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 locally-owned 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.
Like other cities, the Covid-19 epidemic impacted Lincoln’s restaurant scene—some brave souls launched something new, some closed their doors temporarily or for good, others have had to adapt service, hours of operation and/or offerings because of staffing shortages, availability of ingredients or other reasons. A word to the wise, avoid some disappointment and call ahead or check websites for restaurant information. Delivery and take out options are now plentiful. If you don’t want to venture out, try a food delivery service in the Capital City, like GrubHub (www.get.grubhub.com), DoorDash (www.doordash.com), Uber Eats (www.ubereats.com) or the locally-owned Metro Dining & Delivery (www.MetroDiningDelivery.com).
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 unique restaurants in Lincoln, but rather some I particularly enjoy and can vouch for.
For highly authentic and delicious Italian fare, Vincenzo’s Ristorante (www.vincenzos-ne.com) at 808 P Street is the place. Located in Lincoln’s historic Haymarket, Vincenzo’s pairs its savory Italian dishes with an excellent wine list and superior service. The house Chianti is a natural choice, but you really should explore the wine list. The escargot is incredibly good! It’s no wonder Vincenzo’s has repeatedly been named one of the city’s best restaurants.
Florio’s Italian Restaurant & Grille (www.floriosne.com) at 7300 S. 13th Street is another quality Italian eatery. Everything is made from scratch, and the wine list is impressive. They now have a family style menu, featuring some of their most popular entrées for 4 or 6 diners.
MoMo Pizzeria and Ristorante (www.momo-pizzeria.com), 7701 Pioneers Boulevard, offers wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas, sandwiches, salads, delectable pastas and farm-to-table-inspired entrées, plus specialty wines and cocktails. The menu often changes depending upon time of year. Try the Piedmontese Peppered Steak Fusilli if it’s available.
Napoli’s (www.napolisne.com) at 5571 S. 48th Street and downtown at 800 Q Street, has been 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 (www.valentinos.com) has been a Lincoln icon since the late 1950s. The Valentino’s Ristorantes at 2820 Pine Lake Road 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.
Casa Bovina (www.casabovina.com), 4841 N. 84th Street, features Certified Piedmontese beef steak, Italian dishes and an exceptional wine list. Reservations required.
Villa Amore is a family-run restaurant located in northeast Lincoln at 5353 N. 27th Street (www.villaamorelincoln.com). Cacciatori is a house specialty.
If you’re looking for cozy and intimate fine dining, I recommend Billy’s located in a historic home at 1301 H Street (www.billysrestaurant.com). Chef Nadar Farahbod has a spectacular lunch or dinner menu waiting for you, with duck, lamb and seafood prepared to perfection. Billy’s is known for some of the best steaks in town. Its fine food and wine, delectable desserts and superior service will make an impression.
Another well-known venue for a Nebraska beef steak cooked to perfection is Misty’s (www.mistyslincoln.com) 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.
Tico’s at 317 S. 17th Street, has been serving incredible guacamole, a wide selection of Mexican entrées and blue margaritas since 1976.
The Green Gateau (www.greengateau.com) 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 menu rotates with the seasons. Everything is made from scratch under chef Eric Lemke’s watchful eyes, and you can count on it being wonderful. Their weekend brunch is not to be missed.
Lazlo’s Brewery & Grill (www.lazlosbreweryandgrill.com) in the Haymarket at 710 P Street and at 5900 Old Cheney Road features flavorful sandwiches, salads and made from scratch entrées that 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 (www.fireworksrestaurant.com), 5750 S. 86th Drive, is a celebration of wood-fired cooking, bringing a new twist to classic American dishes. Empyrean Ales are on the bar menu. The building itself is worth the visit—state-of-the-art and energy-efficient with a 5400 square foot rain garden.
At 1800 Wilderness Woods Place, Wilderness Ridge (www.wildernessridgegolf.com/dining) really does look like a mountain 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.
Dish (www.dishdowntown.com), downtown at 1100 O Street, is an upscale restaurant with a 30-year reputation for serving amazing dishes matched with delectable sides and great desserts. Be sure to ask your waiter for a wine recommendation.
Since 2005, The Venue (www.yourvenue.net), 4111 Pioneer Woods Drive, features a menu ranging from steak and seafood to great pizzas. 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 Sunday brunch (www.piedmontbistro.com).
The chic JTK Cuisine & Cocktails (www.jtkrestaurant.com) 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. They also have a special date night menu.
Sports fans might prefer Rosie’s Sports Bar & Grill now with a new downtown location at 130 N. 10th Street (www.rosiessportsbar.com).
Schillingbridge Cork & Tap House (www.schillingbridgecorkandtap.com) brings craft beer, wine and great food together at 575 Fallbrook Boulevard. Don’t leave without sampling the beer bread. When the weather is nice, sit on the patio.
Just up the street at 570 Fallbrook Boulevard, Toast (www.gettoasty.com) has a small town, neighborhood bar feel, with a little something for everyone.
Open for breakfast, brunch and lunch, The Hub Café (www.hubcafelincoln.com), 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 (www.facebook.com/DaffodilMediterranean)—and she’ll offer samples to help you decide what to order. The lamb shank usually sells out.
Dammi is new, featuring modern Mediterranean dishes at 128 N. 13th Street (www.dammidammi.com).
Pairing Greek flavors and homemade pastries, a must-stop is The Parthenon taverna and Greek grill (www.theparthenon.net) at 5500 S. 56th Street. Brothers George and Mike Kazas opened the restaurant in 2002, and they always offer tasty 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 (www.grounduprestaurants.com). Juicy burgers, including a burger of the week, fries and shakes. Nothing else is needed.
Another farm-to-table restaurant, HF Crave (www.hfcrave.com), uses the owners’ Hollenbeck Farms beef in their burgers at 4800 Holdrege Street. Try the HP PB&B (peanut butter and bacon).
Yia Yia’s, 1423 O Street and 2840 S. 70th Street (www.yiayiaspizzaandbeer.com), 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 at The Course Restaurant, 8800 O Street, brought to you by students enrolled in the Southeast Community College Great Plains 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, go to www.southeast.edu/course/.
For the tastes of India, try The Oven (www.theoven-lincoln.com) at 201 N. 8th Street or 4101 Pioneer Woods Drive. 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 are Tandoor Indian Cuisine (www.tandoor-lincoln.com/), 3530 Village Drive, and Mughil’s Indian Cuisine at 1501 Pine Lake Road (www.mughilsindiancuisine.com).
Blue Orchid, 129 N. 10th Street, is a wildly popular Thai fusion eatery (www.facebook.com/blueorchidrestaurant). 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 (www.facebook.com/IssaraAsianCuisine), 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. High Peak Asian Restaurant (www.highpeakasian.wixsite.com) at 2840 S. 70th Street is a good choice, too.
If you’re a fan of Vietnamese food, a must try is the Pho Factory (www.phofactorylincoln.com), 940 N. 26th Street, in the Saigon Plaza. Top on the menu are soups, and several different pho (beef noodle dishes) and Banh Mi (authentic Vietnamese sandwiches).
Nearby is another favorite, Vung Tau Restaurant at 2708 Y Street (www.facebook.com/VungTauRestaurant). 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 (www.hiro88.com) at 601 R Street and 5730 Hidcote Drive; Blue Sushi Sake Grill (www.bluesushisakegrill.com) at 808 R Street, and Kinja (ww.kinjalincoln.com) at 4141 Pioneer Woods Boulevard; are all good choices.
Not to be overlooked is Asian Fusion, featuring modern Pan-Asian fare at 2840 Jamie Lane (www.asianfusionlincoln.com). For authentic Chinese dishes, I recommend Lan House at 1226 P Street (www.lanhouselincolnne.com).
Looking for a good chicken shawarma, or a lamb gyro? Try Sultan’s Kite (www.sultanskite.com) at 1309 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 (no website listed), also offers great gyros, as does George’s Gourmet Grill (no website listed) at 6891 A Street, 1400 O Street and 2801 Pine Lake Drive.
Copal Progressive Mexican Cuisine (www.copallnk.com), 4747 Pioneers Boulevard, is 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.
El Potrero, 247 N. 8th Street and 3930 Village Drive (www.elpotrerorestaurant.com), 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.
For Mexican BBQ fusion, try Muchachos at 416 S. 11th Street (www.yomuchacho.com). The building façade is painted turquoise—you can’t miss it. They have a food truck, too.
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, Agave Mexican Grill and Los Margaritas with similar, but not identical, menus (www.lincolnsbestmexican.com). Great margaritas!
Hacienda Real, 3130 Pine Lake Road (www.haciendarealnebraska.com), has become a popular destination for Mexican cuisine. They offer vegetarian options, and grill a delicious steak as well. I like the poblano enchiladas.
Mi Tierra Family Mexican Restaurant, 5500 Old Cheney Road (www.mitierralincoln.com), 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).
Meztli Restaurant (www.meztli-restaurant.square.site) at 4715 W Adams Street has great food and service. Try the shrimp burrito.
Not to be missed
Be sure to try New American cuisine at Carmela’s Bistro & Wine Bar at 4141 Pioneer Woods Drive (www.carmelasbistroandwinebar.com), or 9 South Chargrill at 844 South Street (www.9southgrill.com). For something different, try Stur 22 African & Caribbean Kitchen (www.stur22lounge.com), 2110 Winthrop Road, or The Normandy featuring French cuisine at 2785 S. 17th Street (www.thenormandylnk.com). For terrific sandwiches and soup, I recommend Bison Witches Bar & Deli (www.bisonwitcheslincoln.com) at 1320 P Street. Oh, and Art & Soul Kitchen & Wine Bar (www.lincolnartandsoul.com), at 5740 Hidcote Drive. They do cooking classes, too. For outstanding breakfast, brunch or lunch, it’s Cooks Café (www.cookscafe.com) at 333 N. Cotner Boulevard.
DaVinci’s (www.davincis.com/locations) is another family-owned local restaurant with several locations including 4120 S. 48th Street that serve up wonderful pizzas and pasta, along with great sandwiches.
Originating in Lincoln and now found throughout the Midwest, Runza (www.runza.com) has many locations across Lincoln offering its trademark ground beef, cabbage and seasoning baked in fresh bread. Their sandwiches are so beloved, that you can order and have them shipped to you.
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 (www.amigoskings.com). Amigos offers its own fresh-brewed Kopeli espresso drinks and an impressive breakfast menu—all reasonably priced and so tasty.
Dine out at one of these great places. Or, go discover your own favorite place to eat in Lincoln—multiple favorites are allowed. Now, let’s go eat!