Chow Down in the Cornhusker State: What to Eat in Nebraska
There's more to the Cornhusker State than corn. Get an earful and a stomach-ful of steak, pork tenderloin and Omaha-only pizza.
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Corn and More
Nebraska is probably best known for corn and beef -- don’t worry, we have both in this lineup -- but it’s also a state full of chefs aiming to serve much more than those two staples. We have Alton Brown’s favorite burger in the nation. The Reuben sandwich. An amazing array of Mexican. The Tin Roof Sundae. And yes, perhaps the best bone-in, whiskey marinated ribeye you’re likely to find anywhere.
Biscuits and Gravy
Tin Roof Sundae
Chili and a Cinnamon Roll
What sounds like an epically strange combination is actually incredibly common in Nebraska — and, it turns out, also surprisingly delicious. Many Nebraskans first encounter a bowl of chili served with a warm cinnamon roll as a school lunch. Runza, the Nebraska-based chain that also sells bierocks, is the best place to get this wintertime special — served September through April. A warm bowl of the restaurant's house chili comes served with a Miller and Paine cinnamon roll. The recipe for the rolls was salvaged from a long-closed department store in downtown Lincoln. Runza acquired the recipe, and the rest is history.
Go to: Runza
Macaroni and Cheese
Though it might not be as well-known as Chicago or New York, Omaha has its own specific style of pizza, and you’ll find it at La Casa Pizzeria, an old-school shop with an incredible neon sign out front. The crust is rich and sort of flaky, a buttery biscuit-like concoction served in a giant rectangle and cut into squares. The most-popular topping combination is a layer of ground beef topped with onions and mushrooms. The tomato sauce is thin and bright, hidden between the crust and meat.
Go to: La Casa Pizzaria
Though there are a few origin stories for the Reuben, Nebraska legend has it that the iconic sandwich came to be during a poker game in Omaha’s late Blackstone Hotel. Reuben Kulakofsky, the sandwich’s namesake, was playing and likely suggested the combo to the hotel owner, Charles Schimmel, who first made the sandwich, then added it to his menu. Diners can still find juicy corned beef, melted Emmental cheese and sauerkraut mixed with Russian dressing on menus all over the state. Find a version with perfect sear and tender corned beef at Omaha’s Crescent Moon Alehouse, right across the street from the old hotel.
Nebraska is one of the country’s largest purveyors of beef, and there’s no shortage of burgers, whether they’re fresh off the griddle at an Interstate 80 roadside dive or made from high-end wagyu at a top-tier Omaha steakhouse. High-end casual dishes are the specialty at Block 16, including the Croque Garcon, a favorite of Alton Brown’s. The ⅓-pound burger comes topped with cheese, ham, a sunny-side-up egg, mustard and truffle mayo on a ciabatta bun. It’s not the only burger on the Block’s menu: The classic Block Burger, cooked medium rare and topped with the classic fixings, is not to be missed, either.
Go to: Block 16
The Barrel Bar in Hastings, Nebraska, deserves a special shout out for its uber-creative way to fit as much ground beef onto a plate as possible. Their creation is called the Stromer, and it's been a mainstay at the Barrel as long as anyone can remember. The stromer is a cheese charburger covered in meaty chili, served open-faced with sliced onion on a single bun. It's like a chili-cheese dog, except with more hamburger and better. You can actually get a Polish stromer, their version of a chili cheese dog with Polish sausage, at the Barrel Bar, too.
A true Nebraska original via a specific group of immigrants —Germans who emigrated from Russia — the bierock is a meat pocket loved statewide. Traditionally, the soft, just-sweet bread is filled with a mixture of cabbage, onions and ground beef; cheese is often in there, too. They’ve been made famous under another name, runza, and are served in the Midwest thanks to a restaurant chain of the same name, as well as during Nebraska Cornhusker football games in Lincoln. But find a locally made version in McCook, where Sehnert’s Bakery serves their own version with a crustier exterior and heartily seasoned beef inside.
Nebraska has a surprisingly rich array of Mexican restaurants, including many that specialize in flavorful seafood. In O'Neill, La Heradura serves a killer version of sauteed shrimp that comes with a kicky mix of seared tomatoes, peppers and jalapenos alongside beans and rice, all best perked up with a heap of homemade green salsa. And in Omaha, El Dorado specializes in towers of seafood sized for a crowd at a price that is hard to beat.
Corned Beef Hash
A specific delicacy of fried goodness in a basket, a munch basket — or combo basket — is found in almost every small-town cafe. The baskets can include all sorts of fried items, but generally, you’ll find French fries, onion rings, mozzarella sticks and fried cauliflower and mushrooms. At Glur’s Tavern, in Columbus, the basket comes with fried balls of cream cheese studded with spicy jalapenos. And at Eat Restaurant, a tiny spot in Dodge, the hand-breaded munch basket uses seasonal vegetables and a light, airy tempura breading, with homemade aioli for dipping.