Unique Eats and Eateries of Omaha

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If there’s one thing that everyone who knows Omaha can agree on, it’s that this town has a killer restaurant scene. With a metropolitan population comprised of less than a million residents, we have James Beard Award-nominated chefs, highly sought-after certified and advanced sommeliers (not to mention that two of the world’s only 300 master sommeliers hail from Omaha restaurants, V. Mertz and The Boiler Room), and Nebraska’s only VPN (Verace Pizza Napoletano)-certified pizzeria.

Many of these world-class places are included in Unique Eats and Eateries of Omaha by my friends at The Walking Tourists, Lisa and Tim Trudell — but that’s hardly the full story. True to the book’s name, Lisa and Tim celebrate their love of all noteworthy Omaha restaurants, from tony The Grey Plume to the fried chicken joint, Alpine Inn, where (I kid you not) raccoons and feral cats dine on chicken bones alongside paying customers. (And, just like that, the Nebraska Tourism slogan, “It’s not for everyone,” becomes less of a head-scratcher.)

“One of our goals was to introduce people to places in parts of town that they don’t normally visit,” says Lisa. “What we found is that even Omahans don’t really know everything that’s out there.”

Tim, who did the bulk of the research and writing for both this book and the couple’s previous one, 100 Things To Do in Omaha Before You Die (Lisa focuses on the PR and marketing side of things), agrees. “We’ve lived here for more than 30 years. You’d think we’d know everything there was to know, but we keep learning.”

In some ways, the book is also a time capsule. Since its publication in May, some of the iconic places included, such as B&G Tasty Foods, B&B Grill and Arcade and Gerda’s German Restaurant and Bakery, have shuttered. Another, Big Mama’s Kitchen, which has been featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and Travel Channel’s 101 Tastiest Places to Chow Down, will be moving from its longtime location in the old Nebraska School for the Deaf cafeteria to the sleek new Highlander Accelerator building.

“The restaurant business is hard, and sometimes when a neighborhood changes or an owner dies, maybe the next generation just doesn’t have the passion for the business,” says Tim. “In the case of Big Mama’s, I think a lot of people breathed a big sigh of relief that the family decided to keep it going — and breathe new life into it — after (founder) Patricia Barron died. It’s truly about the love of food and the customers.”

Another matriarch that Tim discovered whilst writing the book—and whose business is still going strong with a little help from her daughter and granddaughter—was Caterina Malara, who began selling homemade ravioli out of her home when she was widowed at age 32 with four young children to support. Eventually, Malara’s became a freestanding restaurant and an Omaha institution, but, Tim notes, “Mrs. Malara still uses the same pasta maker she used all those years ago.”

As for what’s new, while Omaha is catching up to other cities in terms of food trucks and popups, Lisa and Tim say they’d love for a large food hall/gourmet market to open here. Also, they think there’s room in the market for more breakfast-and-lunch-only restaurants.

“A lot of young chefs have been settling down in Omaha after living elsewhere because it’s a great place for families, and opening a restaurant here may be a little easier than it is someplace where there’s more competition and it’s more expensive,” says Tim. “The breakfast and lunch concept allows them to fulfill their love of making food but still be able to spend time with their families.”

At Malara’s, the homemade ravioli has been produced in the same pasta maker since Caterina Malara sold them out of her home as a young immigrant widow with four children to support. Photo courtesy of Lisa and Tim Trudell.

At Malara’s, the homemade ravioli has been produced in the same pasta maker since Caterina Malara sold them out of her home as a young immigrant widow with four children to support. Photo courtesy of Lisa and Tim Trudell.

Dining with raccoons at Alpine Inn… it’s not for everyone. Photo courtesy of Lisa and Tim Trudell.

Dining with raccoons at Alpine Inn… it’s not for everyone. Photo courtesy of Lisa and Tim Trudell.

Louie M’s Burger Lust is an Omaha classic that rolls with the times. Photo courtesy of Lisa and Tim Trudell.

Louie M’s Burger Lust is an Omaha classic that rolls with the times. Photo courtesy of Lisa and Tim Trudell.

Harold’s Koffee House is a classic mid-century diner in Omaha’s Florence neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Lisa and Tim Trudell.

Harold’s Koffee House is a classic mid-century diner in Omaha’s Florence neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Lisa and Tim Trudell.