As our flight approached Omaha, my husband Ben and I realized that we had not made any dinner reservations for that evening. “Let’s just play it by ear and ask the locals for suggestions,” Ben said. “No online reviews, no reservations. Let’s go where the locals go.”
We clinked our Bloody Marys in agreement. We were traveling for business and came a day early to check out Omaha’s food scene. Work had been especially hectic and we needed time together to enjoy Omaha’s culinary goodness. Ben and I were always very scheduled travelers, with precise plans and timetables, but this trip to Omaha was going to be different. We silenced our phones, set aside our planners, and let the locals guide our gastronomic adventure.
We started our visit in search of late-morning espresso. Our hotel concierge pointed us to a new coffee shop, Hardy Coffee Company, and we made our way down the brick-lined streets of Omaha’s Old Market past art galleries, bakeries and clothing boutiques.
We arrived at Hardy Coffee Company, a sleek mix of wood and local art. The colorful decor did not distract from the coffee. The menu was a no-nonsense list of the basics. I ordered a flat white and Ben, a cappuccino.
“We roast all of our own coffee,” the barista said while steaming the milk. Both drinks were slowly poured into simple white mugs with coffee art: a heart design on mine and a flower on Ben’s. “This is almost too beautiful to drink.” I said sipping my smooth espresso. “Where do you recommend for lunch?”
“First, you should check out Omaha Culinary Tours,” the barista said. They require reservations, but you can call to see if they have room. I think they have an Old Market Tour today.”
Ben and I took her advice and gave Omaha Culinary Tours a quick call. Luckily, they had space for us so we joined a walking foodie tour of the Old Market, enjoying Brie and berry beignets at the Culprit Cafe and spicy sake rolls at Blue Sushi. We strolled from one local business to the next and it required no plans on our part, exactly as we had hoped. Between bites of this and that, we talked with our fellow touring foodies. The group was a mix of locals and visitors, which I was surprised to discover. People here find that the food scene is constantly evolving, and—as Ron, an Omahan, said—this food tour makes it easy to keep up! Ben decided there was no better place to ask about our next meal.
“We’re searching for the best steak in Omaha for dinner later tonight,” he said. “Where do you recommend?”
We were loving Omaha’s culinary culture.
Later, we sat in green and white bistro chairs on La Buvette’s patio. La Buvette, a wine bar, café and grocer, transmitted a European vibe. Young and old creatives, donning thick-rimmed glasses, are drawn to this place to sit, sip and enjoy the conversation. Ben and I sank right into the no-rush atmosphere.
“Feel free to order wine from the menu or pick out your own inside,” the waitress said as we browsed the menu.
“Let’s try the mixed cheese plate with the house-baked bread and butter,” Ben said reading from the hand-written menu. “And the marinated olives.”
Everything was simple and of the highest quality. In true European style, we watched people come and go on the sidewalk in front of us until it was time to go. We had a date with an Omaha steak at The Drover.
The dark wooden building with wagon wheels leaning on the outside porch seemed like a scene from an Old Western film. I adjusted my eyes to the dim lights as we were led to our table in the main dining room. A large grill, manned by two chefs sizzling steaks, took precedence in the middle of the room. We both ordered the specialty, the Whiskey Steak.
“This is amazing,” Ben said, slicing through his tender, whiskey-marinated steak. “They take their steak seriously.”
Our steaks came with a baked potato, bread and a trip to the salad bar. That’s it and that’s the way they’ve been serving it for forty years. It was the best steak I’ve ever had: quality meat, perfectly cooked and no frills to distract from the tender, flavorful meal. Our server told us that the steaks are soaked for just 15 minutes in a marinade, made with whiskey and secret ingredients, so the ingredients don’t overpower the flavor of the beef. It’s a combination that works, and we happily finished our meal.
We made the quick drive back downtown to enjoy the rest of our evening. Before we turned in for the night, I bowed to my sweet tooth with a scoop of homemade ice cream from Ted and Wally’s in the Old Market. We didn’t need to ask for a recommendation on this one, the line snaking out of the door said it all. Ted and Wally’s was packed with couples sharing sundaes in cozy booths and other visitors happily licking their tall cones.
Today’s flavors were Dutch chocolate, rum raisin, vegan mocha chip, Thai coffee and pistachio mint. This menu summarized our Omaha culinary experience: creative food made with quality ingredients served in a welcoming environment. Our pact to let go of our usual need to schedule everything and let the locals be our guide was a success.
Ben and I walked hand-in-hand to The Boiler Room for a nightcap. Omaha had forced us to slow down and enjoy the culinary magic. We started the day by banning to-do lists and silencing our phones. We ended by toasting glasses of our favorite wine at the chic Boiler Room. Ben and I were completely rejuvenated by our time together , unwinding and enjoying authentic cuisine without a schedule. “No reservations” had become our new motto.
Check out more of Omaha’s incredible dining options.