The Best Food and Drink in Nebraska for 2019
December 20, 2018
The state’s diverse agricultural riches result in a wide range of delicious dishes
The Best Food and Drink in Nebraska
Food in the Cornhusker State is about more than just America’s greatest staple grain. While it’s true that Nebraska is the nation’s third largest producer of corn, the state is an agricultural powerhouse in general and a leading producer of everything from hogs, eggs, and dairy to wheat, dry beans, and sugar beets. Nebraskans have turned this natural wealth into a host of great foods, and we’ve rounded up the state’s best eats as part of our second annual guide to the best food and drink in every state.
Of course, Nebraska’s culinary riches extend beyond raw materials. Even aside from regional delicacies like the magnificent runza, Nebraska boasts fine examples of every type of food you might find anywhere else, from classic Irish pubs like McFarland and Sons in Lincoln to great Salvadoran and Mexican specialties at Omaha’s La Choza. And while the state’s wealthiest and most famous resident, gajillionaire investor Warren Buffett, is famously chill about food — the Oracle of Omaha is a big fan of Cherry Coke and the McDonald’s drive-thru — he’s also been known to splurge on a T-bone at the amazing Gorat’s Steak House.
In a place with such a rich food landscape, how did we go about choosing the best eats in the entire state? Over the course of the past year we’ve honored everything from its best hot dogs and brunch spot to its best bar and craft beer in our comprehensive and wide-ranging lists and rankings, compiled through extensive research and with input from a wide network of site contributors, bloggers, journalists, and chefs. We’ve compiled these into individual slideshows celebrating the best food and drink in every state, and you can find our Nebraska gallery ahead.
Best Airport Restaurant: Godfather’s Pizza (Eppley Airfield)
Best All-You-Can-Eat Deal: Valentino’s Grand Italian Buffet (Various Locations)
Valentino’s offers a whopping 75 individual dishes, served from eight separate stations, all with an Italian-American slant. Soups and salads, a variety of house-made pizzas, pasta salads, fresh fruit, Italian classics including baked lasagna and meatball parmesan, Fresh baked garlic knots, and six different pastas are always available, along with a huge selection of desserts. And because why not, there’s also fried chicken with all the fixin’s.
Best Bar: The Homy Inn (Omaha)
Dive Bar Shirt Club Z./Yelp
Originally called The Homey Inn, this Omaha dive bar had to change its name because all the letters wouldn’t fit on the sign. It is, indeed, a homey place with walls lined with charming vintage Americana like tap handles, rare baseball cards, and political buttons. Opened in 1956 by Maynard Finkle (today his son Terry Finkle runs the bar), The Homy Inn quickly gained a following for its Champagne on tap, which comes in four varieties: dry, sweet, strawberry, and peach. It’s served by the flute — for less than $5 — or by the pitcher. If you run up a $100 tab, you get a free T-shirt.
Best Beer: Black Betty, Nebraska Brewing Company (Papillion)
With 14 different awards to its name, Nebraska Brewing Company’s Black Betty Imperial Stout is what puts Nebraska beer on the map. True to its name, it pours pure black and has notes of rich chocolate, oak, and coffee. It may look like oil, but it goes down as smooth as anything.
Best Brunch: Saddle Creek Breakfast Club (Omaha)
This Omaha newcomer has already burst onto the scene as a must-visit for anyone in town looking for a flawless brunch. Chef Chase Thomsen is serving a fun, accessible, and frequently changing menu of elevated diner classics from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily, including near-perfect banana pancakes with whipped peanut butter, crushed peanuts, and local honey; French toast with Grand Marnier, whipped goat cheese, preserves, and maple syrup; a steak and egg burrito with tomatillo salsa; a Benedict with braised short rib and jalapeño jam; a chicken-fried pork tenderloin with chorizo gravy and two eggs (or with pickles and mustard aïoli on brioche); and a handful of vegan options like banana bread French toast and tofu rancheros. Unfortunately, the crowds found out about this place quick: The wait stretches to well over an hour on the weekends.
Best Burger: Block 16 (Omaha)
“Farm to table street food” is the name of the game at this beloved local standby, run by the husband-and-wife team of Jessica and Paul Urban. They source their humanely-raised, 100 percent grass-fed beef from a high-end Iowa butcher, and 1/3-pound patties are used on burgers including the Croque Garcon (topped with cheese, ham, a sunny-side up egg, mustard, and truffle mayo on ciabatta). Believe it or not, this is the burger that none other than Alton Brown dubbed the country’s best, calling it “high art.” Make sure you get a side of Duck Duck Goose Fries, topped with duck confit, crispy duck skin, duck-fat mayo, and gooseberry gastrique.
Best Chinese Restaurant: Blue & Fly Asian Kitchen (Omaha)
Joe Cong was born in China and spent years working at his family’s Chinese restaurant before striking out on his own in 2015 to open Blue & Fly, and the resulting restaurant has been a resounding success. You’ll find spot-on versions of all the classic Americanized favorites, but Cong is also serving authentic Chinese dishes that many Nebraskans haven’t been able to sample before now — mapo tofu, stir-fried egg and tomato, fish cooked in Szechuan chile oil, head-on salt and pepper shrimp, candied sweet potatoes — made with care and attention to detail. We should all be so lucky to have a place like this around!
Best Chocolate Shop: The Cordial Cherry (Omaha)
As the name of this Omaha chocolate shop suggests, The Cordial Cherry specializes in chocolate-covered cherries. The high-quality chocolate confections come in all sorts of charming shapes, such as unicorns, owls, and snowmen. Of course, this shop also offers classic things like fudge, truffles, and malted milk balls — but you really want the cherries.
Best Coffee Shop: Culprit Cafe & Bakery (Omaha)
A nice, relaxing spot in Omaha, Culprit Café has extensive breakfast and lunch options but it's their coffee and tea that are truly impressive. Have a double shot, a pour-over, a matcha latte, or the Cool Hand (espresso, milk, and a flavor of the month). If you're feeling a bit boozy, go for their coffee cocktails — in addition to the Irish coffee, they have drinks like Loose Lips (bourbon, Angostura, cold brew, ginger syrup, and candied ginger) and the Adult Cappuccino (espresso, frothy milk, Noel chocolate, and Chartreuse).
Best Cupcake: The Cake Gallery (Omaha)
The Cake Gallery/Yelp
Trademarked as "ULTRAmoist" cakes, these little bites are a total treat. The Cake Gallery has mastered the cake-to-frosting ratio on each of its cupcakes and provides patrons with uniquely enticing flavors. Try the banana split (which looks like an actual bowl of ice cream), “a banana cake filled with strawberry and a dollop of pineapple, iced in whip, dipped in chocolate, and topped with nuts and a cherry.”
Best Doughnuts: Olsen Bake Shop (Omaha)
Visiting Omaha’s Olsen Bake Shop is like taking a step back in time. It opened in 1942 and really hasn’t changed much since then. Get there early and grab a chocolate glazed cake doughnut with a strong, hot cup of coffee to get your day off to the best possible start.
Best Farmers Market: Omaha Farmers Market (Omaha)
Locals say the Omaha Farmers Market is one of the best parts of summer in Omaha. They love it because while produce changes with the seasons, the vendors, atmosphere, and people stay the same. At the market, you’ll find fresh-picked celery, German sausage, and ready-made habanero lime pasta.
Best Food Truck: Dos de Oros (Omaha)
This no-frills taco truck is serving authentic Mexican flavors to Nebraska natives. With a wide variety of fillings — from carne asada to lengua to chicharron — the menu has something (but most likely multiple things) for everyone. Yelp reviewers go crazy over the food, but what really makes Dos de Oros stand out is the value they give their customers. According to the most recent review, four tacos only cost $8.00 and the tortas, quesadillas, and burritos are all under $5.00.
Best Fried Chicken: Alpine Inn (Omaha)
Alpine Inn might seem unassuming based on the exterior, but their fried half-chickens served with large potato wedges should not be overlooked. In business for more than 40 years, the spot (which doubles as a biker bar at night) has been known to feed the roughly 50 local raccoons their leftover chicken scraps. But don’t be scared off by their furry friends; we promise this dish is worth it.
Best Grocery Store: Open Harvest Grocery Co-op (Lincoln)
Photo by Open Harvest Co-op Grocery via Yelp
One reviewer says it all about Open Harvest Grocery Co-op: “This is my favorite grocery store, and to me is not just a local, but a national gem. This is better than Bi-rite and Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco, a fraction of the price, and a much more relaxing atmosphere. Nothing pretentious like Park Slope co-op in Brooklyn. Just people who care doing it right.”
Best Hot Dog: FlyDogz (Lincoln)
This family-owned Lincoln hot dog shop serves a wide variety of hot dogs — pork, all-beef, hot link, Cheddar hot link, beef hot link, jumbo, veggie, turkey, footlong, and all-natural grass-fed Piedmontese beef — and more than 20 toppings are available. You’re going to want to try their signature FlyDog, though: a jumbo hot dog topped with cream cheese, jalapeños, nacho cheese, tomato, lettuce, and onion, served on a burger bun.
Best Hotel Restaurant: Monarch Prime & Bar (Omaha)
Monarch Prime & Bar/Yelp
Located inside the Hotel Deco, Monarch Prime & Bar is an upscale steakhouse and cocktail bar specializing in dry-aged steaks. The 21-day wagyu sirloin, 30-day bison strip loin, 45-day wagyu prime rib, and 60-day 45-ounce wagyu tomahawk chop are among the finest steaks in town, and chef Patrick Micheels’ menu is rounded out with appetizers including potato and trout, 30-day dry-aged bison tartare, addictive French onion dip, and chicken pate with black truffle and smoked fat and entrées including a Mornay-topped burger, short rib meatloaf, barramundi with black lentils, and lamb shank with polenta. Don’t miss the selection of expertly prepared classic cocktails.
Best Ice Cream Stand: Ivanna Cone (Lincoln)
All ice creams at Ivanna Cone are made with a 14 percent butterfat sweet cream vanilla base, which is the perfect primer for a milky creamy scoop. Plus, the family-owned parlor is super-cute inside with pink and purple walls.
Best Italian Restaurant: Spezia (Omaha)
The charming Spezia, which also has a location in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is a total crowd pleaser. The menu is expansive and offers a wide variety of antipasti, flatbreads, salads, pastas, wood-grilled and oven-roasted specialties, and Angus steaks. Specialties include flatbread with Italian sausage and roasted peppers, a wood-grilled chicken salad with crispy prosciutto and gorgonzola, Scottish salmon and farfalle in a tomato and basil cream sauce, seafood risotto, rack of lamb, wood grilled scallops, and a grilled 14-ounce rib-eye with Burgundy jus and roasted onions.
Best Mexican Restaurant: La Choza (Omaha)
Specialties of El Salvador and Mexico are on display at this popular Omaha spot where Salvadorean specialties like pupusas and plantain leaf-wrapped tamales share the bill with the best Mexican food in the state. To prepare the al pastor, pork is marinated for three days before being grilled with chunks of pineapple, and the end result is a spectacular and authentic taco.
Most Expensive Restaurant: Omaha Prime (Omaha)
Omaha has no shortage of great steakhouses, but the priciest one of them all is Omaha Prime. Start with a $16 appetizer of roasted bone marrow, and follow up with a $46 slab of prime rib, a $48 24-ounce porterhouse or 20-ounce New York strip, a $55 rack of lamb chops, or market price Alaskan King crab legs and lobster tail.
Most Outrageous Restaurant Dish: Ricotta Berry Pancakes, Amato's (Omaha)
Amato's is known for their ricotta berry pancakes, a creation of the restaurant itself after a customer requested that the restaurant put its house-made ricotta into their order of pancakes. The pancakes are made with ricotta in them, as well as your choice of raspberries, blueberries, or triple berry, for a breakfast so sweet you don't even need syrup.
Most Romantic Restaurant: The Grey Plume (Omaha)
One of Omaha’s great culinary standouts, The Grey Plume has a relatively no-frills, high-ceilinged dining room with dark reclaimed-wood floors, white tablecloths, original art on the walls, a small floral arrangement on each table, and an upscale, refined, and romantic atmosphere. Chef/owner Clayton Chapman’s menu is seasonally driven and primarily sourced from local produce and livestock; current offerings include steelhead trout gravlax, house-made buttermilk agnolotti, a tasting of local Heritage pork, and Morgan Ranch wagyu collar or strip loin. A four-, five-, or eight-course tasting menu is also available.
Best Pancakes: Cook’s Café (Lincoln)
Anchoring an inconspicuous strip mall, Cook’s Cafe may look like a no-frills rec room, but it happens to be serving some of Nebraska’s finest breakfasts. The cinnamon rolls and biscuits and gravy are untouchable, and the big, fluffy pancakes are astounding. You can get them filled with blueberries or strawberries, but if you ask them to top them with some slices bananas and warm peanut butter they’ll be happy to oblige. We suggest you do.
Best Pizza: Zio’s (Omaha)
Opened in Omaha's Midtown in 1985 by Daniel and Usha Sherman, Zio’s serves New York-style, hand-stretched, thin-crust pizzas made from scratch each day. Over the years, it has expanded into two other locations (one in the earnest and lovely Downtown Old Market, the other in West Omaha) and moved each again to accommodate the crowds that keep coming to fill up the family-friendly spots (it's the kind of restaurant where they give dough to the kids to play with at the table). And along with the crowds come the accolades. As its website proudly declares, it’s the "recipient of more than 33 best pizza awards."
Best Restaurant for Breakfast: Mac’s Café (Fremont)
This unassuming family restaurant in small-town Fremont opens at 6:30 a.m. daily and serves spot-on breakfast classics to thankful locals. This is diner food the way your grandma would make it — if your grandma was from Nebraska and also happened to be a great short-order cook. As can be expected around these parts, anything with “chicken fried” in the description is going to be a home run (especially the Country Benedict, a house-made buttermilk biscuit topped with a chicken fried steak, two scrambled eggs, and country gravy and served with hash browns), but the three-egg omelettes, crispy corned beef hash, French toast, and sweet cream pancakes are also absolutely stellar. One-dollar cups of coffee are icing on the cake.
Best Sandwich: Cheese Runza, Runza (Multiple Locations)
Sort of like a Hot Pocket on steroids, a runza is essentially a long roll that’s been stuffed with meat, onions, sauerkraut, or other fillings, and this Volga German-inspired sandwich is insanely popular in parts of the Midwest, especially Nebraska. That’s the home base of a chain of the same name that has about 80 locations throughout the region, and it serves legitimately good runzas. The original ground beef, onions, and cabbage variety is a traditional standby, but the addition of some gooey American cheese kicks it up a couple notches.
Best Soup: Grateful Bread (Lincoln)
Celebrating its 20th year in business, this quirky bakery and restaurant has become locally renowned for its great bread and soups (its macaroni and cheese is also pretty spectacular). Red bean gumbo with greens, Moroccan tomato, chipotle potato, Indian red lentil, South American vegetable… the available soups change daily, but two things remain consistent: they’re all made from scratch with seasonal ingredients, and they’re all vegetarian. Make sure you also buy a scone to sop it up.
Best Steakhouse: Gorat’s (Omaha)
Yelp/ Anthony G
When Warren Buffett regularly holds court in your restaurant, you know you’ve got a keeper. That’s the case at Omaha landmark Gorat’s, which has been going strong since 1944. It remained in the Gorat family until 2012, when it was purchased and given a renovation, but the quality and preparation of the steak (which comes from — where else? — Omaha Steaks) is as good as ever. For the true Buffett experience, do as he does and order the T-bone, rare, with a double order of hash browns and a Cherry Coke. For more states, check out our ultimate guide to the best food and drink in every state for 2019.