[Updated on January 10, 2018]
This usually comes as a surprise to folks, but there are way too many incredible spots to eat at in this city. Omaha boasts of at least four James Beard semi-finalists who have elevated the culinary culture and consciousness of this great town.
Here’s a short hit-list (working from east to west across the city) of some of the absolute best. Of course, there are plenty more notable places that are worthy of multiple visits, so consider the starting point.
Boiler Room is among Omaha’s most celebrated and favorite spots in the city, not only because the food is stunning and prepared with such keen thoughtfulness, but the ambiance itself is one of the best that Omaha has to offer. The menu changes daily based on fresh ingredients. Though there’s a causal vibe (no need to get all dressed up) it is priced a bit higher than most of the spots on this list. It’s really worth a visit, even if it’s just to get a Sazerac or another cocktail at the bar.
La Buvette is perfect for lunch or dinner—a cozy little French deli + wine bar with a hand- written menu updated daily. It’s probably the most “French-est” spot you’ll ever visit outside of France. Just about everything they cook up with duck or rabbit or oxtail is worth exploring, but when duck eggs are in season and available you can’t miss the dug egg gratin.
Le Bouillon is a Basque-inspired French kitchen focusing on food from southwestern France and northeaster Spain. Their lunch service highlights the best bowl of French Onion Soup you can find anywhere. A bowl of soup and the Parisian Gnocchi with Lamb Sausage is MORE than enough for an unforgettable lunch, but don’t miss the Sunday brunch, or even a spontaneous dinner on the cozy patio in the heart of the Old Market.
Mercury Lounge is one of Omaha’s newest, coolest spots to grab a drink from some the city’s best bartenders. These guys took over an old school jeweler’s storefront and turned the vault into a wine cellar. The rest of the space is super modern with great natural
light and a killer vibe. The wine list is sharp and thoughtful, the cocktails are on point, and the food is stunning—don’t miss the spätzle.
Via Farina is a pretty little pizzeria located on the south side of Omaha’s Old Market/north side of Little Italy. Farina is downtown’s much-needed wood-fire oven pizza spot with thoughtfully crafted hand-pulled pastas. I’ve worked through a few options off the spectacular antipasti menu (asparagus and farm egg, fried cauliflower, and the shaved Brussels sprouts salad), some of the fabulous pastas (egg yolk ravioli, corzetti, and the tajarin), as many of the stellar pizzas as I could try (Margherita, pepperone, finnochiona, spinto, and the uovo)—and truthfully I’d order all of these choices again. There’s really not a weak link on the menu. The wine list is made up of hand-picked small batch options from boutique vineyards. Each of them compliment the menu with a deliberate sense of pairing. And, every bottle is only $30 which makes these delicious wines incredibly accessible.
The Wicked Rabbit is something to be experienced. Don’t want to say much here, but if you’re a fan of speakeasies then you’ll know what to do. Since it’s a pretty small spot and has become quite popular, it’s a good idea to get a reservation. And it’s really, really worth the wait, so be patient…
Local Beer, Patio and Kitchen seems typical enough, but they boast 100+ local beers thoughtfully curated to highlight excellent Nebraska breweries, and the food is super duper great too. They also have a West Omaha location now so be sure to hit that up on your way to Colorado.
The Trap Room is a killer little bar run by the Saddle Creek Records crew. Everything about it is low-key, understated, and hip.
The Grey Plume is America’s “Greenest” restaurant, everything is farm-to table and completely sustainable. It boasts a seasonally-driven menu with a down-home contemporary American cuisine focusing on locally grown produce and livestock. It’s a splurge, but the happy hour menu at the bar is totally manageable and offers excellent options. Don’t forget to order the duck-fat fries… ohhhhh, I’ll kiss those on the lips.
Salween Thai is run by a Karen refugee family and focusses on northeastern Thai food. It’s the best Thai spot we’ve eaten at outside Bangkok. Nothing on the menu is more than $10. My favorites include: rice sausage balls (starter) + the salads are pretty legit: lag kai or the grilled beef salad or the papaya salad (the salads run spicy, so I usually get 3/10 on the heat level) + pad see yew (the wide flat noodles) or pad thai won sen (pad thai with thin glass noodles). I get 7/10 heat on the noodle dishes.
Archetype Coffee is among the top 3 best coffee experiences I’ve had anywhere in the world (this includes some of the best spots in NYC, Berlin, Tokyo, and Seattle). Their fresh coffees of the day are great, but these guys pull a pretty amazing espresso too, AND their nitro-brew is magical.
Dante Ristorante Pizzeria Nick Strawhecker’s done it again. Dante in the Blackstone has been heralded as Omaha’s first “Fast-Fine” dining option. It’s the same amazing food served up at the original location. and similar to the West Omaha location Dante in the Blackstone offers modern Italian fare made to order in a full-service setting. And best of all, there’s actually dedicated, private parking (which in the Blackstone is a HUGE add-on!).
Nite Owl is a dimly lit bar with a retro-vibe that serves solid bar food. The Korean wings are hearty and the Tot-Chos is a riff on nachos, but instead of tortilla chips they use tater tots. And theFried Oreos are dreamy. Best of all, every night is movie night, and the good folks at Nite Owl only play the best-of-the-worst from the 80’s so you’re bound to be transported back to the glory days when film was hardly an art form.
Avoli Osteria is run by Dario Schicke, the same chef of Dario’s in Dundee. Avoli puts out some of the city’s very best pastas, each delicate and beautiful. Usually we just share a few of the pastas rather than work our way into the 2nd courses.
Au Courant Regional Kitchen Inspired new European cuisine by some of the finest kitchen staff out there. Au Courant’s a true Phoenix that emerged from the tragic ashes of the fire that closed the Market House. Chef Ben Maides “offers approachable New European influenced dishes with a focus on regional ingredients in a friendly and affordable atmosphere.”
Lot 2 is a tough spot to get a reservation. It’s quickly become Benson’s favorite dining option for smart American cuisine. They serve up a great Sunday brunch, but their dinner menu never disappoints. The Mussels are great, but 1/2 order is plenty and the Scallop primer is solid too. Folks think this is Omaha’s best hamburger, but you’ll have to determine that yourself.
Yoshitomo is branded as an intimate sushi bar located in the heart of Benson. Chef David Utterback is gem, elevating the standard of Asian eats in the region. This little spot is a much-welcomed addition to the respectable array of surprising sushi joints in town—surprising because Mid-America doesn’t immediatelystrike one as a sushi restaurant hotbed. The attention to detail, the innovative menu, and variety of non-typical yet traditional Japanese options available clearly sets Yoshimoto above other spots in town.
China Garden might look like a typical Americanized Chinese take-out spot, and I guess if you ordered off the standard menu it might seem like that, but there happens to be an alternative menu that takes a wee bit of expertise to order from. I’ve actually heard that a friend was denied after asking to order from the Sichuan and Northern Chinese food menu, but keep at these folks because the Sichuan offerings are LEGIT. Luckily my first visit was with a couple from X’ian who routinely dine here and knew exactly what to order, starting with a few things off the specials of the day board (which it happens, was all written in Chinese). We continued to work through the menu ordering the husband and wife beef or couple’s beef (夫妻废片), the pickled cabbage soup with fish (酸菜鱼), stir fried greens (干煸豆角, whatever is fresh and in-seaon, usually either green beans or green bean sprouts or bok choy), the Pepper Chicken is on point (辣子鸡), the Water Boiled Fish (水煮鱼), the Pepper Tofu (麻婆豆腐), and the Stir Fried Yuxiang Egg Plant (鱼香茄子).
Canton House is tricky to find since it’s tucked behind the library on north 90th Street, but it’s worth the hunt because Canton House is truly an unexpected gift. Their Dim Sum menu is on point in every way. The Steamed Shanghai Dumplings, Deep Friend Minced Pork Dumplings, Pan Fried Turnip Cake, BBQ Pork Buns, Fried Egg Yolk Paste Buns, Ha Gao, and Sui Mai are classics.
Dante Ristorante Pizzeria has some of the ALL time the best wood-fire pizza oven pies I’ve eaten anywhere in the world—ALL of their pizzas are
pretty amazing. I usually order the Diabolo with sausage, soppressata, calabrian chili, and mozzarella, but their pastas are also incredible—my favorite is their Pappardelle Bolognese. Generally I don’t eat desserts, but I always save a wee bit of room for the butterscotch pudding with whipped cream and sea salt.
In Memoriam, You’ve Left Us Too Soon…
House of Loom is located on the south side of the Old Market, just off the 10th street bridge. It’s an unassuming little club with a vision to weave the social fabric of the city together through dance, drinks, and celebration—everyone is always welcome. With a tasteful Victorian aesthetic, the intimate space is framed by old brick walls, dark hardwood floors, vintage ceramic ceiling tiles, and a fireplace hidden in a little library at the back of the lounge. Local art hangs salon-style on the walls as a shrine to the city’s creatives. Get there already.
Taita in Benson serves dressed up traditional Peruvian food with a strong focus on seafood. Their sushi is considered the best in Omaha by many of the city’s connoisseurs. If you’re in Benson at least stop in for the Grilled Beef Heart Anticuchos first plate and the traditional Peruvian Pisco Sour cocktail.
Locomotive Food Truck sometimes rolls out for lunch (you’ll just need to check online to see where they might park), but parks outside Ted & Wally’s in the Old Market every night starting at 10pm. They are famous for their rounders which are deep fried dough balls stuffed with awesomeness, and now have a bricks-and-mortar location with Ted & Wally’s in Benson.