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dmaddox
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Before I leave Omaha for the move to DC, I thought I'd identify some of the better restaurants in Omaha. These aren't necessarily the fanciest places, and certainly not the most expensive. But these restaurants do offer some of the best food in Omaha.

La Buvette
511 S 11th St, Omaha, NE 62102
402-344-8627
La Buvette is one of Omaha�s hidden gems. The restaurant is unpretentious, set in a wine shop and deli with a dozen or so tables. The service is friendly, the pace is relaxed. But the food is why you go to La Buvette. The fixed portion of the menu offers a variety of salads and sandwiches, along with ever-changing meat and cheese sampler trays. The rest of the menu changes each week. Mussels and clams prepared in different ways, braised pork and lamb shanks served with polenta or flageolets. Always an adventure, always delicious, and always served with their own freshly baked artisanal breads. A la carte, with soups and salads in the $5 - $7 range and entrees averaging between $9 and $12. An extensive selection of wines by the glass, and (you�re sitting in a wine shop) a wide array of bottles are available. Sorry, no reservations accepted.


Vivace
1108 Howard St
Omaha, NE 68102
402-342-2050
http://www.vivaceomaha.com

Vivace bills itself as �contemporary Italian� cuisine. The menu includes a variety of Italian classics, some with a slightly modern twist and others just the way you�ve always loved them. The entrees, however, offer some unusual items and the specials list can always be counted on for a few surprises. At least, unusual and surprising by traditional, fly-over country Italian restaurant standards. The braised pork shank is one of my favorites, rich and earthy and perfect for a cold winter night. The wine list is nice and broad, offering bottles in all price ranges and a rather extensive selection of very nice Italian wines. The service is excellent, with some of the most brilliant and helpful wait staff in Omaha. Reservations are recommended, especially on weekends. A little pricey, with entr�es priced between $20 and $30. Pastas, pizzas, and salads are considerably less expensive.


Lo Sole Mio
3001 S. 32nd Ave.
Omaha, NE 68105
402-345-5656
http://www.losolemio.com

A little out of the way and hard to find, but well worth the effort. Lo Sole Mio is the very definition of �traditional Italian� dining. From the minute you sit down at your table, the staff of Lo Sole Mio make it clear that they will NOT let you leave the restaurant still hungry. While you peruse the huge menu, plates of freshly sliced, hot bread appear along with bowls of bruschetta and caramelized, roasted garlic. The toasted ravioli are a must-have appetizer, and the calamari are light and tender. All the entr�es we have tried have been excellent, with the common theme of �generous�. Huge bowls of pasta, enormous cutlets, they seem to dare you to eat it all. The house wine is (or was last time we were there) a Gallo jug wine, but a wide variety of American and Italian wines are available by the glass or bottle. Prices are reasonable, with most entr�es coming in around $15. The place is always busy but on weeknights you might get by without a reservation, especially for a small party. On weekends, though, reservations are recommended.


Drover
2121 S 73rd St
Omaha, NE 68124
(402) 391-7440

The Drover is the quintessential steak house. Although they have chicken and fish on the menu, I�ve never seen anyone order those dishes. This is a place to eat what Omaha is famous for � steak. Although it�s not on the menu, a regular special is the bone-in ribeye. Absolutely wonderful, especially dipped in their signature whiskey marinade before being grilled. And the steaks here are grilled to perfection, just the way you want it. Steaks are accompanied by rice, fries, or baked potato, or steamed vegetables (usually broccoli). Presentation isn�t a strong suit here, plates being decorated with a bit of lettuce leaf and a slice of those strange red cinnamon apples. A small salad bar (which advertises itself as being one of the oldest in Omaha) is reasonably well stocked, and helps pass the time before the main attraction arrives. The wine list is short and uninspired, but several suitable reds are available. A cocktail waitress makes her regular rounds to replenish your drinks from the full service bar. A popular place for business dinners, and definitely short on romantic atmosphere, the place fills up every night so reservations are recommended. Entr�es are in the $25 to $35 range.


Vietnamese-Asian Restaurant
7212 Jones St
Omaha, NE 68114
(402) 397-9125

One of those �hole in the wall� places that serves up the most excellent Asian food in Omaha. Located in a small strip center immediately adjacent to the behemoth Nebraska Furniture Mart, Vietnamese Asian has an extensive Vietnamese and Thai menu. Their pho is the best in town, with a variety of rich broths filled with noodles and bits of meat and seafood. A particular claim to fame by the restaurant is their six course beef dinner. Bring lots of folks to help eat it, though. Their beef dishes are quite good, with the beef and tomato stir fry being one of my favorites. The Thai menu has several curries, all of which are rich and wonderfully spiced. My absolute favorite from the Thai menu, however, is the basil chicken which has generous amounts of mint and Thai basil. DO NOT order it extra spicy unless you enjoy serious pain. Vietnamese Asian is also a great value, with most meals priced at less than $10.


Espana
6064 Maple St
Omaha, NE 68104
(402) 505-9917

Espana is the only tapas bar in Omaha, but it is a good one. It is located in the heart of the historic Benson area of Omaha, and parking is somewhat limited, but well worth the effort. Weekends are insane at Espana, but on weeknights you might get by without a reservation. I wouldn�t recommend it, though. The menu offers a variety of hot and cold tapas, and every dish we�ve tried has been wonderful. A house favorite is the garlic shrimp, served on a sizzling platter with plenty of bread to dip into the olive oil and garlic. I�m sure that every time a platter of shrimp weaves its way from kitchen to table, another five orders go in. Another house specialty is paella. There are four or five versions offered on the menu, each taking about 45 minutes to prepare. We�ve tried the seafood paella, which had plenty of fish and shellfish and just the right touch of saffron. What was missing was the socarrat, that wonderful crispy, caramelized layer of rice from the bottom of the pan. Other than that, though, the dish was wonderful. A fairly extensive wine list, with plenty of Spanish reds and whites. The wine list even provides a bit of a tutorial on Spanish viticultural regions and the characteristics of each area�s wines. The house sangria is extremely popular, and can be had from a special pitcher which makes drinking it quite a challenge. The owner is always willing to demonstrate the technique, holding the pitcher high over her head and directing the stream from the spout into her mouth. Looks like fun, but don�t try it wearing your best white shirt! There�s live music on most nights, and flamenco dancers on Friday and Saturday nights. The tapas dishes are between $6 and $10 each, and plan on three or four dishes per diner.

Brother Sebastian�s
1350 S 119th St
Omaha, NE 68144
(402) 330-0300
http://brosebs.com

Another of Omaha�s fine steakhouses (it�s really hard to get a bad steak dinner in Omaha), Brother Sebastian�s was recently voted the most romantic restaurant in Omaha. I don�t know about romantic, but it is a fun and interesting place to eat a really good meal. With a monastery theme, the wait staff all wear robes and the different rooms of the restaurant each have a different twist, with a library room, a chapel, a bottling room, and so on. The menu is a bit more extensive than the Drover�s, but the specialty is still steak. While you can get your steak simply grilled to order, there are also several selections of stuffed steaks and several sauces offered for topping, such as the Filet Oskar or the New York strip with a crab and shrimp stuffing topped with hollandaise. I particularly like the New York pepper strip, which is crusted with crushed peppercorns and served with a mushroom pepper sauce. Brother Sebastian�s has a very good salad bar, with some interesting and unique salad dressings available. The entr�es are priced between $10 and $20, although the chateaubriand (for two) tops out an $54. There is an extensive wine list, with bottles from all over the world in every price range. Reservations are recommended, although on weeknights you might get lucky.

Darwin�s Bistro
650 N. 114th Street
Omaha, NE 68154
402-933-6600
http://www.darwinbistro.com

Darwin�s Bistro is a rather new entry to the dining scene in Omaha, and a welcome one. This is the only restaurant in Omaha, to my knowledge, that even knows what an �amuse bouche� is, never mind offering one. In our case, we were offered a miniature eggs benedict, with a poached quail egg served on a toast round with prosciutto and a mustard hollandaise. The amuse bouche served its purpose, letting us know that we were in for a really good meal. There is a close association between the chef at Darwin�s and the local culinary arts school, and many of the kitchen staff are students or recent graduates. We have only been to Darwin�s on weeknights, and the place was pretty quiet. I understand it gets pretty busy on weekends, however, and is a popular place for business lunches. The wine list is relatively short, but offers a few bottles in every price range. Entr�es are generally $20 to $30.

The Jaipur
10922 Elm Street
Omaha, NE 68144
402-392-7331
http://www.jaipurbrewhouse.com

We have eaten in Indian restaurants all over the country, but have found few to match Jaipur. And, apparently, we�re not the only ones that think so. Even though this is really a family restaurant, there are a lot of families trying to eat there so reservations are recommended every night. Let�s start with the beer. Jaipur runs a small brewery, where they make four or five beers and ales. I�ve only tried their India Pale Ale, but it works perfectly with their food. The lentil soup (creamy, made with yellow lentils) is subtly spiced with a nice, gentle heat that builds to the end of the bowl. The rice is stunning, perfectly steamed with cloves and cardamom. They offer a wide variety of traditional Indian fare, but also have a �fusion� menu. Everything is delicious, serving sizes are generous without being enormous, and the seasoning is really well balanced. The lamb vindaloo, however, is really, really hot. Delicious, but fiery with peppers. Those who can stand the heat will be well rewarded. Meals at Jaipur are in the $15 range, with some of the fusion specialties running into the mid-$20 range.

Hiro
3655 N 129th St
Omaha, NE 68164
(402) 933-0091
http://www.hirosushiomaha.com

Hiro is one of our top two or three favorite restaurants in Omaha. Located on the north-western edge of town, it is well worth the drive. From the moment you enter their doors, everything about the restaurant is geared to provide you with a restful, wonderful dining experience. Hiro is more than just a sushi bar, although we think their sushi is just about the best in Omaha. There is a Japanese dish menu, as well as a Chinese menu. Ben, the Chinese chef, works in a glassed in kitchen so diners can watch as he puts their meals together. Which is only fair, I suppose, since the sushi chefs work under the same conditions. Hiro offers the standard sushi and sashimi choices, but also offers a variety of special rolls. The Hawaiian poke roll is unusual, with tuna, sesame oil, scallions, and a spicy pepper. Several rolls on the special menu are tempura fried after having been rolled. Off the regular menu, I especially like the salmon skin roll. The skin is broiled to the perfect crispiness and, if you get Graciata as your sushi chef, she might just roll some sliced jalapeno into the roll. That�s one of the hidden secrets of Hiro. Most of the kitchen staff, and one of their sushi chefs, are Hispanic. My wife adores their guacamole. Not on the menu, not even a special, but always available in the kitchen if you know who to ask. A wonderful restaurant, with attentive and helpful wait staff, Hiro is an absolute must when you�re in Omaha. Like most sushi bars, the individual dishes at Hiro are reasonably priced (averaging about $5 each) but the total bill depends on your appetite. A decent wine list and an excellent sake selection are available.


Upstream Brewing Company
514 South 11th Street
Omaha, NE 68102
402-344-0200

17070 Wright Plaza
(171st & West Center Road)
Omaha, NE 68130
402-778-0100
http://www.upstreambrewing.com

Upstream is a great restaurant. Period. Good food, good beer, great atmosphere, friendly service. They brew six or eight varieties of beer at a time, with some standard offerings and other seasonal brews. They�ve recently started barrel-aging some their beers, and are now offering some high-point ales. I�ve never had a bad beer from Upstream, and I�ve tried most of them. Despite being known for their brewing, Upstream offers a very nice wine list as well. The food is excellent, ranging from sandwiches and burgers to steaks and pasta dishes. There are always several interesting specials to add to the decision matrix. Upstream recently (within the last year) added a pastry chef to their staff, and now desserts are well worth saving room for. Saving room is hard, though, since the dinner portions are quite generous. Most entrees are in the $15 range, with steak dinners running up to around $28.

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Your list happens to include the only two restaurants I've dined at in Omaha. Upstream is a fun brew-pub. I don't remember exactly what I had, just that I liked it and my colleagues and I got loaded on the beers and had a blast. Vivace was a good spot for a solo diner to sit at the bar and have some good pasta. I agreethat both are good choices.

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I haven't lived in Omaha for about 10 years, but V-Mertz was always a solid restaurant and Zio's was great for pizza after hitting up Drastic Plastic (is that still around)?

All those places are still around. VMertz is well liked by some folks, but I wasn't really impressed. The meal was good, but not enough to draw us back again. Zio's is probably the best of the local pizza joints, but we've resorted to making pizzas at home in order to get a properly cooked crust with just enough toppings.

Haven't been to Drastic Plastic, although there seems to be a steady stream of customers through there every Saturday when we're downtown.

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I am heading to Omaha for a wedding this weekend. I'm looking for a restaurant for brunch on Sunday and every place that sounds interesting is only open for dinner. Do people in Omaha not believe in brunch? Does anyone have suggestions? I have a reservation for a place called Upstream Brewing Company but reviews are a bit mixed.

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We spent about 5 days in Omaha for business and friends, and found lots of worthwhile options, listed in (our) order of visiting:

-dinner at Twisted Fork in the Old Market district: This is a crowd-pleasing kind of place, with (okay) strong cocktails, a small but enjoyable local beer list, and midwestern portions of 'cowboy' comfort food. My country-fried steak was exactly what I wanted that night, accompanied by mashed potatoes. Nothing here will set the world on fire, but on a cool night this brightly lit, kitschy restaurant feels welcoming and homey.

-breakfast at Culprit cafe: The coffee was big--a regular size coffee was more than I could handle, and I drink a lot of coffee. But it was well-brewed and flavorful. My egg white sandwich on blue corn bread was delicious, as was the szechan peppercorn/peach glazed donut I couldn't resist. There was a lot of other stuff there that I would have been happy to sample.

-dinner at Le Bouillon: we had a private event here. This is a big restaurant, with lots of smaller spaces, and an interesting layout. The food was French, served family-style, and well-prepared. This restaurant could sit in Georgetown, or Brussels, or Singapore and would do fine. Very solid.

-dinner at The Drover: this is one of the signature steakhouses of Omaha, as I understand it, and it lived up to its reputation. It was dark and lounge-y inside, the service was professional and swift, and the whiskey steaks (soaked for 20 minutes in a mixture of whiskey and soy sauce) were good. The 20-minute soak imparts a much more soy sauce than whiskey flavor, and maybe the sugar caramelizes a bit on the grill. The bone-in ribeye was 14 oz. of perfectly cooked medium rare--but how could it not be? Side dishes were fine; I had a chicken noodle soup instead of "Omaha's oldest salad bar", and was also impressed. Everything here was prepared with care and experience, and I would not hesitate to go back.

-breakfast at BOB donuts: the dramatic difference in cost of living between Omaha and DC was on full display here, as my $4 chicken and biscuit was about $10 DC dollars worth of food. The donuts were also good, similar in feeling to Texas Donuts in Centerville, or Astro in the District. Service was friendly. The sister restaurant, a brunch spot call Early Bird, I think, was beautifully designed and also looked really interesting.

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