As a former long-time resident of Omaha, Nebraska, when I return I have some must-hit restaurants, here are five that you must try.
Returning to Omaha For a Visit
I lived in Omaha, Nebraska for many years and loved the food. These are the places I crave and frankly, it was hard to keep it to just five.
I want to qualify this post and the criteria really clearly. These are not the top 5 best, the fanciest, the undiscovered, the cheapest nor the most expensive. These are the top 5 places you must try if you visit Omaha, whether for Berkshire Hathaway’s Annual Meeting, the College World Series, on business or simply passing through.
Ron Popp, the proprietor of Wheatfields first took over a local favorite, the Garden Cafe and then The Farmhouse, all of whom retain aspects of the same menu, but Wheatfields is his magnum opus. The restaurant constitutes the largest bakery in the city and among its many strengths, the cinnamon rolls are the must-try, must-have, must-take home in a pan of six. I’ll get back to those in a minute.
The cuisine is a take on a Swisshotel with midwestern fusion. Sliced potato casseroles with cheese, steak, onions, and peppers is as midwestern as it gets, but try the buttered croissant sandwiches and anything with hollandaise. I worked at this restaurant as wait staff for about a week in my senior year of high school (the menu at the time had more than 100 dishes and a variety of iterations therein, and I had another job.) I can attest that they cook everything in-house, from scratch, and the food is absolutely fantastic. It’s not on your diet.
On the note of the cinnamon rolls, these are nearly the size of loaves of bread, often come out before the rest of your breakfast, and feature an unholy amount of buttercream frosting devoid of cream cheese. When people came to visit us in England, we would ask them to bring us pans of it, and if they visit us now in Pittsburgh, they should bring a pan with them or consider staying at a hotel.
Also worth noting, they have a very large gluten-free menu and several locations (including Downtown Omaha) though this is the original, the largest and in my opinion, the best.
La Casa Pizzaria
There is a very specific type of pizza that Omaha seems to specialize in. It’s a denser low-rise crust in a circular shape. Part of that tradition is found at La Casa, though they put out rectangular pies with romano cheese giving it a very distinct flavor. There’s no question that La Casa is an Omaha landmark, Oscar award-winning director and Omaha native, Alexander Payne, started his 2017 film, Downsizing, in the original location.
Something I have learned since living away from Omaha – very few other cities put hamburger (ground beef) on their pizzas. This is an obvious error in judgment and the “Classic Hamburger” which is just ground beef, caramelized minced onion, and romano cheese is La Casa’s most popular pie.
You’ve likely never had a pizza quite like La Casa and won’t likely anywhere else in the world. Try it, love it, and eat like Matt Damon does.
This is a new entrant. Omaha has a substantial Mexican and Central American migrant population that started over 100 years ago from agricultural workers to the beef packing plants that made the Omaha stockyards famous. As a result, Omaha has an abundance of excellent Mexican and Central American restaurants. Most of these are located in South Omaha (13th-36th streets) but we found an absolute gem in West Omaha.
Javi’s has been famous for its Birria tacos. The recipe is simple: a pair of corn tortillas with barbacoa beef, Oaxacan cheese, and diced onions served with a consomme customized spiciness to your preference. It has all the elements and comfort of Sunday at your grandmother’s house and is a must-try.
Prices are reasonable though not as cheap as a taco truck; Birria is only sold on Friday through Monday.
Local fast food chains aren’t usually on this sort of a list, however, this one is unique. A Runza sandwich is a baked roll with seasoned ground beef, onion and cabbage. It doesn’t sound great, in fact, I don’t cabbage outside of a Runza, but you must try one, they are amazing.
What makes the locally-owned restaurants (the chain has fewer than 100 locations most of which are in or around Omaha and nearby Lincoln) so special is their attention to detail and quality. The burgers are top-notch, hand-dipped onion rings, and now french onion dip in all locations (do not miss this), are truly exceptional and the prices are “Nebraska nice.”
Runza is an institution in the Cornhusker state and for good reason. Fine dining, it is not, but a must-try; absolutely.
There was a sushi war in the middle of the US, 1,500 miles from either ocean. Yes, you read that right. Blu Sushi and Sake bar opened with a mission to fly in fresh fish daily to give Omahans a real option for quality sushi. That chain grew to three locations in the city before branching out to Denver, Dallas, Cleveland, and others including Chicago later this year. Hiro 88, however, opened with the same premise but does it better.
Due to this sushi war, both restaurants offer a Happy Hour with half-priced sushi and other items in the afternoon, then Reverse Happy Hour after the kids have gone to bed, and the same half-priced menu all Sunday. With prices that are already a fraction of big city rivals on the coasts, half-price is too good to pass up.
The must-try at Hiro is the pork belly sliders. I have missed our trips to the East the most since COVID and this dish is Asia on a plate.
Hiro 88’s menu is more expansive, less complicated for gluten-free options, feels more local despite both starting in Omaha. I like the new West Omaha location, but we visited the original during the same trip to meet friends – they also have a downtown location as well.
There are too many to mention, but here are some others to try if they are more conducive to your location or schedule.
You may not otherwise go out of your way to visit Omaha. You should, if for nothing else than to visit the Henry Doorly zoo that rivals if not exceeds San Diego. If you find yourself in Omaha check out these local spots, you’ll be glad you did.
What do you think? Have you been to Omaha? Have you tried these? Which is your favorite?