A Newcomer's Eating Tour of Omaha
Welcome to Omaha
Once overlooked as a vast landscape of chain restaurants and Old Italian steakhouses, Omaha, Neb., is now a culinary haven in the Midwest, with a growing number of locally owned restaurants relying on quality produce, meat and cheese from small-production farmers, and a strong craft-brewery scene. We put together our list of must-hit spots in this flourishing food city with the help of some culinary experts: Wendy Bredensteiner of the Omaha Farmers Market, Pastry Chef Kyle Shoemaker of Le Petit Paris Bakery and Roxanne Williams from City Sprouts, a community garden and education center in northern Omaha.
By Kelsey Vala
Think three-course Sunday brunch sounds too lavish? Kitchen Table in downtown Omaha will change that. Run by husband-and-wife team Jessica and Colin Duggan, the seasonally focused restaurant serves modern comfort food made almost entirely in-house with local ingredients, from the levain bread they use for their sandwiches to the house ricotta and pickled produce. Take, for example, the Meatloaf Sandwich: an extra-thick slice of meatloaf on toasted housemade levain bread piled with melting white cheddar, a slick of steak sauce and aioli, and house-pickled carrots and celery. As for that brunch, morning options include hot brown-rice cereal with nut butter and maple syrup, savory granola with yogurt, and fluffy ricotta pancakes.
The Grey Plume
This sleek, fine-dining establishment in Omaha’s Midtown Crossing has helped put Omaha on the national culinary map with its warm hospitality and artfully imaginative contemporary cuisine. Chef-owner Clayton Chapman brings a seasonal community-driven approach to food by working with local farmers to source ingredients and collaborating with local artists to make dishware and glasses. Though the menu changes frequently, one excellent mainstay is the Whole Roasted Blue Valley Steelhead Trout, served with creme fraiche spatzle. The charcuterie board is a mosaic of house-cured meats, including duck prosciutto, 'nduja and pork heart pastrami, as well as local cheeses. Nebraska takes its beef seriously, and The Grey Plume doesn’t disappoint: The beef tartare and the Davey Road Ranch organic beef prepared four ways (short rib, brisket, sausage and collared steak) are exceptional ways to experience the state’s best meat.
For a small sandwich shop, Block 16 has had a huge impact on the city’s culinary growth, luring hungry crowds from throughout town for their sandwiches, burgers, international street food and fries. Creativity pays off here: Gangsta Fries with chipotle drizzle, green onions and crisp pork rinds are a meal in themselves, and the Croque Garcon Burger reinvents the classic croque madam sandwich, with cheese, ham, a fried farm egg, mustard and truffle mayonnaise on ciabatta. Just don’t overlook the sandwich special, which changes daily and is always tantalizing.
Tucked into lively, hip Benson, España offers a classically Spanish menu, including 44 tapas options, which makes it ideal for large groups. Order the house sangria, which marinates for 10 days, while you review choices like Champinones Salteados — sauteed mushrooms with white wine and garlic — serrano ham croquettes, stuffed piquillo peppers, Tortilla a la Española, and a garlicky toasted baguette topped with sirloin, Manchego cheese, green onions and spicy aioli. And what would a Spanish meal be without paella, the national dish of Spain? Paella Sacramento is chock-full of shrimp, chicken, pork, calamari and mussels all cooked together with fragrant saffron in Bomba rice.
M’s Pub is a misleading name for this restaurant, which serves much more than pub grub and beer. The Old Market destination, which has been a city favorite for more than 40 years, serves elegant bistro fare with everything from delicious and affordable sandwiches to the restaurant's famous lahvosh and a house-cured charcuterie board. Devoted patrons have made sure the time-tested menu has not changed, but Chef John Rea gets creative with the oft-changing specials menu. M's Pub also boasts what is probably the most-extensive wine list in the state, with hundreds of bottles available.
Twisted Cork Bistro
From the Pacific Northwest to the Cornhusker State comes Twisted Cork Bistro, a restaurant that specializes in fresh-caught Pacific seafood prepared with local produce and meats. When owners Darrell and Laura Auld moved to town from Seattle, they brought the idea for wholesome dishes with a Pacific Northwest focus on fresh, seasonal ingredients, such as sea scallops seared in shrimp butter with tangy lemon beurre blanc and cilantro-pine gremolata. They also feature an extensive list of Oregon and Washington craft brews and wines. But for an authentic taste of their adopted home, the Aulds serve a Twisted Cork Burger that does Nebraska proud.
Photo credit: Darrell Auld
In a city that prides itself on burgers and steaks, a restaurant serving exclusively vegan comfort food may not sound like it fits in. But Modern Love is revolutionizing the way we think of vegan food. Renowned meat-free chef and cookbook writer Isa Chandra Moskowitz puts her own twist on homestyle cooking, serving vegan chili, burgers and pot pies. The succinct menu changes about every month or two, but you can always count on a seasonal pie, as well as Mac & Shews, a pasta dish made with creamy cashew cheese, pecan-crusted tofu, BBQ cauliflower and braised kale. Another genre-defying dish is the gnocchi with caramelized fennel, cherry tomatoes, pesto, Broccolini and truffled almond ricotta. Finish the meal with cherry pie served with candied ginger, vanilla bean nondairy ice cream and coconut whip. Just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean it isn’t homey, indulgent and exceptionally delicious.
The pizza-loving masses know that Pitch Pizzeria serves Omaha’s best coal-fired pies. With a lively and chic wood-paneled space and an open kitchen built around the coal-fired oven, the restaurant specializes in unique pies like the ‘Shroom Pizza with thyme cream, roasted mushrooms and truffle oil. But Chef Manuel Carino, called Chef MC, features specials, including Balsamic-Glazed Duck with saffron gnocchi and roasted mushrooms in creamy Marsala sauce. Also try the impressive, meal-worthy salads, such as arugula salad wrapped in prosciutto and the Roasted Beet Salad served with crisp baked goat cheese.
Possibly the most-romantic restaurant in Omaha, Dario’s Brasserie serves Old-World French food in an elegant and intimate space in historic Dundee. Chef-owner Dario Schicke’s European upbringing and love of aged Belgian beers both show through in the menu’s highlights, including Les Moules — large pots of mussels dressed in savory toppings — such as the Moules a la Flamande made with creamy lemon butter emulsion, parsley and chopped hard-cooked egg, and best served with a side of extra-crisp Belgian Pommes Frites with aioli. Savory buckwheat crepes are stuffed with creative ingredients like smoked trout or mortadella.