Skip to main content

Omaha Magazine

Hop, Skip, & Dig in: Exploring Dan Hoppen’s Passion and Empathy for Omaha’s Dining Scene

May 23, 2023 03:34PM ● By William Rischling
Dan Hoppen Omaha Magazine June 2023 A+C Radio

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

Listen to this article here. Audio Provided by Radio Talking Book Service.

Few things are as fundamentally vital to humans as food. Beyond providing sustenance, food is a central aspect of every culture, connecting people through shared experience. It can be easy to forget how much joy there is in the world of gastronomy, especially in the fast-paced modern world, wherein the consumption of calories is often relegated to yet another daily chore. Thankfully there are avenues of escape from such mundane mastication, a fact that Dan Hoppen shares enthusiastically via his website and podcast, Restaurant Hoppen.

Omaha Magazine met Dan Hoppen on a Friday morning at a small Mexican eatery downtown called Mexitili Restaurant, which began as a food truck before establishing a fixed location. He spoke with the server, the friendly Alberto Cardenas, about the transition to downtown and his preferred menu items. His appreciation for food and those who prepare it was plain to see.

“My mom was a super good home cook. I think that’s where my love of food developed. I was exposed to great food early on because we gathered for dinner every night,” Hoppen explained. “Food was a special thing for [our family]. It just kinda grew as I got out of the house and went out on my own. I'm not a good cook myself, so if I want a really good meal, I'm typically going out, and I'm getting it—and I really, really prioritize finding something that's really good, something that is maybe a little outside what people are expecting or what they're looking for.” 

Hoppen uses his website to promote restaurants in and around the Omaha area that he believes deserve recognition. Like many passion projects, Restaurant Hoppen was not created with a grand strategy in mind. 

“I started this WordPress blog, and it was really lame, and I was a lot more critical of restaurants back then. But it just kind of, for whatever reason, gained a following. I would write these blog posts and then put them out on Twitter, and it gained this following,” he recalled.

Compared to Restaurant Hoppen’s sleek, professional-looking homepage, its humble beginnings mark an inflection point in Hoppen’s culinary philosophy.

Hoppen said, “Matt Verzal is a former Husker player. He's been on the radio and everything. He got in touch with me and he was like, ‘Dude, you have a really cool platform. What are you going to do with it? Like, you have something here.’ And I was like, ‘I have no idea what I'm doing.’ He's like, ‘Let me handle it. I have some folks who are starting up a podcast studio. Would you be interested in talking with them?’ I said, ‘absolutely.’

“I would bring my buddies on and we would talk about our favorite burger spots and what was the most overrated food and stuff. But then I had Nick Maestas from the Muchachos food truck on. That was the first chef or owner that I had on [the podcast]. That kind of legitimized it a little bit. I've always been a huge fan of Block 16, and I had interacted with Jess and Paul Urban on social media a lot, but never had actually met them. I asked them to be on the podcast, and they were so gracious and they gave me my time. They got a babysitter and came in at night to record a podcast. After that it just exploded because they are so respected in the restaurant community.”

The podcast has gone on to host a variety of noteworthy guests, and now Hoppen’s name is practically synonymous with Omaha’s culinary scene.

Between bites of Mexitili's "Authentic Mexican Enchiladas," Hoppen returned to the topic of his critical approach early on.

“The pandemic made me a lot more empathetic to restaurant owners. Every restaurant was struggling so much that it was kind of like, you don’t need to kick a horse when it’s down,” he said. “There's no reason to point out all the little mistakes that a place is making when everyone is struggling. So I think I gained a lot of empathy during the pandemic.”

This empathy is evident on Hoppen’s blog, where he praises the passion of restaurateurs, established or otherwise.

“Mistakes happen. They happen in any job, any walk of life,” he continued. “But these people are legitimately trying so hard to make you happy and serve you a great meal that I'm not going to try and punch down on them.”

Upon cleaning his platter of enchiladas, Hoppen ordered a birria taco just to try it. This disregard for the limitations of the human stomach was impressive, and done in service to the diners of Omaha who follow his posts.

“I don't even know if hidden gems is the right word, but there are so many great restaurants out there. Just get out and try something. Like, even if it's just once a month, say, ‘You know what? We're going to go somewhere different,’” Hoppen encouraged. “It's not just going to be Cheddar's again. We're going to go to Dante instead. We're going to go to Via Farina. We're gonna check out Taqueria Tijuana.

“If you go out and try some of these locally owned restaurants, I think you're going to be surprised by just how delicious and how amazing this food can be.” 

For those seeking to deviate from their daily routine of ham sandwiches and fast food, Dan Hoppen’s recommendations are eye-opening and palate-broadening—and a service to Omaha’s vibrant food scene.

For more information on Hoppen’s blog and podcast, visit

This article originally appeared in the June 2023 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

Evvnt Calendar