New Cuisine for 2019May 30, 2019 01:07PM ● By Sara Locke
Restaurant burnout happens. People visit their favorite restaurant so many times that they start to dread date night. They spend so much money on greasy fast food and lackluster takeout that they could have spent an equal amount of money and flown to Rome for a slice of pizza.
While Omaha’s eating options are near-infinite, the dining scene can quickly feel like it is closing in around a diner. When the same dozen restaurants end up knowing a customer’s name and order, it is often an indication to branch out and try something new.
There is no reason for any day to become so...everyday. This article is designed to help diners shake up the routine and explore what’s new in 2019.
Ansel’s Pastrami and Bagels
Once Omaha had a taste of the true New York-style pizza unveiled by Noli, the owners were quick to move into a bigger establishment and launch Noli’s sister store, Ansel’s Pastrami and Bagels, in Noli’s former location. Little sisters always get hand-me-downs, but Ansel will sit in no Noli’s shadow. Ansel’s boasts the same slow touch that keeps Noli in a class of its own, including the chewy baked goods that can only be accomplished through altering the pH of the water used in the recipes.
Piedmontese beef that takes weeks to cure and smoke is the star in the made-with-love pastrami, and a sandwich has never felt more like a slap on the back. The focused menu leaves no room for nonsense, and each item has reached its full flavor potential through careful vetting of each ingredient.
Attack-A-Taco doesn’t do anything like they are supposed to. Operating without a brick-and-mortar, without an official website, and without the use of any animal products, the plant-based taco truck has been getting by just fine with chucking convention. The team communicates only on social media, works only in one location on Dodge Street, and is a dream for vegans everywhere who deserved amazing tacos and burritos, but didn’t know where to find them.
Patrons who are not vegans will also find the appeal of this food truck. The dishes are universally excellent and Mother-Earth approved. There is something for everyone to love on the menu, including the compostable dishes.
The Banh Mi Shop
Banh Mi is Vietnamese for “bread,” and The Banh Mi Shop does their namesake proud. They could put anything on their loaves and it would be delicious, but they don’t put just anything on them. Rather, the small shop uses inventive ingredients to present satisfying sandwiches that please the pickiest eater and challenge the expectations of the food snob. A sticky sparerib sandwich with ssamjang sauce and kimchi will satisfy a sweet and savory craving, or a cup of peach tea with boba will cool one’s mouth after a hearty bowl of spicy curry soup.
The team that brought Omaha Stirnella and Red Lion Lounge is taking a shot at sushi, small plates, and signature cocktails. Local sourcing is not an easy game, but Butterfish manages to tap into local resources for teas, wines, produce, and select proteins as much as possible. The result is thoughtful dishes, flawless presentation, and a mindful mouthful.
The delicious is in the details, and Butterfish has thought of everything. From bone marrow breadcrumbs to blistered green beans, flavor is coaxed into, and out of, every element of each dish.
Chaikhana Bar & Shishkabob
Chaikhana, which literally translates to “tea place,” is the affectionate term for the tea houses found throughout Central Asia. They have traditionally been a place where important conversations happen, from policy to religion, and where decisions are made. The tea houses have evolved to become a place for anyone to gather and share ideas, and at Chaikhana Bar & Shishkabob, there is plenty to talk about.
The restaurant opened in early November, and the menu features traditional dishes, mainly from the areas of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan. The food is significantly heartier than the “tea house” title would indicate. In fact, if one were so inclined to find fault with the establishment, they may argue that there is not enough tea variety for it to have earned the title.
Diners can enjoy savory spiced meats, rich rice dishes, and a fragrant bouquet of roasted and stewed vegetables served in an ornate and intimate atmosphere. The dishes are as photographable as they are unforgettable, and Chaikhana is a one-of-a-kind experience in Omaha.
Craft Sliders + Beer
The Old Market is a growing and changing organism, and taking a walk along the streets of downtown Omaha always turns up some new treasure. Craft is ready to slide into diners’ routines with a near-dizzying menu of delectable bite-sized burgers to please any palate. The restaurant offers everything from savory spices to clever additions, and diners can try a slider flight to find a new favorite flavor, or stop in for bottomless mimosas during brunch.
Located in Little Italy, the newest in the No More Empty Pots family, Cups Café is coffee on a mission. Sourced from local and nearby grinders, with an Italian-inspired menu of focaccia sandwiches, locally sourced salads, and pastries provided by local patisseries, customers will feel more than full, they’ll feel accomplished with every cup. That’s because the No More Empty Pots team uses its profits to fight poverty in innovative and exciting ways. Patrons of NMEP are becoming part of something truly delicious.
Farine + Four
Local, sustainable, delectable. Even those who haven’t walked through the doors of Farine + Four are likely to have already enjoyed the bakery’s wares. F+F has made a home in over a dozen nearby establishments, supplying buns, breads, and baked goods to everyone from Block 16 to Yoshitomo. The team makes simplicity taste decadent and ethical practices look easy.
Because of this community-minded move, the establishment opened its brick-and-mortar in January 2018 with a solid fan base. They have capitalized on the momentum by introducing seasonal menus. This means diners don’t always know what they’re going to get, but the quality has proven that customers can feel confident about the selection.
Felius Cat Café
What is better than sipping hot coffee and snuggling sweet kittens? For those who don’t have a cat, Felius has the answer. With a designated snuggle zone, the establishment’s cuddle fees go toward the care and upkeep of the cats, who are all in good health and as adoptable as they are adorable. Book a cuddle session in advance, or simply walk in when you need a caffeine, and feline, fix. Note: they do not serve food.
This new restaurant was expected to open in late May. As of press time, Nick Strawhecker is putting this restaurant in place of Dante Blackstone. Those familiar with Dante will see a familiar menu, although Forno will be less pizza-focused and will feature more small Italian plates.
Serving hand-made dumplings, potstickers, and bao (steam buns), this dim sum spot makes comfort food hip. Diners can place an order to-go, grab frozen dumplings to make at home, or dine in and enjoy the house-made chili sauce. There is a saying that goes: “I only wish I’d met you sooner, so I could have spent longer loving you.” That’s how diners are going to feel about Hip Bao. Vegetarian options are available.
The Hunger Block
Located in Rockbrook, The Hunger Block may be best known for their over-the-top and fun-to-photograph sundaes and milkshakes, but the mania over this excess feels like a bit of a disservice to its exceptional menu.
Inspired by its Venezuelan-born founders’ travels through South America, The Hunger Block is a culinary tour through centuries of tradition, and they are fun and delicious in their own right. Whether diners go with what they know or take a leap of faith on a new dish, anyone can enjoy these plates of well-spiced meats, seasoned rices, and bright vegetables that will ignite one’s sense of adventure.
Customers can then order one of those over-the-top desserts, which is going to be as delicious as it is ridiculous.
This isn’t the standard strip-mall samosa spot. Indian Bowl owners Preeda Joynoosaeng and Ashish Sathyan have made an art out of changing how Omahans see Indian standards. Diners can expect a fresh take on each dish, from the makhani burrito to the Indian take on poutine—masala fries.
This Blackstone addition plays well with spices, textures, and bright ingredients to keep diners guessing, and has already established a roster of faithful regulars.
Mayne Street Market
This new restaurant offers classic deli options like the classic Rachel with turkey, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing, and slaw on rye bread. They also offer a dose of unique dishes like Bird and the Beet—turkey, smoked beets, whipped ricotta, and pickled zucchini on a baguette. With fresh ingredients and house smoked meats, this one is sure to Lox Your Soxs Off.
Iowa City transplants Mike and Kellie Osler opened this new restaurant, a familiar place to many local Hawkeyes. They offer falafel salads and sandwiches; chicken, beef, gyro, lamb, and vegetable kabob plates; and a wide variety of sides and salads. But it's the hummus that has everyone talking, with its creamy texture and just the right balance of garlic and lemon.
Olive and Ash
With a drive-through window in Northwest Omaha, Olive and Ash proves that diners can enjoy quality ingredients on the go. The popular pizza joint includes modern favorites like jalapeño popper pizza with cream cheese and a white sauce and a gluten-free cauliflower crust that will make one’s mother proud. It’s love and dash at Olive and Ash.
The menu visits many pizzeria classics and includes build-your-own options on a choice of three crusts. They also add a few inventive additions to elevate the experience to meet with owner Nick Bartholomew’s reputation for excellence. A spinach salad with pear and goat cheese or a green curry ash wing means this isn’t an ordinary takeout pizza, while delivery through UberEats or a quick zip through the drive-through keeps the convenience diners have come to rely on for fast food.
Ono Pinay Kitchen
2221 Madison St. Facebook: @onopinaykitchen
Old Towne Bellevue is the proud home of this authentic Hawaiian and Filipino establishment that serves, and educates, curious customers about customs, culture, and cuisine. The owners take pride in every dish, from the traditional Lumpia to the cassava cake.
The dishes are fun and steeped in traditions both ancient and acquired. Diners can expect a stick-to-your ribs family-meal feel from this unique restaurant.
The downtown lunch rush was imPressed with this establishment’s excellent customer service and quality ingredients. Daily lunch specials are a revolving door of craveable soups, creative sandwiches, and quarter-pound hot dogs with countless topping options.
Diners can carry out, or stick around and order a latte or hot tea and linger over lunch. That is, if they can be trusted around the delectable-looking pastries. With a wide range of specials, this is a perfect place to play menu roulette and try something new, like the Mediterranean or barbecued pork roast.
Rama Thai Restaurant and Bar
Preeda Joynoosaeng, owner of Mai Thai Lounge and Indian Bowl, has already proven to be an authority on delicious, authentic Asian dining in Omaha. With the same attention to detail and sense of tradition, Rama Thai serves an extensive menu of Thai favorites and classic Asian dishes in the bustling location near 180th and Pacific streets.
Rathskeller Bier Haus
Rathskeller hopes to capitalize on its proximity to both Blackstone and Historic Dundee, and it brings more than enough to the table to become a destination in its own right.
The establishment is located in the former Caffeine Dreams, and the outdoor Bier Garten is a draw on warm summer nights, while the cold beer will keep patrons sitting tight. The menu features a variety of Haus favorites, from chicken-stuffed pretzels to all the wurst one could eat. It was created by the team who brought Omaha Havana Garage, S.G. Roi, and The Nifty. They invite diners to let their lederhosen down and have a great time at Rathskeller.
This is a completely different take on ramen, and the owner himself calls it “not for everyone.” He explains that Omahans have only been exposed to Tonkotsu pork broth in their ramen, and that while it may seem like the standard to Americans, in Japan Tonkotsu is only served in the city of Fukuoka. Rather, the owner has made the decision to serve a choice of shoyu, shiyo, miso, or vegetable broth instead, explaining that these are healthier, and more traditional in his hometown of Sapporo.
Owner Hidehisa “Sean” Takahashi has the credentials to make the establishment work—three decades of serving ramen and sushi first in Japan, and then in Las Vegas, along with a custom flour blend he orders from California. Customers should like his dishes, which include rice bowls, select sushi rolls, and four kinds of ramen.
With a from-scratch kitchen, playful atmosphere, and dishes to die for, Stokin’ Goat just can’t be bleat.
While the establishment calls itself casual, the menu is anything but. Offering intricately textured dishes, thoughtful combinations, and a wine menu that invites diners to linger, Stokin’ Goat is an excellent concept with exceptional execution.
While several items on the menu are playfully named and plated, the expert crafting of each dish cannot be masked by a bit of cheekiness. Goat Balls, a honeyed goat cheese appetizer, might make one’s inner teen snicker, but the inner cheese snob will be equally delighted. Customers can expect elevated dishes, from the wagyu burger on brioche to the braised beef cheeks with grits. Each dish is a combination of cozy comfort and haute cuisine. A great way to end a summer evening is sitting on the patio with one of their signature smoked cocktails.
This restaurant invites diners to come as a group, sit down, and enjoy a couple of margaritas while eating a crispy, puffy, fried taco. Options include a taco box of 12 of their puffy tacos and sides of beans and rice for the group. This philosophy extends to the drinks. Thirsty diners can purchase a bowl (with frozen margarita, fruit, and coronitas) or a bucket of five beers.
Omaha restaurants abound, and there were a few replays worth mentioning this year—whether they were re-openings, chains, or new locations.
Classic Rock Coffee
The conceptual café launched their inaugural store in Springfield, Missouri, in 2011. The fever quickly spread, and the café’s take on what kind of cuisine can be paired with coffee became as much as a draw as its rock ’n’ roll memorabilia. While the bread pudding is done well and the service is streamlined, the Korean tacos are the curiosity Omahans can’t stop talking about. Well-seasoned and served hot, patrons may wonder if they are ordering tacos in a coffee shop, or sipping coffee in a taco shop. Either way, the combinations work and this chain has found a home in Omaha.
This downtown darling has expanded to a location at Midtown Crossing, giving more people in Omaha the all-day café experience. Diners can start their day the right way, with the egg white sandwich on blue corn bread, which Food Network experts called the “Best Breakfast Sandwich in Nebraska.” Midtown’s business district benefits from having another hearty lunch option, with most of the menu having made the trip from 16th Street. Dishes that will carry diners through to dinner include crispy potatoes, warm soups, cooling salads, and satisfying sandwiches.
A Culprit cocktail can elevate the evening, and the spacious spot is an excellent preamble to any of this summer’s Turner Park events.
2121 S. 73rd St. droverrestaurant.com
Since opening in 1969, The Drover has been Omaha’s go-to for whiskey steak and excellent service. A December fire put the establishment on ice, and repairs kept customers from their favorite steakhouse for far too long. Omaha Magazine wishes The Drover a hearty welcome back to business.
Freezing Thai Rolled Ice Cream
The Sunday Farmer’s Market may be the perfect (if busiest) time to stop in to Freezing Thai Rolled Ice Cream. The frosty treat is carefully crafted before patrons, and it is so pretty diners hesitate to take a bite. But take a picture of it before wrecking it, as its creators intended. And with two locations (the other is in Lincoln at 210 N. 14th St.) rolled ice cream can become Husker fans’ favorite Nebraska treat this fall.
Like its little sister, Ika Ramen and Izakaya, IkaSan sticks the landing on hot ramen and cool plates, but the poke bowls are where it's at. While some arguments exist over whether Ika can be called traditional Japanese ramen, there is no arguing the expert execution of each dish. The aim of the Izakaya, or gastropub, is to create a welcoming place to gather that simply happens to serve excellent food. Ika nails it, every time.
This Kansas City steakhouse has come to play with its Omaha competition. Their cocktail menu includes twists on classics such as a smoked old-fashioned and new libations like the Boba Bubbly, a combination of prosecco and boba pearls. The steaks, however, are the stars. Wood-fired and served with add-ons such as ancho chile or truffle butter, these are sure to impress.
Jinya Ramen Bar
East-Coast chain Jinya may cook a lot of ramen, but they do it well. With an approachable menu and customizable bowls, the establishment has mastered streamlining without taking the heart out of ramen. The menu features hot bowls, cold drinks, and a fun kids’ bento box to satisfy even the pickiest little dumplings.
La Casa Pizzaria West
La Casa has recently added a third restaurant. The additional spot will seat around 100 people, more than twice as many patrons as the La Casa at 8216 Grover St. Their classic hamburger pizza has been part of Omaha’s culinary history for decades, and Omahans are always eager for a new place to slide into a slice.
The only complaint about the plant-based sproutlet owned by Isa Chandra Moskowitz was not the warmth of the staff, the quality of the ingredients, or the number of options on the vegan menu. It was that more people could not fit into the establishment. This singular flaw was remedied in 2018 when Moskowitz moved Modern Love to the new Farnam Street location, which seats nearly of three times as many people. Eat, drink, and be merrier.
Mouth of the South
A fire took this restaurant in April 2017, but owner Ryan Ernst and his dedicated staff swore it was not the end. With a lot of faith and hard work, Mouth of the South opened in its new location in October 2018. The new spot still boasts the same passionate service and mouth-watering meals that made MOTS taste like home to so many.
No matter what the craving, Omaha has something new and exciting to offer diners around every corner. With this list comes the chance for diners to take on a new spot and the dozens of new dishes popping up in every neighborhood. Every day in Omaha is a delicious adventure, just waiting for Omahans to take a bite.
This article was printed in the June 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.