The first article I ever published in Omaha was a story about Espana, and the reverence owner Carlos Mendez demonstrated with every detail of the establishment and the dishes it served. It’s only fitting that my final feature for The Reader checks in on Mendez, catches you up on his accomplishments, and bookends my run as Contributing Editor with a look at what he has cooking up for Omaha these days.


After earning his accounting degree, Carlos Mendez landed himself a side job serving tables at Benson’s Espana. Dutifully working his way up the ranks, he advanced to bartender and manager before former owner Bill Graves decided to sell the popular establishment in 2009. Mendez bought out ownership, and eventually opened sister restaurant Little Espana at Rockbrook Village in December of 2014. Both locations flourished, serving tapas, paella, and beautifully presented Spanish dishes that were as much a feast for the eyes as for the palate.

With Little Espana firmly established and serving many of the original’s favorite dishes, Mendez decided to close the Benson Espana and launch a new concept. He brought Chef Ben Maides onto his team to helm Au Courant at 6064 Maple in 2016.

Au Courant Regional Kitchen

An entirely modern concept, Au Courant’s menu is limited only by the harvest. Chef Ben Maides relies on hyper-seasonal and locally sourced ingredients to create unique experiences that have failed to disappoint even the toughest of customers. The six course Chef’s Tasting Menus change weekly, and focus on “New European” techniques and plating. 

The extensive wine list at Au Courant would be enough to overwhelm a seasoned taster, thus, pairings are suggested to allow diners to avoid decision fatigue and simply immerse themselves in the experience.

Mendez has every reason to be loudly proud about the success of his numerous ventures, but at every turn, he deflects praise to his partners, chefs, and to Omaha diners for being willing to go along for the ride. In this case, he heaps praise onto Ben Maides for his skill and attention to detail.

Hunger Block

Since the 2014 opening, Little Espana worked hard to live up to the reputation of its predecessor, but by 2018, Mendez was ready for a new challenge. He closed the restaurant at 11036 Elm street and in its place launched Hunger Block alongside Rognny Edgardo Diaz Suarez.

“We have a term, ‘La calle el hambre’, which means The Hunger street.” Mendez explained. “Most cities in Latin America will have a calle el hambre, just a block where all of the food vendors are set up and locals go to grab a bite. We wanted to be a place where busy people could have a really delicious meal in the middle of the day or right after work. Hunger Block really brought together the best cuisine from all of these Latin cultures.”

He doesn’t mention the audaciously American culture thrown in for good measure, and for Instagram-ability. The over-the-top milkshakes became the must-have Hunger Block accessory. Served about the size of a young toddler, often topped with donuts, ice cream sandwiches, and obscene amounts of whipped cream, the gut-busting dessert was more ad-campaign than anything. Rather, it was the exquisite elevation of Latin street food that made Hunger Block worth returning to again and again.

But in May of 2022, Mendez and Suarez made the decision to close the doors on Hunger Block.

We told you last month about Dolomiti, a Northern Italian pizzeria and Inoteca Mendez is opening with Tim Maides this fall. While the roster of Mendez’s restaurants we’ve mentioned is already a dizzying one, we have one more exciting announcement.

R.U.B Omaha

Opening very soon at Aksarben Village, Rotisserie Urban Bistro will be Omaha’s new casual dining destination this fall. Housed in the former Green Belly at 1917 S 67th St, R.U.B isn’t your standard sweaty meat on a stick. Rather, this will be the culmination of Mendez’s years long (we didn’t say obsession, but we might break out a thesaurus to find a softer way to say it) dedication to creating the ultimate 11-spice rub.

Spiced chicken and porchetta will soon be joined by the occasional suckling pig. Prime rib will make appearances from time to time, and sides will be added slowly to the menu and rotated, to keep the experience fresh and ensure that Mendez’s hunger for bringing Omaha new and exciting dishes is never fully satisfied.

He may seem invincible when it comes to inventing and executing excellent dining ideas, but Mendez’s humility takes over once again, saying “mala hierba nunca muere!” The bad weed never dies.

Mendez is in good company among Omaha chefs who are building inclusive, inventive, and innovative dining experiences. While this article is the series finale on my contributions to Omaha’s dining culture, it’s nice to know that all of my favorite characters and guest stars are going to continue creating, and improving kitchen culture for future chefs to grow and learn in.

I promise to continue being aggressively supportive of local food leaders, and I can’t wait to see what’s next!

Your Reader Writer,
Sara Locke

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