by Cynthia S. Peterson
Lincoln’s culinary scene continues to grow and includes plenty of options from Nebraska steaks or Pan-Asian to vegetarian or Italian. There are lots of places to eat and be seen in Lincoln— from sports bars and grills to upscale dining, to mom and pop cafés, bistros and eateries. Whatever you choose, you’ll find a place to celebrate something special, relax after a long day or just enjoy time with someone you love or like.
Tradition, uniqueness and atmosphere count nearly as much as the quality of the food in our list of favorite Lincoln restaurants. It includes some of the oldest, most loved and/or well-known restaurants in the city and some that you’ve never heard of or have been meaning to try. This is by no means the definitive list of restaurants in Lincoln, but rather some I particularly like and can vouch for.
For highly authentic and delicious Italian fare, Vincenzo’s Ristorante at 808 P Street is the place. Situated in one of the Haymarket district’s historic buildings, Vincenzo’s pairs its savory Italian dishes with an excellent wine list and superior service in an atmosphere of understated cozy elegance. The house Chianti is a natural choice, but you really should explore the wine list. My friend often makes a meal of the escargot and bruschetta—great choices. It’s no wonder Vincenzo’s has repeatedly been named one of the city’s best restaurants.
Florio’s Italian Restaurant & Grille at 7300 S. 13th Street is another quality Italian eatery. Everything is made from scratch, and the wine list is impressive.
MoMo Pizzeria and Ristorante, 7701 Pioneers Blvd., offers wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas, sandwiches, salads, delectable pastas and farm-to-table-inspired entrées, plus specialty wines and cocktails. Try the Piedmontese Petite Chateaubriand or Steak Gremolata Fusilli entrées; neither can be beat.
New to Lincoln last year at 5571 S. 48th Street, Napoli’s has opened a second location downtown at 800 Q Street Napoli’s has been wowing diners in the central Nebraska city of Grand Island for years and is a welcome addition to Lincoln’s Italian eateries. Their made-from-scratch entrees are marvelous. Try one of Napoli’s Specialties, or my personal favorite, Shrimp Scallopini.
Valentino’s has been a Lincoln landmark since the late 1950s. The Valentino’s Ristorantes at 2820 Pine Lake Rd. and 3535 Holdrege Street, near the site of the original Val’s still serve the quality Italian food Lincolnites have come to expect. Try Val & Zena’s Lasagna.
For a cozy and intimate atmosphere, try Billy’s in the historic Noble-Dawes House at 1301 H Street. Chef Nadar Farahbod has a spectacular lunch or dinner menu waiting for you, with duck, lamb, steaks and seafood prepared to perfection. Known for some of the best steaks in town, Billy’s has received a five-star rating from opentable.com. Its fine food and wine, delectable desserts and superior service will make a lasting impression.
Another well-known venue for a Nebraska steak cooked to perfection is Misty’s at 6235 Havelock Avenue and downtown at 200 N. 11th Street. If you are not a beef eater, try one of the seafood or vegetarian dishes. Misty’s also carries a host of local micro-brews.
The Green Gateau, 330 S. 10th Street, offers European and American cuisine in a Victorian setting. The food and wine are always excellent, and the desserts are hard to beat. You can find a fresh selection of beef, chicken and seafood. The soups, appetizers and burgers are delicious, and they always have new items on the menu. Everything is made from scratch and you can count on it being wonderful. Their weekend brunch is not to be missed.
Lazlo’s in the Haymarket at 710 P Street and at 5900 Old Cheney Road combines a wonderful brewery with a traditional grill. Flavorful sandwiches, salads and entrées will keep you coming back for more. Each pair up magnificently with Lazlo’s own Empyrean Ales. Try one of the lahvosh appetizers.
Owned by the same team that opened Lazlo’s, Fireworks Restaurant, 5750 S. 86th Drive, is a celebration of wood-fired cooking, bringing a new twist to classic American dishes. Empyrean Ales are also on the menu.
At 1800 Wilderness Woods Place, Wilderness Ridge really does look like a lodge, but the food is reminiscent of fine dining establishments in Chicago. Dine al fresco on the large terrace overlooking the rolling hills of the golf course, enjoy casual dining in the bar area or opt for the elegant great room.
The Dish, downtown at 1100 O Street, is an upscale restaurant with a reputation for serving amazing dishes matched with delectable sides and great desserts. Be sure to ask your waiter for a wine recommendation.
The Venue, 4111 Pioneer Woods Drive, features a menu ranging from steak and seafood to some of the best pizzas in town. The atmosphere is comfortable for dressing up or dressing down. Also under the Venue umbrella is the Piedmont Bistro, 1265 S. Cotner Boulevard, a full-service restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner and a great brunch on Sunday, plus Cactus Modern Mexican & Cantina, 5500 S. 56th Street.
The chic JTK Cuisine & Cocktails in the historic Lincoln train station, 201 N. 7th Street, is an unmatched fine dining experience offering contemporary American cuisine with something special added. The pan-seared salmon is a personal favorite.
Sports fans might prefer The Athletic Club in
the Embassy Suites, 1040 P Street Mammoth
burgers and more will fill your plate while large television screens let you enjoy all the action of your favorite teams.
Dino’s, another Lincoln original, is a sports bistro and bar at 2901 S. 84th Street. Your favorite game is bound to be on one of the TVs. While they serve the usual sports bar fare, the food is excellent.
Schillingbridge Cork & Tap House brings craft beer, wine and great food together at 575 Fallbrook Boulevard. Don’t leave without sampling the beer bread or bread pudding. When the weather is nice, sit on the patio.
Just up the street at 570 Fallbrook Boulevard, Toast has a small town, neighborhood bar feel, with a little something for everyone.
Open for breakfast, brunch and lunch, The Hub Café, 250 N. 21st Street, is one of the ways the owners of Branched Oak Farm share their bounty and that of other local food producers with a larger audience. The menu changes with the seasons.
Narges Montazer will greet you warmly when you come into her comfortable restaurant with a long name—Daffodil Mediterranean Cuisine & Catering at 5500 Old Cheney Road—and she’ll offer samples to help you decide what to order. The lamb shank usually sells out.
The locally sourced (when available) and Mediterranean-inspired tapas dishes at Sebastian’s Table, 8340 Glynoaks Drive, may be like none other in Lincoln. The paella, available after 5 P.M., is superb, as are the cocktails and array of Spanish wines. The atmosphere is hip and comfortable at the same time. Most days, 7 a.m. until 2 p.m., Sebastian’s Table becomes Waffleopolis. Use your imagination.
Pairing Greek flavors and homemade pastries, a must-stop is The Parthenon taverna and Greek grill at 5500 S. 56th Street.w Brothers George and Mike Kazas opened the restaurant in 2002, and they always offer tasty Greek fare—plus the occasional plate-breaking.
It’s all about burgers at Honest Abe’s Burgers & Freedom at 126 N. 14th Street, 2226 Cornhusker Highway, 840 N. 70th Street and 8340 Glynoaks Drive. Juicy burgers, including a burger of the week, fries and shakes. Nothing else is needed.
Another farm-to-table restaurant, HF Crave, uses the owners’ Hollenbeck Farms beef in the burgers they make for delighted customers at 4800 Holdrege Street. Try the HP PB&B (peanut butter and bacon).
Yia Yia’s, 1423 O Street and 2840 S. 70th Street, is known as the home of Lincoln’s best pizza and beer selection. Its famous Around the World pizza is made to order and a must-try, as is one of the 375 different bottled beers.
Enjoy an excellent lunch or dinner at The Course Restaurant, 8800 O Street, brought to you by students enrolled in the Southeast Community College Great Plans Culinary Institute. The Course provides an upscale dining experience while giving student-chefs in the Culinary/Hospitality program a chance to shine. The food is excellent! To check on times of operation, entrées or make a reservation, go to southeast.edu/course/.
Casa Bovina, 4841 N. 84th Street, features Certified Piedmontese beef steak, Italian dishes and an exceptional wine list. Reservations required.
Blue Orchid, 129 N. 10th Street, is a wildly popular Thai fusion eatery. Exceptional dishes are served with flair in an atmosphere that begs you to enjoy every bite at a leisurely pace. They offer a wonderful array of dishes with meat, seafood and tofu options. Main dishes are reasonably priced and extremely tasty. Excellent wine list, too.
Issara, the elegant Thai/Asian restaurant at 1701 Pine Lake Road, is from the same people who brought The Blue Orchid to Lincoln. Issara expands the menu beyond Thai to a fusion that includes Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Paired with a sophisticated cocktail list, an evening at Issara is memorable. My favorite dish is Thai Basil Duck.
An inexpensive but delicious option for Thai food is the Thai Garden, 245 N. 13th Street. Seyo Thai Restaurant, 501 W. A Street, is also getting rave reviews for tasty food and reasonable prices.
If you’re a fan of Vietnamese food, you simply must try the Pho Factory, 940 N. 26th Street, in the Saigon Plaza. Top on the menu are soups, several different pho (beef noodle dishes) and Banh Mi (authentic Vietnamese sandwiches). Bahnwich, also located in the Saigon Plaza, serves a variety of fresh, spicy Vietnamese sandwiches, green waffles and bubble tea.
Nearby is another favorite, Vung Tau Restaurant at 2708 Y Street For a long time, this was one of Lincoln’s hidden gems; now it’s not so hidden. The restaurant opened in 2006 and has steadily gained a reputation for excellent food and service. The pho and grilled pork are customer favorites.
Japanese restaurants include Hiro 88 at 601 R Street and 5730 Hidcote Drive, and Blue Sushi Sake Grill at 808 R Street Each is always a quality choice for anyone who loves Japanese cuisine. The Grey Whale Sushi & Grill at 129 N. 10th Street serves sushi and other Japanese delights. Grey Whale Poke Bowl is at 1317 Q Street offering signature poke bowls, plus excellent vegetarian options.
Not to be overlooked is Asian Fusion, featuring modern Pan-Asian fare at 2840 Jamie Lane. For authentic Chinese dishes, I recommend Lan House at 1226 P Street. Then, try the cozy Korea House at 5601 S. 56th Street for impressive Korean fare.
For the tastes of India, try The Oven at 201 N. 8th Street or 4101 Pioneer Woods Dr. The heavenly aromas are like walking into northern India, and you can count on the food being truly authentic, and delicious. The wine list is unsurpassed. This is one of my favorite places to dine, and the Lamb Masuma curry is hard to beat. The Cellar, downstairs in the Haymarket location, offers great food and wine in an intimate atmosphere. Also excellent is Tandoor Indian Cuisine, 3530 Village Drive or Aroma Indian Cuisine at 114 S. 14th Street.
Looking for a good chicken shawarma, or a lamb gyro? Try Sultan’s Kite at 1311 O Street, offering Mediterranean and Middle Eastern fast food. They have a second location at 7350 S. 13th Street. Ali Baba Gyros, 112 N 14th Street, also offers great gyros, as does George’s Gourmet Grill at 6891 A Street, 1400 O Street and 2801 Pine Lake Drive.
El Potrero, 247 N. 8th Street and 3930 Village Drive, are family-run eateries where you can savor authentic and delicious dishes. The portions are large, and the flavor incredible. Great margaritas accompany this south-of-the-border experience.
La Paz Restaurant & Cantina, 321 N. Cotner Boulevard, features some of the best chips and salsa in town and their Enchiladas La Paz is a must-try in this family-owned cantina. It’s been a Lincoln favorite for 28 years.
El Toro, 2600 S. 48th Street, is a truly authentic Mexican restaurant. Family owned and operated, the food is delicious and the atmosphere enjoyable. The same family also owns Mazatlán, Mazatlán II, and Los Margaritas with similar, but not identical, menus. Great margaritas!
Hacienda Real, 3130 Pine Lake Road, has become a popular destination for Mexican cuisine. They offer vegetarian options, and grill a delicious steak as well.
Copal Progressive Mexican Cuisine, 4747 Pioneers Boulevard, is something unique among local Mexican restaurants, including its understated décor. Food presentation is as important as taste at Copal, and the taste is exceptionally good. Copal also features a variety of high-quality tequilas and mezcal.
Mi Tierra Family Mexican Restaurant, 5500 Old Cheney Road, has beautiful murals on the walls, handmade wooden booths and great food coming out of the kitchen. For something special, try one of the shrimp dishes like Camarones Mojo de Ajo (garlic shrimp).
Tico’s at 317 S. 17th Street, has been serving incredible guacamole, a wide selection of entrées and blue margaritas since 1976.
Not to be missed
Be sure to try New American cuisine at Carmela’s Bistro & Wine Bar at 4141 Pioneer Woods Drive, or 9 South Chargrill at 844 South Street For something totally different, Stur 22 African & Caribbean Kitchen, 2110 Winthrop Road.
DaVinci’s is another family-owned local restaurant with several locations that serve up friendly smiles and great food. Wonderful pizzas and pasta, along with great sandwiches, all combine for a family-friendly experience. Their signature Philly Cheese Steaks are hard to beat.
Originating in Lincoln and now found throughout the Midwest, Runza has many locations across Lincoln offering its trademark ground beef, cabbage and seasoning baked in fresh bread.
When you are hungering for a burrito or taco, check out Amigos, which is paired with Kings, offering an equally delicious variety of hamburgers, chicken and Lincoln’s own cheese frenchee. They’re located throughout Lincoln. Amigos offers its own fresh-brewed Kopeli espresso drinks and an impressive breakfast menu—all reasonably priced and so tasty.
Lincoln is full of wonderful coffee shops including many Starbucks and Scooter’s locations. Whether you’re in search for a quick cup of coffee or a cozy spot to rest for a few hours and get some work done, the capital city is speckled with spots to fuel your addiction.
A newer addition is the New Jersey-based Rock ’n’ Joe Coffee at 5025 Lindberg Street. It’s a great place for lunch; wine or beer in the evenings (and, on occasion, music).
Gratitude Café & Bakery has that small-town feel. Located at 1551 N. Cotner Boulevard, owner Kat Cloran is all about community. Her scones are beyond compare, as is the fair-trade coffee and tea.
The Mill, has four wonderful shops that are extremely popular. The original is in the Haymarket at 800 P Street, and the newest in the Telegraph District at 330 S. 21st Street. Those two, plus a shop on UNL’s Innovation Campus and one at 4636 Prescott Avenue near Union College, all feature traditional coffee and espresso drinks, a large assortment of teas and snacks, all in a warm and comfortable atmosphere. The Mill is a hip space that offers indoor and outdoor seating plus free wi-fi. These Lincoln favorites are usually busy day and night.
Since opening in 1987, The Coffee House, 1324 P Street, has remained a very cool, locally owned coffee shop that prides itself on quick service, delicious homemade pastries and many vegan and vegetarian options. The Coffee House is on the edge of the UNL City Campus and appeals to a wide demographic.
Cultiva Coffee, 2510 Randolph Street, 727 S. 11th Street and 3535 Holdrege Street, is a café and micro-roastery. Along with world-class coffee and espresso, Cultiva whips up delicious crepes with a variety of toppings and sauces. The Randolph Street location also houses Cultiva’s bean-to-bar chocolate operation, Sweet Minou, the first business of its kind in Nebraska.
If you are near Nebraska Wesleyan University, Mo Java Café and Roasting Co., 2649 N. 48th Street, is a great place to grab a cup of fair-trade organic coffee, surf the web or listen to some live music on a Friday night. The pizza and sandwiches are worth mentioning, too.
Crescent Moon, 140 N. Eighth Street, is a mom-and-daughter operation, and you will usually find them behind the counter to make your favorite gourmet beverage. They also serve beer and wine and, in the mornings, great crepes. Crescent Moon prides itself on being a live music venue, too.
Meadowlark Coffee & Espresso, 1624 South Street, serves organic, fair-trade coffee, and all its food is locally sourced. The pastries are delicious, as are the daily soup specials. They also host live music, poetry and art shows for their many loyal customers.
The Harbor Coffeehouse, 1265 S. Cotner Boulevard, is a favorite in the Piedmont neighborhood. It’s a great place to meet friends or customers. They also offer a lunch menu of soups, salads and sandwiches. Breakfast, too—did I mention waffles?
Bagels & Joe had been locally owned and operated since 1993. You can find them at 4701 Old Cheney Road, 1777 N. 86th Street and 7811 Pioneers Boulevard.
Dine out or satisfy your coffee urge at one of these great places. Or, go discover your own favorite place to eat or get caffeinated in Lincoln—multiple favorites are allowed.