Eating in Omaha is never dull. New restaurants open and old ones remain. There's lots of ground to cover. Below are the Top 10 restaurants we reviewed this year. Only restaurants reviewed in The World-Herald during 2013 were eligible for this list.
1. AVOLI OSTERIA | 5013 Underwood Ave. | Sarah's review
Chef-owner Dario Schicke and chef Ben Maides know what they are doing at this Northern Italian restaurant in Dundee, and the homemade pastas, thoughtful entrťes and welcoming atmosphere land Avoli at my top spot of the year.
The decadent carbonara, creamy and cheesy with just a hint of garlic, white wine and guanciale, a house-smoked pork jowl, was incredible. So was the burrata and squash. A fresh cheese shell filled with mozzarella curd and cream, all made in-house, was served next to a seasonally spicy and cinnamony round of roasted butternut squash and a drizzle of sweet quince sauce.
2. KITCHEN TABLE | 1415 Farnam St. | Sarah's review
Midwestern food — solid, affordable, dependable — is at the heart of what this small downtown lunch and dinner spot does. Owner and chef Colin Duggan creates a meatloaf sandwich inspired by his childhood but better than what we all remember. The meatloaf, firm and nicely textured, is topped with a savory slice of white cheddar, a pile of thin-sliced carrots and celery, an onion-tinged aioli and a sweet, house-made steak sauce. Like almost every sandwich, it's made using the house levain bread that's grill-toasted.
Seasonal soups, texturally interesting salads, vegan and vegetarian specials made with care and a brunch menu that I'm still itching to try mean that I'll be back soon, saddled up at Kitchen Table for the Duggans' brand of thoughtful comfort food.
3. SALWEEN THAI | 1102 N.W. Radial Highway | Sarah's review
I have been back to Salween Thai more than any other restaurant I reviewed this year. I am addicted to their Panang curry, which was added to the menu after I wrote my review. My husband, meanwhile, swears by the restaurant's Pad Thai. I feel as comfortable now making bold pronouncements about this hole-in-the-wall as I did when I reviewed it last summer. In fact, now I will go even further and declare it the best Thai food in Omaha.
4. FRANK'S PIZZERIA | 711 N 132nd St. | Sarah's review
Before this year, I'd never been to Frank's Pizzeria. Now, I can say that Brooklyn native Joe D'Elia is serving the best New York-style pie in town — and there's a Food Prowl to prove it.
The crust was the base for one of Frank's Specials, topped with sausage, peppers, onions, extra cheese, pepperoni, meatballs, black olives and anchovies. Flavors varied with each bite: hints of fennel from the sausage, chunks of mild tomato and, on the half with the anchovies, a subtle saltiness. The margherita pizza was another hit. Simple and straightforward, topped with light, raw tomato sauce, fresh basil, chunks of fresh mozzarella and a drizzle of olive oil, there was nothing to dislike. The ingredients sang.
5. J'S ON JACKSON | 1101 Jackson St. | Sarah's review
When J's on Jackson opened a year ago in the Old Market, I liked almost everything I ate in this traditional, not-too-formal, not-too-casual restaurant.
The seafood pappardelle surprised me. The noodles were fresh and the dish didn't have that muddy flavor it could have. Instead, bites of shrimp, chunks of Maine lobster and in-shell mussels all had their own distinct flavors, and the light sherry cream sauce didn't overwhelm it.
J's isn't breaking culinary ground, but that's OK. J's on Jackson is satisfying in a comfortable, contemporary way.
6. FLATIRON CAFE | 1722 St. Marys Ave. | Sarah's review
There's one place in Omaha where rich, classic, expensive food is alive and well: the Flatiron Cafe. And while it might not be modern, it sure is enjoyable.
The menu is rich with caviar and lobster. There's veal, beef and duck. There's truffle, of course, and lots of cheese. The service is impeccable. Nearly all the entrťes were hits. A tender veal rack chop served with buttery Brussels sprouts and a warm bacon jalapeŮo potato salad brought no complaints. A big hunk of tender poached lobster sat atop creamy risotto made with truffle oil and crab meat was as decadent as it sounds.
7. WILSON & WASHBURN | 1407 Harney St. | Sarah's review
Wilson & Washburn is the perfect mix of old-timey Omaha and modern gastropub. I loved their take on a beet burger, with its spot-on texture, charred on the outside and soft but not pasty inside with earthy, smoky flavor. A layer of thin, homemade nut butter and a pile of jalapeŮos add a spicy, savory note. It's one of the most creative and well-executed vegan sandwiches in Omaha.
8. LOUIE'S WINE DIVE | 16920 Wright Plaza | Sarah's review
Yes, there is wine on tap at Louie's. But there's also a well-edited menu full of tasty crowd favorites. This is what high-end chain restaurants should aim for.
We dug the four pork gnocchi. Pillowy potato bits were topped with a creamy, intense mixture of prosciutto, pork shoulder, ground pork and Italian sausage. The sauce is slow-cooked with cream and red wine. The wine on tap is fun, but also good. Pours are sizable and prices reasonable.
9. BIG MAMA'S SANDWICH SHOP | 2416 Lake St. | Sarah's review
Cranberry sweet tea and cold fried chicken. What more can I say? The cold fried chicken sandwich, made from the same recipe owner Patricia “Big Mama” Barron's mother and grandmother used, is deeply satisfying, the sort of old-school food that never goes out of style, especially when it's done with fresh ingredients and lots of heart. I swooned over Big Mama's cranberry iced tea, which is so addictive that in the summertime it sells out almost daily.
10. HARVEST CAFE AND WINE BAR | 16909 Lakeside Hills Plaza | Sara Blake's review
Freelance writer Sara Blake loved this small west Omaha spot, dedicated to California cuisine, clean food and local ingredients.
Two lunch favorites: The macaroni and cheese, made with a mix of Romano, Parmigiano-Reggianoand Asiago cheese was creamy and slightly nutty, and the spiral-shaped cavatappi pasta was cooked to perfection.
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Restaurants The World-Herald reviewed in 2013:
• Harvest Cafe
• J's on Jackson
• Drizzles Bakery
• The Corner Creperie
• Black Oak Grill
• Shucks Fish House (downtown)
• Frank's Pizzeria
• Noodle Koodle
• Brix in Midtown Crossing
• Maria Sangria
• Louie's Wine Dive
• Railcar Modern American Kitchen
• Hutong Sushi Grill
• Baxter's Pizza
• Salween Thai
• Mockingbird Cupcakes
• Big Mama's Sandwich Shop
• Saints Pub and Patio
• Kitchen Table
• Marrakech Gourmet
• Wilson & Washburn
• Localmotive Food Truck
• Plank Seafood Provisions
• Benson Brewery
• Culprit Cafe
• The Mill Bar and Grill
• Avoli Osteria
• Two Birds Bakery
• Tokyo Sushi
• Voodoo Taco
• Flatiron Cafe
• Azteca Mexican