Omaha’s culinary scene boils over as a melting pot of flavors, tastes, and cooking styles. With an amazing immigration history, the city has been blessed with food from all over the globe, including Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. If you have a craving for something, it’s likely you’ll find it in Omaha.
My wife, Lisa, and I enjoy trying foods from around the world, though she’s more adventurous than I am. I’m more of a basics kind of guy, while she’ll check out different flavors and foods.
Trying to determine which restaurants to include on this list was interesting. When writing a book about unique eateries in the area, I found it tough to include only 91 places. So paring this list to 11 definitely challenged me. But here is my look, in no particular order, at some of the best ethnic restaurants calling Omaha home.
You know a restaurant is impressive when the owner travels to Japan twice a year to sample the food and bring back ideas to offer an American spin on sushi and other plates. Owner and chef Dave Utterback, a James Beard Foundation nominee, creates unique dishes at Yoshitomo, such as seaweed salad with sesame chili, and rodeo sushi, featuring wagyu beef and barbecue paper. Located in the eclectic Benson neighborhood, check out the alley art after dinner or enjoy a drink and vintage pinball games at Beercade.
2. Taqueria El Rey
Beginning with a food truck in South Omaha, Rey Nava thought he’d create a successful business selling tacos to locals and visitors along historic 24th Street. When the opportunity arose to take over a former pizza shop, he jumped at it. More than 20 years later, Taqueria el Rey serves a Mexican-style breakfast as well as lunch and dinner. With delicious tacos, burritos, and sopas, Taqueria el Rey owns the area. And you can still grab a taco or two from one of their food trucks cruising South Omaha.
3. Okra African Grill
As an immigrant from Togo, Nina Sodji began her American nursing career in 1994. With a love for cooking, she opened an African grocery market and added a restaurant. After losing the lease, she relocated with mixed results. Refusing to give up, the chef enrolled in the culinary arts program at Metropolitan Community College. It was here that she realized the international influences in her native country’s dishes. At Okra African Grill, Chef Nina combines these flavors to create African favorites, such as Ablo, which includes sweet rice dumplings topped with three skewers of beef and is served with spicy chutney and house tomato sauce. Okra also includes western menu items, such as fried okra and avocado dip with pita chips.
4. Pasta Amore
For 35 years, Chef Leo Fascianella has created dishes based on his childhood home of Sicily. His family emigrated to the United States when he was 16. Settling in Omaha’s Little Italy neighborhood, the future chef took odd jobs, such as shining shoes, before learning the trade. After working at restaurants in Chicago and New York, Chef Leo returned to Omaha in 1986, opening Pasta Amore in Rockbrook Village. Raising crops and chickens on a farm, Pasta Amore is a farm-to-table eatery. The restaurant creates its own pasta using pasta-making machines from Italy. You’ll find amazing dishes such as spaghetti topped with meatballs or sausage, as well as tortellini stuffed with beef and pork and topped with your choice of cream sauce with bacon, Bolognese, or marinara sauce. Home to an outstanding wine collection, your server can help you choose the perfect wine to pair with dinner.
5. Le Voltaire
Le Voltaire offers a taste of Paris in West Omaha. Featuring authentic French entrees, such as beef burgundy and duck cassoulet (my favorite), Chef Cedric takes diners on a culinary tour of France. Start your dining experience with an order of escargot or perhaps foie gras. No matter your choice, Le Voltaire will make you think you’re dining in a quaint, intimate Parisian cafe. Enjoy a nice glass of French wine with your dinner. Not only can you enjoy a fine-dining experience at Le Voltaire, but you’ll also want to plan a stop at Le Petit Paris bakery, offering pastries and other treats, including croissants and filled eclairs. Aside from being owner and head chef, Cedric Fichepain, a French native, serves as the honorary French consul for Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota.
6. The Jaipur
Considered Omaha’s most popular Indian restaurant, The Jaipur is known for its fusion style of cooking, combining the best of India and Nepal, from where owner and executive chef Gyanendra Bhandari hails. Appetizers include Nepali favorite momo, a dumpling with chicken, vegetables, and spices and served with tomato chutney. The Indian crab cake with yogurt/cream sauce is also tasty. Entrees range from traditional Indian, such as tikka masala, to unique plates, including lamb korma (lamb pieces sauteed in curried gravy). Add a side of naan bread, and you’re set for a special dining excursion. With an in-house brewery, The Jaipur also offers an interesting selection of craft beer.
7. Three Happiness
In January 2020, a fire destroyed the Three Happiness Chinese restaurant in Midtown Omaha. The owners vowed to rebuild as quickly as possible. When the restaurant reopened less than a year later, people stood in line and sat in their cars for hours, patiently awaiting their takeout orders. You know a restaurant is a must when people are willing to come out in winter’s chill for entrees such as black pepper chicken or Szechuan beef. But the true favorite of any Three Happiness fan is the peanut butter chicken, which features battered breaded chicken in a peanut butter sauce. Popular with everyone, it seems, you’re likely to find business professionals, healthcare workers from nearby Nebraska Medicine, and college students dining next to you.
8. Ahmad’s Persian Cuisine
Ahmad Nazar learned to cook from his mother while growing up in Iran. When he arrived in the United States in 1979, the plan was to attend Creighton and become a dentist. However, his interest in business and the restaurant industry led him to study business at the University of Nebraska Omaha while working in local restaurants. More than 30 years after opening Ahmad’s Persian Cuisine in the Old Market, he relocated it to Midtown, along Dodge Street, the city’s busiest street. With ample free parking and a beautiful space, Nazar continues to create his Persian dishes, such as the Tehran Chicken, for which the restaurant is best known. With seasoned chicken tenders aside a bed of Jasmine rice and a grilled tomato and sliced banana ringing the plate (and served with a small salad), your taste buds will explode with joy as you sample the combination.
9. Kathmandu Momo Station
With two locations, Omaha is doubly blessed to have Kathmandu Momo Station. The Nepalese eatery features the momo dumpling as its primary menu choice. People are known to order momos to take home and freeze for later consumption. However, if you’re like me, those momos may not make it home. Filled with chicken, pork, or vegetables, momos come in orders of seven or 10 pieces. Fried momos are served with eight pieces. Along with sauces such as mango or pineapple habanero, peanut and tomato, or the classic sesame blend, momos are the perfect Nepali comfort food. While Kathmandu is known for its momos, the eatery’s ramen dishes will challenge any in the metro area.
10. Maru Sushi Korean Grill
The first time I sampled bulgogi was at a Korean restaurant in Saint Robert, Missouri. Immediately hooked, I couldn’t wait to try it at other places closer to home. While Omaha is home to a few Korean restaurants, Maru Sushi Korean Grill offers a mix of Korean barbecue and sushi, so there tends to be something for everyone to enjoy. The beef or chicken bulgogi features a spicy heat for your palate. The restaurant includes an excellent selection of Korean barbecue, rice bowls, and sushi rolls. Maru Sushi is an outstanding choice for date night or a family outing. Located in a shopping center in southwestern Omaha, you’ll find plenty of parking.
11. The Dire Lion Grille And Chippy
The best fish and chips in Omaha can be found at a food truck. I’m not a fish lover; however, I enjoy the fish and chips from The Dire Lion Grille and Chippy. Primarily located at the Truck and Taps, a patio-based drink and food-truck establishment, Dire Lion’s fish and chips make you feel like you’re eating at a London pub. I enjoy adding vinegar to the fish and chips for a tangy meal. Besides its famous fish and chips, Dire Lion also serves bangers and mash, shrimp, and chicken dishes.