OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Thanksgiving is the perfect time to take stock of what you’re thankful for, such as family, friends, and a job. But I think it’s also an annual reminder to appreciate the little things in life often taken for granted: a functioning car, heating and air conditioning, the pet that is all at once 50% annoying and 100% endearing.
And those restaurants that may not always be top of mind, but never let you down.
I’m not talking about your absolute favorite restaurants (though you should absolutely be grateful for them; I love you, Block 16, Dante and Yoshitomo. Take time to appreciate the places that aren’t new and trendy, nor are they commonly referenced on “Best of Omaha” lists. But every time you visit, you just feel at home, cared for, and satisfied.
This list probably could’ve been 25 long, but I whittled it down to eight Omaha restaurants that tend to fly under the radar.
This South Omaha gem is serving up some of the, if not the, best Mexican food in Omaha. Owner Indalecio Penaloza is passionate about using La Poblanita to share the traditional Mexican recipes his mother taught him with the masses, as well as teach them to the next generation to ensure they survive and carry on a legacy.
That means a deep, phenomenal mole with 39 ingredients and 38 hours of cooking/prep time. It means fresh tortillas every single day. It means rich, buttery carne asada with bits of crispy char that can be loaded into a taco or enjoyed just fine on its own.
It also means Fuego Tacos, the restaurant’s signature dish and one of the best tacos in Omaha. Each offering is cheese to the extreme, with gooey mozzarella cheese oozing out of its fried tortilla. Throw in some juicy, fall-apart birria stew meat and a consomme that’s delicious enough to drink through a straw and you have a taco—and a restaurant—you’ll not soon forget.
Jim & Jennie’s Greek Village
There’s so much I’m thankful for at Jim & Jennie’s Greek Village. There are the gyros, stuffed to the breaking point with succulent lamb/beef meat. There’s the enormous crispy onion rings and the Saganaki, a brick of kasseri cheese that’s breaded and pan-fried, then drizzled with brandy and lit ablaze tableside with a cry of “Opa!”
But most importantly, I’m thankful that Jim & Jennie Anastasiou, who moved to Omaha from Greece in 1974, can be found behind the counter cooking every single day, even after four decades. Their dedication to both the craft and their customers ensures that every plate is something special.
There’s just something homey, communal, and familial about handmade pasta. These hearty, indulgent dishes are meant to be shared with friends and family, and few restaurants make fresh pasta like Avoli Osteria does.
Dundee is lucky to have this delight, owned by longtime Omaha restaurant pillar Dario Schicke. Don’t expect another old-school, red sauce Italian restaurant; Schicke focuses on dishes popular in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy, such as carbonara, risotto, and cacio e pepe. Its most well-known dish, the Bolognese Bianco, utilizes a hearty pork/veal sauce and expertly-crafted rigatoni noodles to create one of the city’s finest plates of pasta.
Kathmandu Momo Station
Without Kathmandu Momo Station, I would have never experienced the pillowy joy that is momo, the street dumplings that are more prevalent in Nepal than Big Macs are in America. And I’m eternally grateful to this restaurant for making the introduction.
These supple dough purses, filled with chicken, pork, or veggies, have a tremendous chew and terrific flavor, and that’s even before you dip them into one of the restaurant’s signature sauces or enjoy them in a Momo Soup, a rich, savory broth with a good deal of spice. I’m officially a momo junkie now, and I have Kathmandu Momo Station to thank for that.
Lisa’s Radial Cafe
There’s nothing modern or trendy about Lisa’s Radial Cafe. This is a traditional diner with regulars sidled up to the bar, staff members who’ve been around for 15+ years, and a menu full of stick-to-your-ribs breakfast classics.
Fluffy, air pancakes as large as a manhole cover? Check.
Crispy, salty hash browns with just the right amount of grease? Check.
A dish so epic (hash browns topped with chicken fried steak, eggs, and biscuits and gravy) it’s called The Titanic? Check.
If you want to see how grateful Omaha is for Lisa’s, get in line for brunch on the weekends. The wait might be lengthy, but it’s 100% worth it.
Few food items are, on the surface, more simple than the humble bagel. But when you visit Bagel Bin, you quickly realize the difference that attention to detail can make.
An Omaha institution since 1977, Bagel Bin boils (as opposed to bakes) its bagels, bringing the gluten to life and creating a shiny, crisp exterior on the outside with a delightfully chewy interior. It offers 17 different bagels, both sweet and savory, which can be schmeared with butter, peanut butter, or one of the restaurant’s 20 signature cream cheeses. Or you can make one of Omaha’s best breakfast sandwiches, the Egg Mitt, from your favorite carb creation.
If you’ve never had a pupusa, it’s time to get down to Salmex and experience what you’re missing. This beloved Salvadoran street food consists of a masa pocket stuffed with cheese and meat, creating a frisbee of flavor that’s worth the visit alone.
But Salmex doesn’t stop at pupusas. Its enchiladas are flowing with gooey cheese and come baked in a tangy red sauce. The tamales have a soft, fluffy exterior that happily absorbs any added hot sauces. The plantains are sweet, yet have a crisp texture from the deep fry.
Bottom line: Salmex’s reputation as Omaha’s pupusa palace is well-earned, but everything on this menu is worth sampling.
Barrett’s Barleycorn Pub & Grill
The signature menu item at Barrett’s Barleycorn Pub & Grill came about as a hangover cure, which is exactly what makes this place special. What was originally intended to be a fun-loving bar with only a few items emerging from its tiny kitchen has evolved into a food destination recognized for its elevated takes on classic bar food.
Barrett’s Reuben Sandwich rivals (and I’d argue surpasses) any in the city, but it’s the wildly unique Chicken Philly that puts this place on the map. This sloppy, over-the-top sandwich includes shredded chicken marinated in teriyaki and Szechuan sauces (giving it a sweet, salty zing) and a mixture of Swiss cheese and cream cheese, the latter of which adds a gooey fattiness. It’s a bizarre sandwich that defies logic, but it just works.