Omaha may not be the first place that comes to mind when asked about America’s best food spots, but after a long weekend in Nebraska’s largest city, you’ll come to find that the Big O is making a big impression on stomachs, both locally and from afar. I fit in the latter category and can personally attest that these five Omaha establishments presented me with some of the most memorable meals I’ve had in 2019. Scroll down for my top picks!
City Classic: Gorat’s
If Warren Buffett gives something a seal of approval, you know it’s worth checking out. Serving (literally any type of) steak done right since 1944 and supplied by the region’s most trusted and recognized distributor, Omaha Steaks, Gorat’s is a no-frills establishment anchored in tradition and good ol’ fashioned Midwestern cooking. Come for the meat, stay for the sides (the corn souffle is my fav), but leave feeling like you need a bigger belt. Worth it? Absolutely.
Hidden Gem: Wicked Rabbit
It’s no secret that this Omaha speakeasy has established itself as one of the city’s most coveted hotspots. Offering an impressive book of libations that provide a full sensory experience (one drink is literally set on fire just before sipping), the plush and dimly-lit lounge is perfect for a post-dinner digestif or a high-end pitstop for those who want to keep the party going. Not looking to make the trek into downtown? The basement bar of Benson’s Ika Ramen and Izakaya, Kaitai, is also an excellent option, serving sake, Japanese whiskies, and clever cocktails in a kitschy environment lined with fake cherry blossom branches.
Most Instagrammable: Yoshitomo
Looking for a sushi joint that rivals the over-hyped, spicy tuna roll-forward restaurants that crowd L.A. and New York’s Japanese dining scenes? Look no further than Yoshitomo, which is worth the plane ticket to Omaha alone. Chef David Utterback deserves, frankly, all of the awards for his simple, albeit innovative approach to omakase. From foie gras rice to leche de tigre-based crudo, there is meticulous care and attention put into every slicing of protein, brushing of sauce, and piling of tobiko. The restaurant’s extensive sake list is also a complement to the food, offering both lighter cold varieties and full-bodied warm for a well-rounded dining experience worthy of an Instagram post (or seven).
Healthy Recharge: Au Courant
Au Courant serves up what is, perhaps, the most affordable and exquisite tasting menu in Omaha. Their farm-to-table initiative ensures that every ingredient is fresh and prepared in new ways, meaning you’ll never go back and have the same dish twice. From handmade pastas to seafood tartare, buttery steaks to lip-smacking desserts, it was shocking to come across a tasting menu where one dish was just as good as the next. Opt for the wine pairing, as well. Each glass served a purpose and was never too much of a departure from the delicious food.
Sweet Spot: Coneflower
Ted and Wally’s may be the most recognized ice cream shop in the region, but unassuming Coneflower aims to melt its competition. Offering a variety of flavors, both classic and innovative (cookies and cream, and cherry crumble were my favorites), the tiny store has been churning out fresh batches with locally-sourced ingredients and earning positive reviews along the way. If there’s a line, don’t be intimidated. It moves quickly and is obviously worth the wait.
Honorable Mentions (beyond our traditional Take 5 categories):
Fry Heaven: Block 16
I’m going to have to disagree with Alton Brown’s “best burger ever” accolade for Block 16 (the Croque Garcon Burger, a cheesy patty topped with a sunny-side up egg and ham with truffle mayo and mustard was good–particularly its pillowy ciabatta roll—but not the best I’ve ever had). But as a fry connoisseur (they’re my favorite food), I have to say that their crab rangoon offering is pretty damn amazing. And while many may argue that anything with cream cheese is hard to mess up, I have to give the restaurant props on its french fry quality (perfect level of crunch and salt), fry-to-topping ratio, and liberal use of sweet chili sauce.
Best for Brunch: Monarch
Attached to Hotel Deco, which offers the best boutique-style accommodations in downtown Omaha, the eclectically-designed Monarch welcomes patrons with an approachable drink and food menu with subtle twists. For brunch, I enjoyed a simple egg omelette with mushrooms and black truffles, though the breakfast potatoes, crisped to perfection and tossed with grain mustard and hot peppers (!!!), were the true star. These slight variations with classics, as also reflected in their array of cocktails, are the things that elevate any meal from good to memorable. Kudos to Monarch to mastering this approach!
Header image courtesy of Joe Willman/Getty Images.