Monday, April 25, 2011

Casablanca Moroccan Cafe

3025 Farnam Street
Omaha, NE 68131
(402) 884-3362
Closed Mondays and between lunch and dinner

Lots of raving about this place, including the recent feature in the Reader, allowed our expectations to soar. Unfortunately, I'm still a little confused about the hype. Gratis hummus and salad were served immediately, both in large bowls with no side plates or serving spoons, so let's hope your dining mates don't have cooties or Hep C. The chef then came out and dissuaded us from ordering off the menu, promising to "take good care of us" if we just let him make us something. We didn't really have much of a choice. 

Half hour later out came the big ole bowl of rice, rice, and more rice, topped with grilled meats, potatoes and veg. Another twenty minutes later and the falafel arrived--three patties cut in half on a plate, dry and overcooked as could be, which was a shame because though the spices were flavorful, it was difficult to swallow, seriously. Sliced strawberries and grapes at the end helped to quench our thirst from all the dry food. All this for only $11 per person, but we left kinda scratching our heads, vowing to maybe try the sandwiches some day, if the chef will let us. 

Chef's Special with Rice, Grilled Peppers, Sweet and Russet Potatoes, Beef, Chicken and Shrimp

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dish of the Week - Dario's Brasserie

Smoked Duck Breast
With Portabello Jus
Cauliflower Manchego Gratinee
White Truffle Oil Powder and Sauteed Vegetables

Romeo's Mexican Food and Pizza

2929 Farnam Street, Omaha, plus four other locations
(402) 346-1110
Mon-Thur 11 to 9,  Fri & Sat 11-10, Sunday Closed

Romeo's in the Reader. Romeo's in the theater program. Romeo's on TV! That was it, we had to cave and try this local chain with near-viral advertising. We clipped our $5 off coupon and headed in. Just before noon and the place was already packed with people on their lunch breaks, adding to the cheerful din. Booth was comfy and rather dimly lit; service was prompt. Romeo's boasts both Mexican fare and pizza, so we tried both, but what was this? No complimentary chips? Fine, be that way. We ordered "chips and cheese" ($4.79) to start, and were served a very non-spicy bowl of cheese product, along with a basket of packaged chips that had been under the heat lamp all morning. One soft chicken taco, one pork and bean tostada, and one beef and bean "Sancho" later, we were full of some of the most bland and flavorless fat snacks ever experienced: Floppy tortillas, shiny cheese, wilted lettuce, the whole unsavory package. The pizza was better than Pizza Hut but worse than everything else if you know what I mean. In the sit-down version of Taco Bell, we paid our $28 dollar bill and left, knowing we would laugh about this someday. With everything shamelessly store bought on the cheap, the owner of Romeo's must be laughing, too, all the way to the bank.

Chips and Cheese Dip

Beef and Bean Sancho with Guacamole and Red "Chili"

"Soft" Chicken Taco (with Fried Flour Tortilla) and Pork and Bean Tostada with Sour Cream

Mini Pepperoni Pizza - 8"

Monday, April 18, 2011

El Basha Mediterranean Grill

7503 Pacific Street (in the shopping strip with Spirit World)
Omaha, NE 68114
(402) 934-6266
Open Monday thru Saturday, 11am to 9pm, closed Sunday

Do you know about döners? The sandwich made with the meat that spins on the big thing in the restaurant window and is shaved off by a dude with a big knife? Yeah, those. Most of my experience is with the Turkish version in Germany, but they come in all shapes and sizes, different breads and different meats from different animals and they're called different things. Gyro, shawarma, kebab, etc. In my opinion the best way to end your night out is by shoving one of these down your gullet. I think I must have had hundreds of döners in the past couple of years. The search has been on for the best döner (or döner-like meal) since I arrived in Omaha. The winner, so far, is to be found at El Basha. The Gyro, an open-faced version served on (mediocre) pita covered in tzatziki sauce and topped with fresh onions, tomatoes and herbs, was tasty, but the real star is the Beef Shawarma Wrap. Big enough for two, and filled with thinly sliced meat, grilled tomatoes, pickles, onions, and tahini sauce, this is very close to the "real deal" shawarma I often ate in Berlin. The pickles are key.

We both made our sandwiches combos by adding (mediocre) fries and a drink, and it wound up being way too much food for two people, so I suggest splitting. They are constructing more outdoor seating off to the side of the building (they currently have three tables overlooking traffic-y Midtown Pacific Street), and you can also partake in some hookah, if that's your thing. I only regret ignoring the baba ghanoush, hummus, and falafel in favor of the fleish-filled dishes. Next time, next time (perhaps tomorrow).


Beef Shawarma Wrap

Second visit: 
Fresh and filling. Enough for two to have as an entree, really. 
Mezza Mix Plate with Hummus, Baba Ghanuje, Falafel and Taboule

Taqueria el Rey de Omaha

5201 South 24th Street (24th and Q)
Omaha, NE 68107
(402) 502-0674 
They have a drive-thru and a delivery car, though I'm not sure how far they'll deliver. If you want the abbreviated version try their taco truck in the Avanza parking lot at 31st and Leavenworth.
Open later, and til 2am on weekends (!)

Chips and Dips

Three dips for your homemade chips: (watery) beans, a'spicy salsa, and tomatillo avocado. The ramekin caddy is downright classy, as are the flat screen TVs showing the Latina Judge Judy at a respectable volume, and the wrap-around windows offering a panoramic view of 24th and Q. It's obvious this taqueria "chain" (three locations if you count the truck down the street and the newly-opened restaurant in Lincoln) is doing well for itself. They were a little stingy on the tomatoes and cheese on my sope with carnitas (a savory corn cake with pulled pork, essentially), but that's ok. I dumped on the rest of the chip dips to take care of the slight dryness. At $2.25 per sope, you can't complain. As for the tacos, the double corn tortillas aren't anything special, but the ultra-fresh cilantro, scallions, and white onions are. The al Pastor meat was well marinated and perfectly greasy. The carne asada burrito--filled with layers of rice, beans, cheese and steak--came cut in half, probably because it's actually two meals. The flour tortilla was basic but satisfying. Here is proof that Mexican food in Omaha can be pretty damn good.

Mexican Coke

Carne Asada Burrito

Al Pastor Taco

Sope with Carnitas

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Big Mama's Kitchen

3223 North 45th Street (just north of Maple)
Turning Point Campus, Building A (look for the restaurant signs)
Omaha, NE 68104
(402) 455-MAMA
Open for breakfast and lunch, plus Friday and Saturday dinner, closed Mondays

Woo boy. Big Mama's Kitchen not only feels like a school cafeteria, it is actually an old school cafeteria. ("If my school served this food for lunch I might have gone to class more...") Odd location aside, this place is pretty good. I'm not really a soul food connoisseur, but here we have an Omaha institution. We opted for a medley of appetizers: fried okra, macaroni and cheese, beans and cornbread, and featherbones. The okra was crunchy outside, gooey and green on the inside. The beans were excellent, but the cornbread was disappointing and dry. Bummer. Mac and cheese was very creamy and not the baked kind we were hoping for. It might have been Velveeta I was tasting. The featherbones, though, were awesome. I had never had this dish before and it was kinda fun peeling the meat off the little sheets of bone. The sauce--a delicious spicy BBQ--was served on the side, making the meat a lot easier and neater to eat than your average rib-like food. Looking forward to going back for breakfast sometime; the plastic leopard print tablecloths are a joy to eat off of. Try a cranberry sun tea if they've got it.

Beans and Cornbread

Macaroni and Cheese, Fried Okra

Cranberry Sun Tea

Lisa's Radial Cafe

817 North 40th Street (Just south of 40th and Cuming)
Omaha, NE 68131-1828
(402) 551-2176
Open for breakfast and lunch, closes at 2pm most days; check out the "worker's special" weekdays before 8am. 

Lisa's has a lot of fans, and on this Saturday morning I was expecting greasy diner perfection. We sat under a wall decorated floor to ceiling with photos of different folks. Regular customers, perhaps? Staff family members? Don't really know. The vibe is very homey, nearly trashy, but friendly enough. The service was prompt, and my coffee and water was refilled often. As a former diner waitress used to waiting on hungover douchebags, I know how important these things are. I got a ham and tomato omelette--ham was sliced, not the cubed kind--and somehow it was missing something (cheese next time?), but I was pleased to see it wasn't bigger than my head. My dude got the eggs/bacon/toast combo (known as The Works), as you probably should too when you go here. Lisa knows her bacon, thick-cut and salty. I hear the french toast is good too. Hash browns just like the frozen kind I fry up sometimes, which isn't a bad thing. Cash only, and at 7 bucks a plate I've seen cheaper places.

Ham and Tomato Omelette with Wheat Toast and Hash Browns

The Works

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Godfather doesn't know best

Raised on cheesesteaks and pizza, I've eaten my way up the East Coast, and then over to Europe for a couple of years. Now I live in Omaha, Nebraska. There's some great food here; it's the home of the Reuben, after all. But you kind of have to sift through the not-so-good stuff. Native Omahans think Godfather's Pizza--a chain headquartered here--is good, and I think it's inedible, for example. The point of all this will be to share my thoughts on the local food, from hole-in-the-wall taquerias to fancy restaurants. This city has more restaurants per capita than any other in the country, btw. They can't all be good. I want to find the best of the best and share it with you.