Wednesday, May 2, 2012

48 Hours Dining in Omaha (The Best Bets: Berkshire Hathaway 2012 Part Three)

I've lived in Omaha for almost 5 years and often times I'll hear lifelong Omahans comment that they've never heard of a restaurant I mention. And it can be either a new place, an old one, a moderately priced restaurant or a dive.

When I moved here from New York City, I made it my mission to know Omaha inside and out. But like many who came from bigger cities, I really kept my knowledge to midtown and east. God forbid I go anyplace "out west" in the 'burbs.

But now that I live in "uncool" West Omaha, I've really found that there are great little places to go for a bite to eat that aren't necessarily chains (contrary to what midtowners and downtowners want to believe).

I've compiled a list of some great eats in Omaha -- most which are located in....yup, you guessed it, "uncool" West Omaha.

Yes, there are your tried and true places in the Old Market that everyone knows to go to -- and believe me, they get plenty of business while the BRK folks are in town. This list includes some places that aren't included in the usual guide to Omaha, provided by the Berkshire Hathaway PR team.

If I had 48 hours to eat in Omaha, this is what I'd do:

Friday, May 4th

Ok, we know everyone LOVES the Borsheim's cocktail party. It's like a Husker tailgate -- everyone is there to be seen and to drink. Last year, I did something REALLY smart. I got there about an hour before the official party started. Got a great parking space and my husband and I wheeled our 3 month old baby daughter through Borsheim's and got a great deal on a watch at the Baume & Mercier counter. We skipped the lines for the free food and drinks and instead went on home to put our baby to sleep and make dinner.

I don't suggest you do all of the above; but I do recommend getting there early to look at the deals on watches and jewelry. Plus, you'll get a good salesperson or better yet, a visiting company person, to start working with you. Get your goods and then get the heck outta there.

Sure, everyone loves a free drink and food but with those lines, I'd definitely skip the cut cheese cubes and egg rolls (that's what they served in 2008, the last and only time I endured the long lines).

Instead, make a reservation at one of the following places for a great meal depending on your mood:

French: Le Voltaire -- My husband is taken to this restaurant every year on his birthday. The last time we were there, we looked at each other and thought, "Why do we come here only on special occasions?" The prices are reasonable enough -- depending on what you order -- and you'll definitely be treated to one the best meals you can get in Omaha for any night of the week. Their specials are wonderful, although definitely more pricey.

Italian: Pasta Amore -- I have yet to find a true Northern Italian restaurant in Omaha. But if you want dependable Italian cuisine with a Southern bent, I recommend this place located in Rockbrook Village around 108th Street.

Japanese: Sushi Japan -- Try to get a sushi bar seat and enjoy their omakase menu. I really like the sushi chefs there and they do sashimi and sushi very well. If you sit in the dining room, look at their specials and get something truly fresh and delicious. This is located out west too around 141st Street.

American: J. Coco -- I'm a big fan already of this new spot in Omaha. It has an edited menu with special dishes to cater to many appetites. Everything from bouillabaisse to osso bucco to wagyu steak. It's a jewel box of a restaurant, so you'll want to make reservations for sure. Or sit at the bar and wait for your table with a craft cocktail from Chris Engles, their bartender extraordinaire.

Korean: Maru -- At the very least, you can tell everyone you went to Omaha and had Korean food. People will raise their eyebrows thinking, HUH? For Korean novices, get a seafood pancake and pan fried dumplings to start. Kalbi is a must and the dolsot bibimpop is to-die-for good. Be sure to scrape all the crunchy bits of rice and savor all the yumminess. Maru is located south around 108th Street.

Saturday, May 5th

You'll have to grab breakfast at your hotel in order to get to the Century Link Center to listen to the Oracle of Omaha and Charlie Munger. Once you've had your fill of the loads of people at the Century Link Center, you should spend the rest of your afternoon strolling around the Old Market (and come visit yours truly at Trocadero)...and then...

It's Cinco de Mayo, everyone's favorite excuse to imbibe several margaritas. If you want the best ones in town, well, there will be differing opinions. But if you want the tastiest Mexican food in town (and quite honestly better than anything I've had in NYC including Rosa Mexicano and the like), I say head to Rivera's. Their Sparky's nachos are unlike anything I've ever had and are so incredibly flavorful and spicy! And you cannot go wrong with their chicken mole enchiladas. Seriously good stuff. Rivera's is located around 120th Street and Blondo. You'll want to get there early as they get busy on non-Cinco de Mayo nights. Perhaps a late afternoon bite?

For dinner, please refer to the list above, in addition to these standouts:

Asian Fusion: Hiro -- We had our rehearsal/out-of-towners dinner here and there isn't anything on the menu that does not please and delight. Start with the Asian short ribs, gyoza and avocado spring rolls and choose either the salmon plank, miso cod, peanut butter chicken or Mongolian beef for your entrée. And don't miss their crazy delicious gooey chocolate cake!

Indian: Tanduri Fusion -- My love of Indian food goes way back to when I first moved to New York City in the early '90s. Tanduri Fusion hits the spot like no other place in Omaha for Indian food. It's another restaurant located way out in West Omaha and people just don't know about it enough. There may be better looking places or more "hole in the wall" joints, but this place can't be beat in my opinion. I love some of their special lamb dishes like safed maas and their chicken makhani or korma are some of my favorite dishes.

Sunday, May 6th

If a crowded buffet line is your thing, then you'll want to head over to Borsheim's again and fight for your breakfast/brunch. Otherwise, I say venture to any of these five places for some really great brunch meals before you head out of Omaha.

Heartland Café -- It's located way, way out west, technically in Elkhorn. But it has a seriously amazing buffet brunch that is hard to beat. We had our out-of-towners' brunch here for our wedding and guests from California to Maryland to New York were delighted with the chicken fried steak, perfect pancakes, crispy bacon, made-to-order omelettes and mini cinnamon buns among other offerings.

Dario's -- In my opinion, they have the best brunch menu in Omaha. I love the variety of items including sweet and savory crêpes, quiches, salads and Belgian specials like mussels and frites. A delicious cocktail menu includes one of my favorites, "the Cocktail Aux Lillet, a classic spritzer turned head over heels in love with classic Elderflower Liquor."

Dixie Quick's -- There is absolutely nothing to NOT love about this Southern meets Cajun-Tex-Mex cuisine. Now in its new location in Council Bluffs, Iowa (just across the river from Omaha), Dixie Quick's has a bright, airy, light-filled urban vibe that still churns out tasty bites noon and night. The Dixie Scramble is always a good bet as is the outstanding salmon entrée.

Lot 2 -- This newest addition to the Omaha foodscape scene is a well-needed and modern one. We love the look of the place and the food is great to boot. The brunch menu offers everything from croque madames and eggs benedict to ramen. Bloody Marys and a High Life are served post-noon for those who are looking to nurse their hangovers.

New Gold Mountain -- If you want to have dim sum, this is the place to go. There aren't the traditional carts of food going around the room but it's a Chinese-owned joint that has mostly Asian clientele. My usual order includes Singapore noodles, shrimp dumplings, roasted pork, BBQ pork buns, lotus leaf wrapped rice, turnip cake, 1/2 order Peking Duck. And if you want Vietnamese, they serve a mean pho.

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