Point and Eat: Fishing for Your Dinner Online
Many readers of this magazine are new to Omaha and looking for a little culinary fun. Maybe you are a recent transplant or are here on business. Or maybe you’re doing the family thing, visiting Aunt Bessie and Uncle Ron, but can’t stand one more night of Bessie’s leftover meatloaf. You want to make the best of your time in the place we call “The Big O.” You’re in luck, as anyone who has spent any time in this city will tell you: Omahans love to eat, but we don’t particularly love doing the dishes.
You may already have heard that Omaha is a restaurant town. Steaks were practically invented here. We also love ethnic cooking. There are probably more Italian eateries here per capita than anywhere else outside New York City’s Little Italy. Heck, I grew up here, and until I was 20 I didn’t know there were any other sit-down dining options besides steak and Italian! But if all you ever sample in this town is a rib-eye steak or mostaccioli and meatballs, you are just scratching the surface of what Omaha eats when it lets someone else do those dishes.
It used to be that when strangers to a new city contemplated dinner at a nice restaurant, they let their fingers do the walking through the yellow page listings. This is still an option, of course, but it sounds so “old school,” and seldom offers more than a name, address and phone number. If you are lucky you’ll see an ad listing the specialty of the house and a mention of “cocktails.”
We all have so many more—and better—options now for accessing information. Magazines like Food & Spirits give you in-depth information and articles about the food and beverage industry. The weekly entertainment magazines sometimes contain partial restaurant listings and maybe a review. But maybe you prefer to view the menus before you step into your cab or drive across town in search of a memorable dining experience. Or you would like to read customer comments before shelling out your hard-earned simoleons?
Literally dozens of websites profile the Omaha area dining scene! They vary in style, quality and timeliness as much as our restaurant options. Some are more professionally organized than others, but each has its own vibe. What follows is a look at several popular area foodie websites. I would encourage you to check them out and bookmark the ones you think offer your favorite features. The next time you are trying to decide what’s for dinner in Omaha, you might find the answer is just a few clicks away.
Omaha to Go: www.omahatogo.com
This site claims to offer 200 menus for viewing, grouped both alphabetically as well as by cuisine. Menus are complete, easy to read and are printable. On the downside, a number of popular restaurants are not listed, and I found several listings for places that have been closed for over one year. So maybe call ahead before venturing out.
Omaha Dining Guide: http://omaha.diningguide.com
Diningguide.com has restaurants from all over the world, and the Omaha page cross-references restaurants by geographic location and cuisine. The guide seems relatively up-to-date (the Boiler Room has a listing), although at least one listed steakhouse had been reduced to a hole in the ground the last time I drove by. Listings of suggested dress codes are a nice touch, and price ranges are included in each listing, which sort of makes up for not being able to view any menus on the site. The site lists 20 pizzerias in Council Bluffs (who knew?), but only one Japanese restaurant (Hiro) for the entire metro area. It also lists the Valentino’s at 102nd and Maple under the “downtown” dining section, and claims 84th and West Center Road is in “North Omaha.” Moreover, there simply is no “Western Omaha” section. Obviously they need to work out some kinks here. Some restaurants feature user reviews, but they are sparse in number and quite brief in detail. One unique feature is the ability to click on one of 14 listed restaurants and make a dinner reservation without having to pick up the telephone.
This site is primarily aimed at travelers and is very popular. No menus are available, and little more than restaurant name, location, price range and contact info is offered. Where this site shines, however, is with the extensive and frequently insightful customer commentaries offered for a majority of the more popular restaurants listed. Restaurants are listed either alphabetically or by customer popularity ranking. Over 500 eateries are featured, including delis, neighborhood joints and fast food under the Omaha section. You can make reservations directly from this site for 14 of the listed restaurants.
This site, also aimed at the traveler, contains basic info and map references for the restaurants, often accompanied by color photos. Now you don’t have an excuse for getting lost on the way to Lo Sole Mio! Candid, sometimes blunt commentary is dispensed with aplomb! I didn’t know these out-of-towners could be so nasty! Groupings include “Family Friendly,” so you can either pack the urchins into the car and head to one of those listings or avoid them like the H1N1 flu.
10 Best: www.10best.com/Omaha,NE/Restaurants/
This site claims to cut to the chase. You’ll find no listings for any of the hundreds of Golden Arches. Instead, a select group of mostly higher-end restaurants are the only ones featured. This site, too, features a number of closed restaurants, so user beware. Still, it’s an interesting concept. Map links and user comments are included.
This is an absolutely fascinating site I had never heard of before researching this article. Click on “Food & Drink” in the lower-left corner and prepare to have some fun. There is a reviewer for local restaurants, plus separate reviewers for local wine, drinks, bakeries, vegan options, ethnic foods and healthy eating, as well as other non-food topics. Links to 173 other food reviewers for other cities are provided. This site’s lack of generic restaurant listings is more than made up for with its freshness and depth of coverage.
Gastronomic Fight Club: www.gastronomicfightclub.com
If you haven’t heard of this group, where have you been? Food lovers with attitude populate this site. Blogs and commentary abound. Right now the “Best-ter-est of Omaha 2008” is available for perusal: local food and drink locales are ranked in 27 categories, and the top 3 finishers in each are listed along with the winners’ websites. Check out their winners and the blogs and let the arguing begin!
With over 1,200 listings for the metro area, you sure can’t short this site on quantity. Accurate maps for each restaurant are included, along with links to websites and limited customer reviews. Restaurants are grouped by cuisine and community. There are no in-depth reviews, but the data seems very up-to-date. This is not a bad site if you already have an idea of what you are looking for, but are not sure where to find it.
Each of the restaurant websites referenced seeks to fill a niche in the vast dining community, but none is perfect. Given the ever-changing dining scene, that would be too much to ask. My suggestion is to give each one a spin on the ol’ laptop, and soon you’ll find one or two that best serves your needs. Bon Appétit!
Bill MacKenzie is better known to many in Omaha BBQ circles as "BBQ Bill." For the past 15 years he has been a member of the Greater Omaha Barbeque Society (GOBS), including serving a recent stint as president. BBQ has been one of Bill's food passions since his college days in the 1980s. As a certified BBQ Judge under rules of the Kansas City BBQ Society, Bill has judged sanctioned barbeque contests in 5 states.
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