hot lunch options at Jacobo's Grocery on 24th Street.

There are plenty of hot lunch options at Jacobo’s Grocery on 24th Street.

El Rinconcito (23rd and N)

El Rinconcito translates roughly into “the little out-of-the-way corner,” and it certainly is off the beaten path. However, it’s worth leaving South Omaha’s main drag of 24th Street for a place that serves breakfast all day. For around $9, you can have two huevos estrellados (fried eggs), a few strips of tocino (bacon), a caramelized plantain, refried beans, cheese, and three tortillas served in a tablewarmer. A little extra gets you coffee.

Most of these places don’t take credit or check, so no matter where you intend to observe el Día de los Muertos, come properly prepared with cash. That and an empty stomach are all you need to enjoy the flavors of South Omaha.

Bean & Corn Dip

March 25, 2013 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Bean & Corn Dip

Ingredients:

  • 2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can shoepeg corn, drained and rinsed
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 6 tbsp lime juice
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1½ tsp cumin
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro , chopped
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and chopped
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tomato, seeded and chopped

Instructions:

  • Mix all ingredients (except the tomato) in a large mixing bowl, then place in fridge for 30 min.
  • After chilled and just before serving, add diced tomato to mix.
  • Transfer to decorative serving bowl and garnish with cilantro.
  • Serve with tortilla chips.

Margaritas on the Rocks

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups sweet and sour mix
  • 1 cup triple sec
  • 1½ cups gold tequila
  • 1/3 cup brandy-based orange liqueur (such as Grand Marnier®)
  • 2 limes, quartered

Instructions:

  • Salt the rims of your glasses. To do so, pour salt onto a small plate, rub the rims of the glasses with lime, and press them into the salt.
  • Fill glasses with ice.
  • In a shaker, combine sweet and sour mix,
  • triple sec, tequila, and liqueur. Shake to your hearts desire.
  • Pour into glasses, squeeze a quarter lime into each glass, and serve.

Recipe Sources: Linda Persigehl and allrecipes.com.