When I moved to Omaha five years ago, there were only a handful of restaurants that I felt hit it out of the park with their dining experiences. However, in just this past year, so many new restaurants have opened that now bring the Omaha dining scene to an entirely new level.

Restaurants like J. Coco and Lot 2 elevate culinary expectations by delivering fresh, unique and innovative dishes. J.Coco gives us delicious classics like lamb and duck, and then also more innovative dishes like kurobuto pork chops and Korean style short rib tacos. All with their own flavor palates and wonderful tastes. Additionally, Lot 2 is changing the face of Benson with its upscale neighborhood dining experience. They are taking on Bangers and Mash and bringing it to modern diners who are looking for more than just sausage and potatoes. Lot 2 has also jumped on board the beauty of the Charcuterie plate; a great way to share a lunch or dinner with others, while sampling an array of meats and cheeses.

The Charcuterie trend is also being embraced by both The Grey Plume and The French Bulldog. Both introduced diners to new pates, meats and flavors that can be grouped together to make an amazing meal. Both also offer wonderful wine pairings and an ambience that makes you feel as if you have stepped into a European restaurant off the beaten path.

The Omaha restaurant scene is rapidly changing and the only way to experience it fully is to dive right in and start tasting. Enjoy this years best!  -Danielle Herzog

I was all set to write about how 2012 was the year that Omaha really embraced the idea of local independent restaurants, but then I drove past the new Chic-Fil-A in Papillion and realized that there were more cars waiting in the drive-thru than the parking lot could hold. Don’t even get me started about the cries of elation that went out when Dunkin’ Donuts announced the upcoming store opening near 72nd and Cornhusker.

Chain restaurants aside, 2012 was a banner year for folks who had always dreamed of opening their own eateries. Two of the places I reviewed this year –Ragazzi’s and Drizzles- opened in 2012 as a result of people following their lifelong dreams. Both were embraced by their respective neighborhoods and are doing quite well.

2012 also saw a stronger shift toward restaurants using local sources for their ingredients. Consumers learned to not only ask about the safety of the food they’re being served (hello, pink slime?), but also to ask how far the food had to travel to make it to their plates.

Omaha restaurants made their rounds on the television circuit this year, including Jones Bros. Cupcakes appearance on Cupcake Wars and eCreamery’s Shark Tank.

Dining became even more diverse, and not just in regards to food. Restaurants increased their beer offerings as customers started expecting more local microbrews on the menu. Events designed to help customers learn more about their food and drinks increased, such as La Mesa’s tequila tastings where patrons learn everything they ever wanted to know about tequila.

This was also the Year of Coupons for Omaha restaurants. Groupon, Living Social, and all the other discount websites changed the game as far as what customers expect to pay for a meal. One has to wonder if 2013 will be the year when restaurants get sick of discounting their fare, much to the chagrin of penny-pinching consumers. – Tamsen Butler

When I look back at 2012, I see a lot of fun times with food, drink and festival. Omaha is not in a shortage for the “Festival” and it offers so much to the people in and around the Omaha area. This past year we have seen successful events with the Heritage Festival, which was organized by the Midlands Latino Community Development Corp. to the Riverfront Wine Festival sponsored by the Junior League. With the success of Arksarben Village and Midtown Crossings, most weekends from May to September, you can find an event or festival to attend. 

Looking back, Omaha restaurants have been finding new ways to expand their everyday operations to create unique dining experiences for all those “foodies” out there. Through wine dinners and food pairings, we have noticed that many restaurants are offering a series of special events that pair food and beverage together. Either with local purveyors and/or a beverage expert, a special menu is created, alcohol is paired and great conversation ensues.

More than ever, 2012 has been the year to spread your wings and gather up as much local food and knowledge that you can. From the continuing education class in culinary at Metropolitan Community College, to the available wine/beer dinners from places like Dario’s, The Grey Plume, Boiler Room, to the amazing farmers markets offered city wide, to the hip new food scene in Benson. There was a lot to take in in 2012 and so much to look forward to in the New Year. 

As always, you can find information for festivals, future wine dinners, beer pairings and other special events in the Crumbs section of the Dish.  –Krista O’Malley

Leave a comment