This being The Food Issue, I thought I’d do you a big favor and pass along my favorite restaurants discovered after living my whole life in this crazy town. I know as soon as you read this you’ll feel compelled to correct my errant thinking with your own wizened suggestions. I look forward to receiving your kind-hearted, hand-written cards and letters via The Reader, 4734 S. 27th St., 68107.
Au Courant in Benson — I bought my dad a gift card to what I consider to be, hands down, the finest restaurant in Omaha. And what did he say after he ate there? “It was all right, but we got something to eat afterward because the portions were so small.” I probably should have got him a Sonic card. OK, dad’s right, the portions are small, but they’re exquisite, like eating little precious jewels prepared with love and grace. Every dish is a journey, and their risotto — a triad of angels will appear above your head and sing a chorus the moment it touches your tongue. I have eaten at the finest restaurants in New York City, and Au Courant stands shoulder-to-shoulder with them.
La Casa Pizza on Grover — Here we have the most divisive food known to man. You either love La Casa pizza or you complain about it. My pal Ian, the best audio engineer in the city, calls their hamburger pizza “meat carpet” because, well, it resembles meat carpet. The crust is thin like pastry, the hamburger is granular like meat gravel, and the cheese is pure, smelly Romano. I knew an executive who flew a private jet into Omaha from Bethlehem, Pa., who would call in an order from the air so it would be ready when he hit the tarmac. Look, I don’t care if you hate La Casa. That just leaves more for me.
Trini’s in the Old Market — I’ve gone to Trini’s so many times over the years that I used to be the Mayor of Trini’s in Foursquare back when people used Foursquare. What more do you want from a Mexican restaurant than a giant basket of tortilla chips, their bright red salsa, a bowl of “hot chili” so hot you’re going to hurt for days, a puffy taco like Paltani’s used to make and, of course, their bright green margaritas. And if you’re lucky, Rich, who runs the place, will drop by your table and say hello. Tell him the mayor sent you.
The Drover — It’s like walking into a cowboy mafia lounge circa 1970, all dark wood and low ceilings — the kind of place that probably should still allow smoking. Like any sane person, I go there for the legendary Whiskey Filet — eight ounces of perfectly cooked cow served with a baked potato and a red pineapple ring. Even at $59, it’s still a decent value and the best steak in a town known for steak. I miss the salad bar, but hey, COVID, what are you gonna do?
Cheeseburgers in Blackstone — If they’re not arguing about the best pizza, they’re arguing over who has the best hamburgers. Yeah, Stella’s is great. So is Louie M’s, Dinkers and Dario’s. But when it comes to burgers, I prefer a loose-meat sandwich, and Cheeseburgers has a great one. It’s called The Hang Loose — ground beef and onions and American cheese on a toasted bun. You might as well add a handmade vanilla malt and a side of fries, all of which will run you around $20, but it’s worth it. And when it comes to loose meat, they’re the only game in town, until someone resurrects B&G’s.
Mangia Italiana — Yeah, blah-blah-blah pizza again, and Mangia in Irvington indeed has great freakin’ pizza, but it’s the lasagna that gets me to drive all the way out there. Very traditional, with layers of noodles and their patented sweet red sauce. My wife goes for the spaghetti and says their meatballs are almost as good as the ones I make at home (impossible). Psst … order the garlic bread.
Mai Thai in Aksarben Village — I once ate a bowl of Tom Kha Chicken soup while legendary ’90s indie rocker Matthew Sweet sat at the table across from us eating a plate of something that looked gray and very spicy. OK, that’s not a very interesting story. Nonetheless, Mai Thai’s Tom Kha is like drinking from the teat of a god — a coconut milk soup with big chunks of chicken, tomatoes and mushrooms and pieces of lemon grass that will get caught in your teeth. Get a side of their crunchy egg rolls (with the sweet & sour sauce), along with one of their giant Mai Thai drinks (but trust me, drink only one).
The Jaipur in Rockbrook or Dundee — I’ve ordered the same thing from Jaipur for years — chicken tikki masala, stuffed paratha, mulligatawny soup and a side of papadum — perfect dinner for two. Their creamy green mint chutney brings it all together, which by itself is a reason to go to Jaipur. That, and the house-brewed raspberry ale. Namaste, baby.
The Chinese place in Blair. So you take the Blair High Road about 20 miles north just past the Rodeway Inn but before you get to the lawnmower place cleverly titled Mow Town. You’ve just found The Mandarin House, a restaurant whose dingy carpeting, worn booths and fake wood paneling will have you questioning your decisions. You’ll be eating alongside dudes on lunch break from laying pavement or stringing power lines. Ah, but once you take a bite of their sesame chicken it’ll all make sense.
Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org.