Food Prowl started as a simple idea: Find the best of the best foods in different categories served in Omaha restaurants.
For nearly two years we’ve been building teams of everyday people, food lovers and chefs to help The World-Herald choose the best of foods in 17 categories so far. We sample different dishes at restaurants around town — the good and the bad — and together choose our favorites.
Food Prowl is fun. It’s useful. And in the end, it almost always makes for an interesting story.
Here’s a few of the most popular things we’ve “prowled” for.
Visit omaha.com/foodprowl to read all the stories, then go find your own favorites.
Our Favorite Reuben sandwich:
The Crescent Moon Ale House
3578 Farnam St., across from the former Blackstone Hotel
The series kicked off in January 2012 with an Omaha classic: the Reuben sandwich. We found our favorite across the street from where the sandwich was invented, at the Blackstone Hotel. The Blackstone Reuben, as it’s called on the Moon’s menu, is a feat of engineering. It doesn’t fall apart when you eat it, and it doesn’t leak dressing or kraut. Chunks of tender, moist corned beef burst with flavor. The meat mixed in perfect harmony with the tangy kraut, the creamy dressing and the subtle crunch of the bread. The Moon buys that corned beef locally from Omaha Steaks and cooks it all day long. They trim off extra fat when it’s done.
The sauerkraut comes from a can, but it’s “doctored up” with fennel and other spices to add depth. And the kitchen doesn’t cook the sandwich on a flat-top grill — it sends each one through a conveyor-belt pizza oven because that’s all the restaurant had when it first opened.
They have a flat-top now, but the sandwiches still go through the oven.
If Reuben Kulakofsky, who thought of the sandwich during a late-night poker game, or Bernard Schimmel, the chef who first made one for Kulakofsky, could try this version, I reckon they’d both be very happy men.
Our Favorite Steak:
The ribeye at Brother Sebastian’s
1350 S. 119th St.
It took us two whole months to eat enough steaks to find our favorite, and when we did finally choose one, in January 2013, I knew it was going to be controversial. And it was.
The low, humming voices of monks met us on speakers in the parking lot at Brother Sebastian’s.
We sat in a small, dark room near the back of the restaurant, right next to a fireplace. It was hard to gauge the crowd that day, because the dark restaurant is divided into lots of small, dark, fireplace rooms. The monastery music doesn’t continue once you get inside — Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin take over — but the theme comes across loud and clear. Even the waitstaff wears brown, monklike outfits.
Our room was nearly full of diners.
We ordered the $29 ribeye — and it arrived grilled. I took a bite and though I’m not comfortable with hyperbole, it melted in my mouth, just like butter. I’m not kidding. After a few bites, we knew the contest was over.
Other Omahans will tell you different when you ask about a good steak, and we ran into other tasty options. But this one was the best — I stand by it.
Our Favorite Taco:
The Al Pastor taco at La Choza, formerly Tacos el Peligro
5133 S. 25th St.
We explored South Omaha in June 2012 for the taco prowl, and that’s also where we found our winner. The incredibly tender marinated pork chunks in the taco at La Choza came topped with petite slices of pineapple — a tart and sweet counterpart to the chewy tortilla, tangy cilantro and subtly spicy meat. Instead of fried shells, each taco had two petite, hand-pressed tortillas. The meat filled the bottom and most were topped with chopped raw white onion and cilantro leaves.
We also ordered shredded chicken; carnitas steak; and barbacoa, fragrant Mexican barbecued beef in the tacos, but the pork stood out.
No one had any funky chunks or fatty bits in their tacos. None of the meats we tried were greasy or oily. And the tacos are just a few bucks each.
Our Favorite Falafel:
Amsterdam Falafel and Kabob
620 N. 50th St.
Our tasters loved Amsterdam’s green, herby falafel cakes. Its spicy sauce. Its garlicky hummus and fresh condiments.
Amsterdam’s sauces and condiments are indeed different from the other places we visited. A cool slaw of minced garlic, bright purple cabbage, carrots, whole chickpeas, cucumber and tomato sits on top of the sandwich; below are three sauces — spicy, green herb and creamy garlic.
The falafel prowl, in March 2012, was the first time I got outvoted by my panel of tasters. And even though my choice wasn’t their choice, it was still a great one.
Home Cooking Prowls
Our Favorite Mac and Cheese:
4916 Underwood Ave.
Marks Bistro in Dundee, where we ate in February 2013, calls mac and cheese its “signature dish.” It’s one of the best-known places in town to get a bowl, and all of the team members had been there.
We knew what was coming: creamy sauce and al dente pasta with just enough bite topped with crisp panko breadcrumbs that mix up the textures. We ordered the dish with and without
the chef’s daily add-ons, and preferred the classic version sans fancy accouterments.
We liked the layered flavors that came from a blend of havarti, asiago, cheddar and tangy blue cheeses swirled through the cavatappi pasta. Marks’ classic version, without additions, couldn’t be bested.
Our Favorite Fried Chicken:
Time Out Foods
3518 N. 30th St.
Time Out is a true hole-in-the-wall and also the first of two restaurants with a sign proclaiming “Omaha’s best fried chicken.”
The neighborhood place has an indoor walk-up window in front of a neat, old-school kitchen. Pictures of President Barack Obama smiled down on us as we settled snugly into a dark green vinyl booth. Most customers took bags to go — only one other table held an eat-in diner.
When we left, we knew we’d smell just like the food we ate: Two-piece chicken dinners, each tucked inside red and white paper boxes branded with the “Time Out” logo.
The chicken was steaming hot, succulently juicy and super crunchy.
The place is legendary for a reason. The flavor of the crisp outer crust — with a hint of cayenne pepper, one ingredient in the restaurant’s secret spice-loaded marinade — melts into the meat. It’s spicy but not too spicy, greasy but not too greasy. To put it simply, the best.
Favorite diner burger (tie)
1611 Farnam St.
2368 S. 29th St.
Our judges fought a good fight over the burger battle, and the best we could do was choose two.
Two of the judges loved the Block burger. It was the finest example of meat we’d seen: oozing with juice, slightly pink in the center, tender and deeply flavorful. A stack of condiments on the burger was messy in the best possible way. We were surprised by something so unexpectedly delicious.
At Dinker’s, the toasted bun impressed us. The patty held together but it wasn’t too tightly packed. It was juicy, fatty and greasy, but not too much of any of the three. The flavor of the beef managed to still come through even between condiments. It was subtle but fresh and meaty.
In the end, both were worth trying; both deserved the win.
Our favorite gourmet burger:
The Grey Plume
220 S. 31st Ave. 402-763-4447
The first burger prowl was another one of the most controversial — so we did another one, this time going for high-end, fancy burgers.
We found our winner at one of the classiest restaurants in Omaha in June 2013, and it was a burger so artfully done it couldn’t be ignored.
The wagyu beef is ground in house. Toppings can include a huge chunk of foie gras — the biggest I’ve ever seen — or an equally sizeable chunk of pork belly that comes from T.D. Niche Farm in Nebraska.
The bun is made from scratch in house. So are the caramelized onions, sweet pickles, grainy mustard and chunky buttermilk cheese, which is similar to feta.
Each burger is seared in animal fat, then basted with foaming butter, rosemary and thyme. The bun is toasted on the grill then spread with onions and mustard and then heated.
The burger gets topped with a healthy slather of buttermilk cheese, then grated orange zest and a grate of salty lomo salami — an alternative to salt.
The greens on the burger are dressed with a blend of herb puree and house-made garlic aioli, then pickles.
The other half of the bun gets the burger, and the whole thing is served open face with a side of the aioli and herb for dipping the thick-cut, stubby duck fat fries.
It’s pricey, but worth it for those seeking the ultimate burger experience.