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Home to ambient jazz clubs, inventive art galleries and a host of other hot spots, the buzzing city of Lincoln proves that there’s much more to the Cornhusker State than wide-open space. The state capital is a delicious slice of Midwest Americana, with chefs in the historic Haymarket District serving up hundreds of home-cooked specialties each day. Cocktails, chops, and, yes, even corn on the cob, are all and waiting for you at these 10 restaurants you should try in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Anticipate a big portion of Midwest hospitality when you arrive at Beacon Hills, right next to the much-loved Beacon Hills Hotel. The restaurant majors in homemade American dinners given an East Coast twist on an engaging menu that ranges from crab cakes to slow-roasted, herb-coated Nebraska prime ribs. The bar also turns out signature cocktails (including a very good Apple Pie, featuring apple-infused Absolut) and a lovely wine selection.
If you like the idea of calamari with your clubbing you’ve come to the right place. This laid-back dining institution overlooks the Wilderness Ridge Golf Course – a championship course that’s hosted some prestigious events. Jumping off the menu here are burgers every which way, a juicy turkey club wrap, and all-day sirloin steak. After 5 pm, pasta dishes and plenty more steaks join the menu. Expect fresh produce from neighbouring farms and fresh seafood from Seattle.
The official main attraction here is the energy efficient building that accommodates FireWorks Restaurant, an environmental pioneer of a place with its own rain garden containing native plants, shrubs and trees. The restaurant sends out delicious dishes thanks to a rotisserie, pizza oven and grill, all wood-fired, in keeping with the natural setting. The 21 day-aged prime cut steak is one of the menu standouts. The unofficial attraction? The decor in the dining area – an elegant essay in wood and stone, with cosy booths to relax into.
One of Lincoln’s top Indian restaurants, The Oven East is a popular spot for those craving the rich flavors of the northern subcontinent. The action here revolves around the traditional tandoor clay oven, in which yogurt-coated chicken, prawns and lamb are left to cook to tangy succulence. Breads, meanwhile, are slapped onto the sides of the oven until they’re brown and pillowy. The wine list is excellent, with 13 champagnes alone (not including the magnum offerings). All in all, The Oven East is a slick spot for a convivial dinner with friends or family.
The pleasures of brewpub drinking in Lincoln began in 1991, when Lazlo’s Brewery and Grill opened in the historic Haymarket District. The first drinking establishment of its kind in Nebraska, Lazlo’s serves up handcrafted ales from its on-site Empyrean Brewing Company. Regulars know that the food is delicious too, with favorites including barramundi with garlic lemon butter and ribeye steak, both cooked on a woodfire grill. Sit back and order from one of their cozy booths, or, if the weather is right, take a seat outdoors.
Cuisine and cocktails is the tagline for JTK, an upscale dining favorite in the Haymarket. Highlights include American Kobe beef, a Nebraskan version of Japan’s famed steak, which is a big hit locally. Another favorite is the White Russian, a rich dessert of vodka, Tia Maria and ice cream. Expect classics such as ribs and pulled pork, ideal with a whisky from their impressive list featuring options from places as diverse as Wales and Japan.
Havelock district’s original 19th century fire station is the setting for the Engine House Café. This explains the striking original features, including wooden ceilings and memorabilia from retired and active firemen. The menu also harks back to the old fire team with such dishes as the Engine House Burger, flame-broiled with lettuce, tomato and onion. If you’re looking for somewhere easy to start your day, Engine House Café also has an excellent, hearty breakfast menu.
LeadBelly cooks up a contemporary twist on American cuisine that’s innovative yet familiar. Their salads and appetizers are nothing to shy away from, but we suggest you let your gaze slide down their list of eponymous burgers and classics. Take your tastebuds around the United States with the All American, California Dreamin and Key West burgers – or melt into the Queso Awesome on their Smokehouse Mac n Cheese before indulging in the Irish Stout Pie made with Jameson caramel sauce, Guinness custard, and a cocoa crust with an Irish whipped cream.
Hacienda Real serves up what might just be the best Mexican food in Lincoln. Authentic cuisine from south of the border brings savory, spicy and saucy flavors to Nebraska’s capital. The salty shrimp and crab on the Cancun Platter transport your taste buds to the playas of the Yucatan. The Guadalajara Special smothers steak with chilies and adds a deep-fried chicken burrito to help you absorb one of their mighty margaritas. If you’re simply in the mood for chips and queso or guac with a darn good burger, they’ve got American and Mexican styles sizzling gently on the grill.
It’s not native to Lincoln, but Blue Sushi Sake Grill is one of the best Japanese spots in the city. Munching on a starter of charred edamame is a great way to chew over the other delights on their menu. A plate of mango crab rangoon – cheesy, garlicky stuffed wontons – is a no-brainer and no one will have a problem vacuuming up the odd order of shishito peppers. The real conundrum comes when deciding between the cherry bomb nigiri, madai chimichurri sashimi, and shiitake to me maki rolls. Save time and brain cells and order all three.
The Normandy serves traditional French cuisine such as mussels and filet mignon to loyal regulars in Lincoln. As you fork your way through pomme duchesse, chicken a la creme, and fondant au chocolat, you’ll experience love at first bite. Swirl a glass of Chablis or Bordeaux and savor the deliciously sophisticated cuisine.
Nick Dauk contributed additional reporting to this article.