by Cynthia S. Peterson
Great dining experiences await you as Lincoln’s culinary scene continues to grow. There’s more variety than ever including Nebraska steaks, Caribbean, African, Pan-Asian to vegetarian, Mexican, European or Mediterranean. If you want to support locally-owned places to eat, Lincoln has lots of them—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.
Some restaurants are still struggling with staffing shortages brought on by the pandemic. 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 beloved 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 like and can vouch for.
Casa Bovina (www.casabovina.com), 4841 N. 84th Street, features Certified Piedmontese beef steak, Italian dishes and an exceptional wine list. The food is wonderful. Reservations are 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.
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 entrees for 4 or 6 diners.
MoMo Pizzeria and Ristorante (www.momo-pizzeria.com), 7701 Pioneers Blvd., 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 Ristorante at 3535 Holdrege Street, near the site of the original Val’s, still serves the quality Italian food Lincolnites have come to expect. Try Val & Zena’s Lasagna.
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 (opened in 1963) 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 entrées and blue margaritas since 1976.
Since first opening its doors in 1992, 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 delectable. The menu offers a selection of beef, chicken and seafood entrees, and 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. The Haymarket location opened in 1991.
For 20 years, Fireworks Restaurant (www.fireworksrestaurant.com), 5750 S. 86th Drive, continues to be 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.
For almost 20 years at 1800 Wilderness Woods Place, Wilderness Ridge Lodge (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, all under the direction of Chef Rachel McGill. Be sure to ask your waiter for a wine recommendation.
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.
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).
Under the direction of Chef Kevin Milligan, L’s Kitchen, 2785 S. 17th, features American comfort food, made from scratch, with a continental twist in an intimate setting. Patrons are encouraged to linger. Reservations are recommended.
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 bistro feel, with a little something for everyone.
On the first floor of a 130-year-old building, Leadbelly (www.getleaded.com) at 301 N. 8th Street, invites you to come as you are to enjoy classic pub food with some unique flavors. Try their signature Raspberry Beret sandwich.
Vic’s Pizza (www.pizzavics.com ), 8340 Glynoaks Drive, is one of Lincoln’s newest pizza joints and prides itself on serving “Nebraska-style pizza.”
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.
A recent comer to the city is The Mettle Grill at 5500 S. 56th Street, features classic American food that you can top off with warm blueberry flapjack cake for dessert.
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.
For Southern-style food, try Lila Mae’s at 2110 Winthrop Road (no website listed).
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).
Lincoln’s Pub, 4630 Leighton Avenue, is a new neighborhood place for wood-fired pizza and hand-rubbed steaks. Lincoln’s Pub shares a kitchen with Franco’s Fresh Mexican, a fast-casual eatery, and Daq Shack, an island-themed restaurant serving fried chicken sandwiches, lobster rolls and daiquiris.
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 Plans Culinary Institute. 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 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 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.m.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.
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.
Ms. Chen 56 is a new home for American Chinese food at 5601 S. 56th St.
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), featuring all you can eat sushi on Sundays. For authentic Chinese dishes, I recommend Lan House at 1226 P Street (www.lanhouselincolnne.com).
Middle Eastern and Mediterranean
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.
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.
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 (fast casual) 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.
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.
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.
Since opening in 1987, The Coffee House (www.thecoffeehouselnk.com), 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.
New Jersey-based Rock ’n’ Joe Coffee at 5025 Lindberg Street (www.rocknjoe.com) is also 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 (www.gratitudecafebakery.com) in a historic old bank building, owner Kat Cloran is all about community. Kat’s scones are beyond compare as is the fair-trade coffee and tea.
The Mill Coffee & Tea (www.millcoffee.com), 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 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.
Cultiva Coffee (www.cultivacoffee.com), 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.
If you are near Nebraska Wesleyan University, Mo Java Café and Roasting Co., 2649 N. 48th Street (www.mojava.net), 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. They also have a second location, The Filling Station, downtown at 200 S. 18th Street.
Crescent Moon (www.crescentmooncoffee.com), 140 N. Eighth Street, has been in the Haymarket for 20 years. 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 (www.meadowlarkcoffee.org), has served organic, fair-trade coffee since 2005, 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 (www.harborcoffeehouse.com), is a favorite in the Piedmont neighborhood and now there’s a Haymarket location, too. It’s a great place to meet friends or customers.
Bagels & Joe has been locally owned and operated since 1993 (www.bagelsandjoe.com). You can find them at 4701 Old Cheney Road, 215 N. 24th Street, 1777 N. 86th Street and 7811 Pioneers Boulevard.
The Chocolate Season (www.thechocolateseason.com) at 3855 Village Lane. While they specialize in handmade chocolates and confection, they have a full espresso bar, too.
New Day Café, a locally owned and popular meeting place serves coffee, tea, smoothies, and homemade goodies, is located at 4131 Pioneer Woods Drive. Owned by a young couple, they go out of their way to provide a welcoming environment. They also have a number of drive-thru locations in the city.
The Bay coffee bar also on the edge of UNL campus at 2005 Y street, is known for its great coffee and student lounges offering free Internet. The Bay has a lot of different projects going on with a skateboard indoor park and a specialty school, however everyone loves their coffee house. Hopefully, you’re hungry now! 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.