January 22, 2020

10 Must-Try Bellevue Restaurants

While Omaha’s culinary scene may get international attention,  the restaurant scene in Bellevue is nothing to scoff at. From top-contending burgers at Stella’s to impressive cuisine at Umami, Bellevue’s food scene runs the gamut from nice sit down to popular greasy spoons.

Bellevue, Nebraska has a surprising number of great restaurants. Check out 10 must-try restaurants in Bellevue, ranging from sushi and banh mi to gyros and burgers. #Bellevue #Nebraska #eatlocal #restaurants #Midwest #Midwestisbest

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, if you make a purchase after clicking on an affiliate link, I will receive a small compensation for referring you.

Where is Bellevue, Nebraska?

Bellevue, Neb., is a suburban city in southeastern Nebraska just to the south of Omaha. It’s considered part of the Omaha Metro area. Many people move to Bellevue when they get stationed at nearby Offutt Air Force Base.

Usually, when I venture to Bellevue, it’s to visit Fontenelle Forest or Bellevue Berry & Pumpkin Patch (though, if we want to be technical, Bellevue Berry & Pumpkin Patch actually in Papillion…but I digress).

Now, on to food!

Best restaurants to try in Bellevue, Neb.

Stella’s Bar & Grill

Where: 106 Galvin Road S, Bellevue, Neb.

Inside Stella's Bar & Grill in Bellevue, Nebraska, one of the city's most popular restaurants

Possibly the most famous Bellevue restaurant, Stella’s is known for its Stellanator challenge. Six patties and a ton of toppings invites people with big eyes for the challenge. If you finish the Stellanator and a side of fries within 45 minutes, it’s free and you win a T-shirt. Lose, and it costs $35.

Stella’s regular burgers are a treat. You can get a variety of toppings, such as peanut butter, jalapenos, fried egg and cheese. The eatery serves the burgers on napkins. It’s a fun outing for anyone, including families.

Tip: Be prepared for a short wait regardless of when you visit.

Burger and fries at Stella's Bar & Grill in Bellevue Nebraska
Photo courtesy Visit Omaha

Related post: Stella’s is one of the 15+ Quirky Restaurants in Omaha, thanks largely to its unique Stellanator.

Roma Italian Restaurant

Where: 605 Fort Crook Road N, Bellevue, Neb.

Entree at Roma Italian Restaurant, located on Fort Crook Road in Bellevue, Nebraska
Photo courtesy Tim Trudell

Located in a former Sizzler steakhouse on Fort Crook, Roma features classic Italian dishes, such as spaghetti and meatballs and chicken parmesan.

With outstanding appetizers and salads, Roma’s entree portions are large. You may want to consider splitting a dish.

Sinful Burger Sports Grill

Where: 4005 Twin Creek Drive, Bellevue, Neb.

Burger and fries at Sinful Burger, a restaurant in Bellevue, Nebraska
Photo courtesy Tim Trudell

With hearty-sized burgers fashioned after the seven deadly sins, Sinful Burger is an excellent spot to enjoy dinner and watch sports. The family-friendly restaurant also offers the Metro’s only authentic Indian taco, featuring handmade fry bread with taco toppings.

Sinful Burger closes on all major holidays, so employees can enjoy family time.

Lil Burro

Where: 12510 S. 29th Ave., Bellevue, Neb.

Entree at the Mexican restaurant Lil Burro in Bellevue
Photo courtesy Tim Trudell

Using fresh ingredients, including peppers grown in a garden behind the restaurant, Lil Burro’s menu features authentic dishes. From tacos and enchiladas to tamales and burritos, Lil Burro, with its colorful dining room and unique decor, is a popular eatery on Capehart Road, not far from Offutt Air Force Base.

Discover even more unique and quirky restaurants in the book “Unique Eats and Eateries of Omaha.” It’s written by two of my friends, Tim and Lisa Trudell (AKA, The Walking Tourists), and they’ve included and quite a few restaurants on this list, and several more. They provided several photos for this post, too.

Quick Bites Soul Food

Where: 105 W. Mission Ave., Bellevue, Neb.

From gizzards to catfish and po boys, the restaurant on Mission is the place to go for great soul and cajun food. With sides such as candied yams, collard greens, and red beans and rice, Quick Bites has been the place to dine since 2016.

Catfish Lake

Where: 16609 Clay St., Bellevue, Neb.

Catfish Lake entree
Photo courtesy Tim Trudell

Possibly the best spot in the Metro for catfish and other fish dinners, Catfish Lake relocated from its longtime home near Offutt following the 2019 flood to a spot in south Bellevue near LaPlatte.

Open since 1986, Catfish Lake also serves delicious fried chicken and burgers.

John’s Grecian Delight

Where: Inside Southroads Technology Park, 1001 Fort Crook Road N, Bellevue, Neb.

Gyro at John's Grecian Delight

Calling the Southroads home for nearly 40 years,  John’s Grecian Delight ranks among the best places in the Omaha area to enjoy a gyro and other traditional Greek cuisine. During Southroads’ heyday, people stood in line for an opportunity to taste John’s food.

Today, the clientele may be a little different, but the food remains outstanding.

Button to Omaha restaurants archive

Umami

Where: 1504 Galvin Road S, Bellevue, Neb.

Known for its delicious sushi, the popular Asian restaurant on Galvin Road attracts diners from around the area. Besides sushi, Umami’s menu includes Chinese and Thai entrees.

Related post: Umami has such a following, it’s one of the must-try restaurants in the state of Nebraska.

Netties Fine Mexican Food

Where: 7110 Railroad Ave., Bellevue, Neb.

A Bellevue staple since 1987, Netties continues to offer traditional Mexican fare. With its famous chili leading the way, Netties offers entrees such as enchilada and taco combinations. 

Note: Netties is closed Sunday and Monday.

The Banh Mi Shop

Where: 923 Galvin Road S suite 101, Bellevue, Neb.

Vietnamese-style sandwich at The Banh Mi Shop in Bellevue, Nebraska
Photo courtesy Tim Trudell

Just a couple of years old, The Banh Mi Shop on South Galvin Road quickly became popular for its Vietnamese-style sandwiches. With menu items such as shredded pork and cold cut sandwiches, The Banh Mi Shop’s menu features delicious and healthy options.

Tip: A second location of The Banh Mi Shop opened in 2019 at the Inner Rail Food Hall at Aksarben Village.

Bellevue Nebraska is known as being home to Offutt Air Force Base, but it also is home to several great locally-owned restaurants. Here's the scoop on great restaurants in Bellevue, including Stella's, known for having some of the best burgers in Nebraska, and Umami, a popular sushi restaurant. #Nebraska #dining #foodie

With a variety of restaurants to choose from in the Omaha area, Bellevue is home to some of the Metro’s best. So, don’t be surprised if the people at the table next to you drove a distance to enjoy their meal.

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December 26, 2019

10 Must-Try Nebraska Restaurants

Nebraska is known for many things, but a flourishing restaurant scene isn’t one of them. Yet. I’m here to make sure that changes. Here are some of my favorite Nebraska restaurants, as well as the top recommendations from fellow travel bloggers who know and love the state.

10 must-try Nebraska restaurants - From small towns cafes and steakhouses to gourmet restaurants in Omaha, here are the best and most memorable restaurants in Nebraska. #Nebraska #food #restaurants #foodie #travel #Midwest

Bean Broker Coffee House & Pub

Where: Chadron

Why: While this is technically more coffee shop than a restaurant, Bean Broker impressed me the moment I walked in. It’s got a wonderful atmosphere that makes you just want to linger.

The food options were what you could expect for a cafe in a bigger city. For Chadron, it was a pleasant surprise.

And the good coffee helped too.

Bean Broker was a true hidden gem in western Nebraska.

Tip: While you’re in Chadron, plan an afternoon to explore the oldest state park in Nebraska, Chadron State Park.

Block 16

Where: Omaha

Why: Don’t let the line out the door scare you away. Block 16 is worth the wait. I’m a creature of habit and always get the Croque garcon burger (mainly because I do anything Alton Brown tells me to do).

I know I’m missing out by not trying one of their creative sandwiches of the day. I can’t help it though. It’s an amazing burger.

Anyway, Block 16 also has fantastic fries (try the rangoon fries) and my kids are partial to their fried chicken.

Related post: Check out the 33+ other great restaurants I recommend you visit in Omaha!

Dante

Where: Omaha

Why: Dante, in West Omaha, brings wood-fired Neapolitan pizza and rustic Italian cuisine to a top-notch level. Chrysa from Thrifty Jinxy visited the restaurant recently and highly recommended it. (Kim’s note: I agree with her!)

Wood-fired pizza at Dante in Omaha, Nebraska
Photo courtesy Thrifty Jinxy

Owner and Chef Nick Strawhecker says his menu is inspired by the seasons and food that works well with wood. That means the ever-changing menu incorporates only ingredients that are at their prime, including fresh produce from local farmers whenever possible.

“Whatever is on the menu when you visit, you’ll find delicious pasta, inventive pizzas, amazing main courses and more. If it’s on the menu when you visit, I can’t tell you how delicious the wood-roasted beets and fried kale is – and this is coming from someone who doesn’t even like kale.”

The beverage menu contains only wines only from Italy and creative cocktails – also inspired by the seasons.  

The Green Gateau

Where: Lincoln

Why: This is the must-visit brunch spot in Lincoln. I suppose you could go for dinner, but I’ve never known anyone who has.

Exterior of The Green Gateau in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska

The Green Gateau is this charming restaurant in downtown Lincoln, with a varied menu that includes French cuisine and creative American standards. Being so close to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, my tip to you is to make a reservation.

Honest Abe’s

Where: Lincoln

Why: Honest Abe’s is a burger institution in the state. I almost always have to visit whenever I’m in Lincoln (I like the downtown location best – it’s within walking distance of Lincoln Children’s Museum).

Interior of Honest Abe's in Lincoln, Nebraska

When you go, be sure to go hungry, because the burgers are large, the fries are great, and you’d be missing out if you don’t at one of their handcrafted shakes. They even have boozy versions.

Mac’s Drive-In

Where: McCook

Why: For more than 75 years, Mac’s Drive-In has been serving old-fashioned fast food to the McCook area. Odyssey Through Nebraska recommends this restaurant.

Mac’s is known for Nebraska beef burgers as well as onion rings that are homemade daily. Besides their sandwiches and chickens, they have several salads on the menu. Plus ice cream – this location could almost qualify as a soda fountain too! 

Photo courtesy Odyssey Through Nebraska

While their food is fresh, their decor is retro. Being able to place orders via a table phone is a fun kind of nostalgia.

They are closed on Sundays and Mondays and major holidays. Every other day of the week, Mac’s continues with serving 1940s-style food to a modern generation.

Modern Love

Where: Omaha

Why: Modern Love brings New York City swankiness to the middle of the country. With a focus on elevated comfort food, you won’t walk away hungry at this 100% vegan restaurant. The portions are generous, and the plating is refined.

Snickers pie at Modern Love in Omaha, Nebraska
Photo courtesy Cadry’s Kitchen

Modern Love is owned by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, a well-known cookbook author. There’s a second location in Brooklyn, New York as well. It comes highly recommended by Cadry of Cadry’s Kitchen, a vegan travel blog.

The menu changes depending on the season. Keep an eye out for mac and shews (made with cashews), mushroom stroganoff with chickpea cutlets, and nachos. Whatever you do, don’t leave without getting dessert. The Snickers pie and raspberry cheesecake are exceptional.

Kearney, Nebraska best restaurants blog post

Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse & Lounge

Where: Paxton

Why: Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse and Lounge is an iconic Nebraska small-town tavern that opened up right after the Prohibition ended in the 1930s.

During the hunting season, this location was especially popular. The owner, Ole, was a hunter himself. More than 200 of his finest specimens are hung around the restaurant. This is why patrons can dine with both a polar bear and a giraffe looking on. 

Entrance to Ole's Big Game Steakhouse & Lounge in Paxton, Neb.
Photo courtesy Odyssey Through Nebraska

Since this restaurant has only had two owners, the menu has remained consistent.

Options are extensive, according to Gretchen at Odyssey Through Nebraska, who recommends this restaurant. For the casual diner, burgers, sandwiches, salads, and soups are available. Dinners include steaks, prime rib, fried chicken and their catch of the day.  Prices are quite affordable, and the portions are good size.

Located a few miles off of Interstate-80, Ole’s hours reflect its Rocky Mountain time zone status.

Sisters Cafe

Where: Plattsmouth

Why: I had to visit this restaurant a few years ago after reading a rave review about it in a Lincoln newspaper: “Sisters Café is, at its base, a small-town cafe. That’s part of its charm and why it’s unusual menu — and the success of that menu — is even more notable.” 

Rice soup at Sisters Cafe in Plattsmouth, Neb.

Sisters Café opened in 2014 by two sisters, Jit and Noopin, featuring a menu of Thai and German cuisine. Strange as that sounds, it worked. I stuck to trying just the Thai side of the menu during my visit. It was extraordinary!

Alas, things change (as they always do). The German menu is no longer available. Which I’m OK with since I loved the Thai food I had tried.

Umami

Where: Bellevue

Why: When people think of Nebraska food, they typically go straight for the beef (and for good reason). However, one restaurant is serving up an unlikely delicacy in the landlocked state: Umami in Bellevue. LeAnna at the Well-Traveled Nebraskan recommends it.

Sure, you might be skeptical of delicious sushi in Nebraska, considering the proximity to the seas, but you are in good hands with Master Chef Keen Zheng, who learned from the best of the best sushi chefs in NYC before heading to Nebraska.

As a meat-eater, LeAnna always thought she wouldn’t like sushi. If you are new to the scene, start out easy, like with a California or Philadelphia roll or even something battered and fried (tempura) and you might surprise yourself like she did. 

But, as someone who has now had sushi literally all over the world, LeAnna says you’d be doing yourself a disservice to at least not TRY some of the other specialties! It really is some of the best sushi in such an unsuspecting location!

Some other delightful surprises are the affordability and selections. The quality of food you’ll get at Umami would earn you a huge bill at other establishments (even IN nearby Omaha), but your bill won’t be insanely outrageous here. 

Also, not sure if your Cornhusker heart can handle the sushi? No problem! There’s also hibachi, teriyaki dinners, plenty of cooked noodle entrees and even Thai or Chinese options!

Planning a trip through Nebraska? You'll want to plan a few stops to try some of the best restaurants in Nebraska. Here are 10 places to eat in Nebraska, from small town steakhouse to wood-fired pizza and vegan cuisine in Omaha. #Nebraska #restaurants #restaurantguide #foodie #foodietravel #Midwest

Pair these adventures with your Nebraska restaurants

While you’re off exploring Nebraska’s food scene, you may want to plan a few activities in between. The state offers a wide variety of outdoor activities and festivals you’ll want to experience (especially in the summer).

I’m totally biased being a born-and-raised Nebraska girl, but I recommend you plan more than just driving through the state! Nebraska is a great state to explore with a lot to do. Here are my recommended 101 things to do in Nebraska.

December 8, 2019

Hotel In Downtown Minneapolis: Marquette Hotel

If you’re planning a weekend trip to Minneapolis, most likely, you have plans to head downtown. It’s home to great museums, pro sports stadiums, and theater venues, as well as popular restaurants. You’ll need a hotel in downtown Minneapolis that makes it convenient to get around. Here’s a review of one luxury hotel in downtown Minneapolis – The Marquette Hotel.

Disclosure: Our stay was hosted by Meet Minneapolis. All thoughts, opinions, and typos are my own. 

The beautiful lobby of The Marquette Hotel in downtown Minneapolis

My thoughts on the Marquette Hotel

The Marquette Hotel is part of the Hilton Curio line, a collection of hotels in historic buildings. It’s an exquisite hotel in the center of the busy city of Minneapolis.

The lobby is impressive, but I think the bigger draw of this hotel is its prime location. Located in the heart of downtown Minneapolis, those staying at the hotel can easily walk to great restaurants, entertainment venues, and public transportation.

My family of four stayed at the Marquette Hotel over Labor Day Weekend. Keep reading to see some of the fun Minneapolis places we visited using this hotel as our home base.

The rooms at the Marquette Hotel

One of the big appeals of the Marquette Hotel is the grand windows in rooms. The windows in our room spanned more than one wall.

Large windows in the Marquette Hotel Minneapolis guest room.

For a family of four, you’ll want to request a suite or at least a room with two queen beds. Our room had two full beds and it was a pretty tight fit – two adults would not be comfortable on one of those beds.

The rooms had a mini-fridge, which was convenient to chill our water bottles prior to bike rides each day. It’s great for leftovers, too.

Our room had a shower without a tub. It was fine with our kids, but if you prefer a bath before bed, you’ll want to reconsider this hotel.

About the hotel’s restaurants

The Jolliet House, a restaurant inside The Marquette Hotel in Minneapolis.

The hotel has two restaurants: The Marquette Lounge and The Jolliet House (which will soon reopen as Social House). The Marquette Lounge has a children’s menu.

We had breakfast at The Jolliett House but since it’s changing to the Social House, I’m not sure if my review still applies! When we were there, though, we got the breakfast buffet. If you are a Diamond member of Hilton’s rewards club, the buffet is complimentary. For everyone else, it is about $20 per person (including kids).

I would only recommend going here if you can get a free meal for being a rewards member.

Things we liked about the Marquette Hotel

Bike riding in Minneapolis

Hands down, the big draw is the hotel’s location. We could easily walk to restaurants and Walgreens to buy forgotten toiletries. The hotel is connected to a shopping center. Where there once was a Macy’s, there will soon be The Dayton’s Project with a food hall.

The closest stores to the hotel are Marshall’s, Saks Off Fifth, Target and smaller stores in IDS Center.

Let’s not forget that if you’re into sports, arena concerts or live theater, the hotel is also within walking distance of US Bank Stadium, the Target Center and Hennepin Theatre District.

One of the best restaurants we dined at in Minneapolis, Hell’s Kitchen, is two blocks away, which to me, is a huge perk.

The light rail and public buses are also a short walk from the hotel.

We wanted to bike on our trip, and we found it was around thanks to being a block away from Nicollet Avenue, where only bikes and buses can use. From there, it was less than a mile to the riverfront trail.

We brought out own bikes for the weekend, but we could’ve rented some from the hotel.

Things we’d change about the Marquette Hotel

Guest room at Marquette Hotel in downtown Minneapolis.

A big drawback for a traveling family is that this historic building does not have a pool. We had plans to play at a beach and thought it would not be a big deal to not have a pool, but it turned out to be too cool for beach time. A pool would’ve been nice.

I’d say this hotel is more suited for business travelers, romantic getaways or girlfriends trips. While the front desk loved to hand stickers to my kids, I wouldn’t call it a family hotel. Mine were the only kids we saw there.

Like any big city, paying for parking can be a bit shocking, and you’ll have to you’re your car somewhere if you’re staying in a hotel in downtown Minneapolis. Overnight parking at the Marquette Hotel was $30 a night, which needs to be factored in when looking at costs.

Looking for a hotel in downtown Minneapolis? Here's what to expect if you stay at Marquette Hotel, a Hilton Curio hotel located in an historic building. It's near a ton of restaurants, shops and things to do! #Minneapolis #Minnesota #Hotel

Plan a Minneapolis family trip

We’ve explored Minneapolis and St. Paul in the summer and the winter. Here are some more fun things to do and places to visit in the Twin Cities (and nearby):

A Perfect Weekend Itinerary For Minneapolis

Holiday Weekend In Minnesota 

Bakken Museum: A Minneapolis Hidden Gem

Ultimate Mall of America Guide – For Kids!

What Young Kids Like At Science Museum Of Minnesota

Christmas at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis

Where To Stay Near The Twin Cities

Roseville & Twin Cities Bucket List 

Like this post?

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December 3, 2019

10+ Must-Visit Iowa Restaurants

I’ve been planning trips to Iowa (and through Iowa) for years now. And there’s one thing I’m starting to see as a trend: Iowa doesn’t get the love it deserves for having amazing restaurant experiences. Time to set the record straight so you can plan your next road trip accordingly and visit a great restaurant.

I recruited some of my fellow travel bloggers to contribute their favorites to my list of the must-visit Iowa restaurants.

A food lover's guide to the best restaurants in Iowa. Midwest travel writers and locals share their favorite Iowa restaurants, and they offer suggestions on what to try there. #Iowa #Midwest #Restaurants #eatlocal

If you have a favorite restaurant in Iowa, leave a comment and let me know about it!

Eastern Iowa restaurants

The Mississippi River runs along the eastern side of Iowa, and the terrain is more unique (in my opinion) than the rest of the state. After you’re done exploring the outdoors, you’ll want some restaurant suggestions. Here are some eastern Iowa recommendations.

Menu and bread at Brazen, a farm-to-table restaurant in Dubuque, Iowa.
Photo courtesy Gastronom Blog

Brazen Open Kitchen

Where: Dubuque

Why you should go: Brazen Open Kitchen is a farm-to-table restaurant, with a constantly changing menu and a focus on using locally sourced and seasonal ingredients.

From their craft cocktails to their no-freezer focused kitchen, Brazen headed by Kevin Scharpf hits all the points of a top restaurant in Iowa.

Leah and Jay from Gatronom Blog were pleased by everything they ate at the two meals we had there.

They can’t tell you what to order, though, as the menu is constantly changing, but you won’t be unhappy with anything you order! 

Breitbach Restaurant

Where: Balltown

Why you should go: Cindy from Traveling Adventures of a Farm Girl discovered the amazing Brietbach restaurant when visiting the National Farm Toy Show. 

The restaurant is memorable for many reasons, she noted, including, the location. The scenery offers views of the Mississippi River and the Great River Road. 

Breitbach’s is a German restaurant and is said to be the oldest food and drinking establishment in Iowa.  Perched high on a hill in Balltown, the view was breathtaking. 

The Breitbach restaurant was opened by Jacob Breitbach, the great-great-grandfather of the present owner. Jacob worked for the original owner and purchased the tavern in 1862. Ever since this has been a family business and the current owners are the sixth generation.

The original building has suffered from two devastating fires, but the Breitbach family rebuilt both times and although not the original building, it is built on the foundation and the building is filled with old country charm and is decorated in turn of the century furniture. 

Breitbach’s makes everything fresh from scratch.  They are the winner of Iowa Pork Producers’ best breaded Pork Tenderloin 2012. Cindy loved the food and the view and said she celebrated her birthday in style (which ended with an amazing snicker pie)!

Fried Brussels sprouts, roasted ramen salad and miso soup dumplings at the vegetarian-friendly restaurant Dumpling Darling in Iowa City.
Photo courtesy Cadry’s Kitchen

Dumpling Darling

Where: Iowa City

Why you should go: Dumpling Darling is a woman-owned restaurant in Iowa City. They started as a stall at the farmers market, and now they have a standalone restaurant in downtown.

It’s a casual, order-at-the-counter type place with indoor & outdoor seating. Great for people-watching in the summer, according to Cadry at Cadry’s Kitchen.

Over half of their menu is vegan or vegetarian. They’re always introducing new creative vegan specials like buffalo cauliflower dumplings or peach pie dessert dumplings.

On their regular menu, don’t miss the miso soup dumplings, chipotle tofu dumplings, roasted ramen salad, and fried Brussels sprouts in Korean BBQ sauce.

Luna Valley Farm in Decorah, Iowa has an outdoor wood-fire pizza oven.

Luna Valley Farm

Where: Decorah

Why you should go: Dining at Luna Valley Farm was one of the most unique experiences I’ve had in Iowa. This is a working farm, but on the weekends in the summer, the owners serve up pizza, beer and good times (in the form of live music).

I went with my sister and friend, and together we delicious wood-fire pizza alongside some local beer. You can’t go wrong with any of the toppings – a lot of the ingredients are grown or raised on the farm.

Even with a bit of rain, the atmosphere and crowd attitude was joyful. How could you not be with lights strung up and a band playing?

Tip: It’s off the beaten track, and you’ll make a trek from your car to the barn with the food, so wear comfortable shoes!

Ox Yoke Inn, a family favorite restaurant in Amana, Iowa, known for family-style meals.

Ox Yoke Inn

Where: Amana

Why you should go: Amana is the largest town in the famous Amana Colonies and its home to the “Big 3” of popular Amana restaurants. Each is known for large, hearty family-style meals.

Of the three, Ox Yoke Inn was the standout for me for food and service. You’ll want to get the fried chicken. I also recommend not passing on the homemade strawberry jam.

Northern Iowa restaurants

Northern Iowa is home to remarkable small towns and beautiful great lakes. And, lucky you, there are also some great north Iowa restaurants.

Exterior of Central Perk Coffee Shop in Estherville, Iowa
Photo courtesy Thrifty Jinxy

Central Perk Coffee House

Where: Estherville

Why you should go: Central Perk Coffee House is the kind of coffee shop you wished you had in your own town, according to Thrifty Jinxy. Not only do they have amazing coffee, but they also make hand-crafted smoothies, shakes, and Italian sodas.

What really stands out is their fabulous lunch menu with unique sandwiches and delicious salads. You can try both with their “pick two” option. (Try the Berry Salad – you won’t regret it!)

You can enjoy all this in their artfully decorated space with a heavy emphasis on wood and cozy spaces to enjoy your meal and/or chat with friends. 

Greek-style flies mignon at Northwestern Steakhouse in Mason City, Iowa.
Photo courtesy Wherever I May Roam

Northwestern Steakhouse

Where: Mason City

Why you should go: When you are ready to try one of the best steaks of your life, Melody from Wherever I May Roam recommends to go to Mason City, Iowa, and come hungry! Sink your teeth into a delicious Greek-style filet mignon, which is served swimming in its own natural juices.

Pair your perfect piece of meat with a side of Greek spaghetti, flavored by the steak juices, plenty of butter, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese.

The menu is small and the inside is dated, but you’ll never have a better meal than from this 1920 Iowa institution! 

Menu and chips and salsa at Tequila's Mexican Bar & Grill in Northwood, Iowa.
Photo courtesy Flint & Co.

Tequila’s Mexican Bar & Grill

Where: Northwood

Why you should go: Located in a small town in northern Iowa, you’ll find one of the best Mexican restaurants in the whole state: Tequila’s Mexican Bar & Grill. And it’s locally-owned and -operated, to boot.

Mexican food in America is a finicky thing. Some people want TexMex while others want traditional Mexican food. Katy from Flint & Co. said Tequila’s has managed to find a happy balance.

Katy noted that the food is piping hot and fresh with large portions. She recommends going for the chicken nachos.    

While the food is amazingly delicious, the service is just as good, she told me.

Central Iowa restaurants

Central Iowa is home to Iowa’s capital city, Des Moines, as well as quite a few excellent restaurants.

Crab rangoon pizza slice at Fong's Pizza.

Fong’s Pizza

Where: Des Moines

Why you should go: If time allows, Des Moines is always a pit stop for us on any Iowa road trip, and Fong’s Pizza is where we head. There are several locations, but I recommend the downtown Des Moines location for max kitschiness.

When there, I cannot emphasize enough that you need to order a crab rangoon pizza. And if you’re of age, get one of their fun tiki drinks.

Honorable mention for Des Moines: If I don’t feel like eating pizza in Des Moines, my next go-to is Zombie Burger. It’s another favorite of mine.

The decor alone would be reason enough to visit (especially the east end location). The food, though, is superb and creative.

Dessert at the Machine Shed in Urbandale, Iowa.

Machine Shed

Where: Urbandale (there’s also a location in Davenport)

Why you should go: A reader also reminded me of a restaurant near Des Moines that should be on the list (and I agree with him on this): Machine Shed.

We had dinner at this huge restaurant one our Great Iowa Road Trip, and the decor and huge servings were all memorable. Try, try try to save room for dessert.

Good luck with that!

Western Iowa restaurants

Western Iowa is known for the trails through the beautiful Loess Hills and its connection to Lewis & Clark. And now, as you’ll learn, it’s known for some great restaurants, too!

Steak at the Le Mars, Iowa supper club, Archie's Waeside.
Photo courtesy Olio in Iowa

Archie’s Waeside

Where: Le Mars

Why you should go: Located in Le Mars, Iowa—the self-proclaimed “Ice Cream Capital of the World”—Archie’s Waeside is a classic supper club and steakhouse with a cult-like following, according to Megan at Olio in Iowa.

Opened in 1949 by Archie Jackson, the supper club was once just a roadhouse with a carry-out window and two small booths. Today it is a full-service steakhouse complete with classic cocktails, an impressive relish tray, and melt-in-your-mouth steaks.

Be sure to arrive early! On any given weekend night, a crowd begins forming outside of Archie’s Waeside in anticipation of its 4:30 p.m. opening.

Archie’s Waeside isn’t just about comfort food. The restaurant has received some notable culinary honors. In 2015, Archie’s Waeside was awarded the James Beard Foundation’s American Classics Award. 

The pork tenderloin at Larsen's Pub in Elk Horn, Iowa, voted "Best Tenderloin in Iowa."
Photo courtesy HodgePodge Hippie

Larsen’s Pub

Where: Elk Horn

Why you should go: From the moment that you walk into Larsen’s Pub, you know that this is the place to eat, Thena at HodgePodge Hippie tells me. With pork tenderloins the size of your head, there is no way that you’re going home hungry.

Their pork tenderloins huge, and they’ve also been voted “Best Tenderloin in Iowa,” as well. And if you’re a lover of sides, like Thena is, you don’t want to miss out on their fries and potato salad.

This ambiance in this pub is one that will have you coming back time and time again.

Goat milk gelato at Stanley's Snack Shack in Honey Creek, Iowa.

Stanley’s Snack Shack

Where: Honey Creek

Why you should go: Quite literally, Stanley’s is a shack in the middle of a field. And it’s worth a trip to visit!

Stanley’s opened after the success of the goat’s milk gelato the Honey Creek Creamery had been selling at farmer’s markets. Now you can go straight to the source for the gelato. While they sell burgers, I’ve only ever wanted the gelato.

When we visited, they had a few goats nearby to meet. We had quite an experience there – one of the employees came out to greet us and show us how to milk one of them.

Tip: The little goats that wander around the goat yoga mats at Honey Creek Creamery grow up to be the very goats you meet at Stanley’s. The creamery is a stop on the Pottawattamie County trail called What In The World?: On the Trail For Stranger Things.

From steakhouses to snack shacks and supper clubs, this list has the best restaurants in Iowa. Restaurants are include some found in Des Moines, Iowa City, Decorah, Le Mars and many more. #Iowa #USA #restaurants #dinner

Now what?

If this post made you hungry enough to explore the whole state, start planning a trip! Get inspired for some fun between restaurants stops with this post sharing 101 Things To Do In Iowa.

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November 18, 2019

7 Must-Try Restaurants In Kearney, Nebraska

Nestled smack-dab in the middle of Nebraska, the city of Kearney is a fun option for a weekend trip with the family. Complete with museums of all kinds, surprising outdoor recreation options, plenty of arts and entertainment, and some really fantastic restaurants in Kearney, it’s a wonderful option for a memorable getaway that won’t break the bank. 

Things to know about Kearney, Nebraska

Born from the westward push of the railroad after the civil war, Kearney has grown into a thriving college town, providing a home for the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK).

Its main claim to fame, however, is its status as the “Sandhill Crane Capital of the World.” Each year, over 600,000 Sandhill Cranes stop near Kearney to “fuel up” and rest during their migration north. Over 40,000 people — including famed anthropologist Jane Goodall — visit the Kearney area each year in March and early April. 

Now, of course, all of this is interesting, but the BIG question remains: Where do all of these tourists eat when visiting Kearney, Nebraska? 

Kearney, Nebraska is known as the Sandhill Crane Capital of the world. If you're planning a trip to view the crane migration, here are a few restaurants you'll want to visit! #Kearney #Nebraska #Midwest

Must-try (and family-friendly) restaurants in Kearney, Nebraska

Well, just stick with me, and we’ll focus on some locally-owned, family-friendly restaurants that add value and an all-round good time to your next family getaway! 

Daylight Donuts

A beloved Kearney tradition, Daylight Donuts has been churning out fresh, tasty, unbeatable donuts for as long as I can remember. With crunchy-sweet old fashioned donuts, bear claws as big as a toddler’s head, and satisfyingly-good coffee you don’t always find small donut shops, it really is the perfect way to start a day of exploring Kearney.

A variety of donuts from Daylight Donuts in Kearney, Nebraska.
Photo courtesy Visit Kearney

Like many classic donut shops, Daylight Donuts is open only in the morning — from 3 a.m. to noon, so it’s important to get there early for the best selection! 

It’s important to note that they have a wide selection of non-coffee drinks like chocolate milk and juice for the kiddos. My favorite recommendation actually isn’t a sweet one — their “gravy wrap” is a decadent concoction of flaky dough and sausage gravy, and I’d probably eat one every day if I could! 

Related post: 14 Great Places To Get Donuts In Nebraska

Barista’s Daily Grind

Another well-loved, always-bustling breakfast option is Barista’s Daily Grind. A Kearney staple since the 90s, you can trust you’ll find a decadent drink, fresh-baked goodies, and even a few savory options to get you through your morning. 

Interior of the Barista's Daily Grind in Kearney, Nebraska.
Photo courtesy Visit Kearney

Across the street from UNK, this Kearney coffee shop is full of patrons from the university — both students and professors alike — and its constant traffic means it’s not the quietest place during peak caffeination hours. This means you can bring headphones if you need to get some work done, but it also means you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing you can take the kids there without feeling like you’re disturbing someone.

I highly recommend the dirty chai latte! It’s creamy, not too sweet, and served by some seriously friendly baristas. 

A latte at Barista's Daily Grind in Kearney, Nebraska.
Photo courtesy Visit Kearney

A smaller south location can be found on Second Avenue — the “main drag” — and provides a slightly smaller selection of the offerings found at the main store. 

Komal Mexican Taqueria

This Kearney restaurant is one of my favorite gems — ranging from options that satisfy picky kids who only eat beige-colored food, to incredibly flavorful, authentic Mexican fare that will feed your whole family quickly and affordably. 

Sandwich at Komal Mexican Taquaria in Kearney, Nebraska.
Photo courtesy Visit Kearney

Tacos, burritos, nachos, tortas, quesadillas, some of the most delicious guacamole you’ll ever eat, and a fantastic salsa bar all come together to make everyone happy in a welcoming atmosphere. Though I’m not vegetarian, I love getting the nachos with guacamole instead of meat, and asking for the chips on the side.

With homemade agua fresca, horchata, and flan, it’s an all-around, honest-to-goodness meal that will keep even the pickiest eaters satisfied until dinner. 

Cunninghams Journal

You’ll find that a lot of restaurants in Kearney serve up the delicious, deep-fried menu options you’d expect in a smaller city, but Cunninghams Journal manages to turn your typical “bar food” into something special. 

Exterior of Cunninghams Journal, a pub restaurant in Kearney, Nebraska.
Photo courtesy Visit Kearney

Big, fat, juicy burgers, salty fries, and deep-fried pickles are well-made bar staples, but their menu of varying skewer baskets shine for people who are looking for something a little different (not to mention keto and gluten free-friendly, if that’s something you need). Tender chunks of sirloin steak and grilled shrimp are wrapped in bacon, served over grilled vegetables, and brought out with a unique “bistro sauce” to round it all out.

They also have pizza and wings on the menu, meaning my picky kids have options.

Pro Tip: If you’re looking for a chicken nugget option, ask for boneless wings without sauce. 

There are two locations: the original in downtown Kearney, and a newer one right off the interstate, going by the name “Cunninghams on the Lake.”  

Kyoto

Kyoto is a relatively new restaurant in Kearney, and adds a local, friendly vibe to your typical hibachi experience.

Chef at a grill at Kyoto in Kearney, Nebraska.
Photo courtesy Visit Kearney

What I love the most about Kyoto is that you can enjoy the spectacle of talented chefs tossing shrimp into peoples’ mouths and lighting onion volcanoes on fire, or you can simply dine in and order from the menu.

Or you can sit at the sushi bar and watch all of the sushi getting made.

Or you can enjoy a drink at the well-stocked bar and watch the game.

Or you can simply stop in to get a bowl of rolled ice cream without even having to stop for dinner. 

Sushi tray at Kyoto in Kearney, Nebraska.
Photo courtesy Visit Kearney

The big bonus? They have a kids menu, so if you’re craving sushi and the kids need french fries, everyone can be happy. 

Thunderhead Brewing Co.

Located “on the bricks” — a title that simply refers to the original downtown area with old-fashioned brick streets — Thunderhead Brewing sports a big, beautiful stone oven for pizzas, calzones, and soft pretzels, as well as super-melty mozzarella cheese bread. 

Pizza at Thunderhead Brewing Co. in downtown Kearney, Nebraska.
Photo courtesy Visit Kearney

While it is a bar, this Kearney brewpub is still a favorite local place for families to gather and enjoy some really awesome stone oven pizza. Little kids might get bored and antsy, but the pretzels come out fast enough to distract them while they wait for the rest of their meal.

The beers are brewed in a nearby town, and are time-tested and well-loved. In fact, Thunderhead has recently opened tap houses in downtown and west Omaha, if you’d like to give their craft brews a try. The only location that serves food, however, is in Kearney. 

I practically insist that, if you’re not afraid of jalapeno peppers, you try the Thunder Pie. It’s a pizza with an alfredo sauce base, shredded chicken, bacon, and jalapenos. Ask for a side of ranch and you’re in pizza heaven! 

Ktown Cakery

Wondering about dessert in Kearney? Look no further than Ktown Cakery, another stop on the bricks. Decadent bars, cupcakes, cake balls, cookies, call-ahead full-sized cakes, and even ice cream from the UNL Dairy Store await you in this adorable little shop on Central Avenue.

Macaroons at Ktown Cakery in Kearney, Nebraska
Photo courtesy Visit Kearney

The staff is friendly, and there are a couple of tables available to sit and enjoy your treats with the family. 

Ktown Cakery supplies a handful of local businesses with sweet treats (you can find their cookies at the aforementioned Barista’s Daily Grind), so don’t be surprised if you see their goodies at multiple places! 

The location is quite small, however, so if you’re traveling with a big group it might be a better idea to call ahead and order some treats to take to your hotel room or a nearby park.  

Family fun and fantastic restaurants in Kearney, Nebraska

Kearney is certainly smaller than Lincoln or Omaha, but don’t let that scare you! With culture, history, recreation, and unforgettable food, this lively college town in the middle of the state might just surprise you! 

Thinking of exploring more of Nebraska? Read 101 Things To Do In Nebraska for inspiration!

Planning a trip to see the Sandhill crane migration? You're going to need a place to eat while there. Here's a local's guide to the best restaurants in Kearney, Nebraska - each are family-friendly, too. #Nebraska #Restaurants #Midwest #local

About the guest blogger

Lauren Bonk, owner of the Curtain and Pen, hails from Kearney, Neb., where she works as a freelance copywriter for small businesses, startups, and even larger corporate entities in need of professionally-written marketing content for their businesses and organizations.

With a background in both Theatre and English, Lauren loves to help companies find a voice, fine-tune it, and authentically utilize it in written collateral like blog posts, website copy, and social media content.

You can typically find Lauren drinking coffee, listening to music that’s probably a little too loud, and daydreaming about drinking more coffee the next morning.

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November 5, 2019

Ultimate Winter Guide To Mahoney State Park

I love Eugene T. Mahoney State Park, but I’m most familiar with the park in the summer. However, we’ve started visiting on unseasonably warm winter days and discovered a whole other side to the park. We enjoyed it so much, I decided to share my tips for visiting Mahoney State Park in the winter.

Should you spend a day at Mahoney State Park in Nebraska...or a weekend? Here's a guide to winter at Mahoney State Park - with tips on things to do at the park (both indoors and outdoors), where to stay, and what kids will like. #Nebraska #statepark #outdoors #winter #guide #USA #Midwest

Turns out, it’s worth a visit during the winter, especially with kids.

Note: There is construction at Mahoney State Park right now that’s slated to last until fall 2020. The Walter Scott Jr. Observation Tower and surrounding trails at park are closed temporarily to accommodate the painting of the tower and Riverview Event Center construction project. The tower and trails will reopen at completion of the construction projects.

Where is Mahoney State Park?

Mahoney State Park is located in southeastern Nebraska along Interstate 80, about midway between the state’s two largest cities, Omaha and Lincoln. It’s roughly 30 miles from each city (give or take).

Take exit 426 off of Interstate 80 to get to the park. That exit happens to get you to a variety of fun family destinations in the winter. Two I recommend would be the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum and the indoor education center at Schramm Park.

Day trip or overnight trip to Mahoney?

Living in Omaha, Mahoney State Park is almost always a day trip for us. However, we have made whole weekends of a visit, and I recommend trying it at least once…but plan ahead.

Mahoney State Park has notoriously popular cabins, making it difficult to book a cabin on a summer weekend unless you plan a year in advance.

Mahoney State Park Cabin in the winter.

Booking a cabin in the winter is a different story. Non-peak season cabins are easier to come by, and cheaper too. Look for non-holiday weekends for your best (and discounted) options.

It’s worth noting that Mahoney State Park also has a lodge. The rooms at the lodge are much cheaper than a cabin. It’s similar to staying at a hotel, but staying at one without a pool.

Indoor winter activities at Mahoney

First, the indoor stuff. This is my favorite since I hate being cold. Luckily, Mahoney has a few very good indoor options for active families.

Activity Center

One must-visit place is the Activity Center. If you’ve never been, you’re going to won why you hadn’t been here sooner with the kids.

The best place to go with young kids at Mahoney State Park: The indoor activity center.

For $2 each (FREE for kids 2 and younger), you get endless play on their indoor playground. It’s pretty sweet, even for a grown up. Don’t be shy, put down your smart phone and get in there and play with your kids. 

The Activity Center also has an outdoor ice rink, with a $3 skate rental fee. If it’s fairly warm, part of that rink melts (duh), as was the case on the day we visited. 

We returned another month and managed to make our shaky way around the rink.

Ice skating at Mahoney State Park

The newest addition my family has loved at the Activity Center is the indoor wall climbing. It’s a pretty affordable, all-day activity. Buy the wristbands and have access to climb for the entire day.

The cost is $11 for adults and and $10 for children ages 12 and younger.

Things to do indoors at Mahoney State Park - Indoor wall climbing

There is food available for purchase at the Activity Center, like pizza, hot dogs and nachos. You’re not supposed to bring in outside food or drinks. *supposed to*

The Activity Center’s winter hours in 2019-2020 are from September to May. It’s open:

  • -Monday, Thursday & Friday: 4 to 8 p.m.
  • – Saturday: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • – Sunday: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • – Tuesday & Wednesday: CLOSED

Mahoney State Park conservatory

Not a far walk from the Activity Center is the conservatory/greenhouse.

Inside the small conservatory at Mahoney State Park

This is a great place for a quick warmup if it’s particularly freezing outdoors. It’s like 150 degrees in there. It’s small but there’s a lot to look at, including a fish pond.

In a separate room, there are a couple aquariums featuring native Nebraskan animals, like snakes and a turtle. The kids liked looking at them.

Two other indoor options I can’t vouch much for since we tend to do more active things while we’re there:

  • – The park has moved the arts and crafts center over to the marina. You can paint ceramics, work with leather, and do all sorts of other crafts for a nominal fee.
  • – The park offers live theater with family-friendly fare year-round. See which melodrama is playing and buy tickets here.

What to do outdoors at Mahoney State Park in the winter

A big outdoor draw at the park is the toboggan run. It has been relocated in the past year, so if you used to go here, know that the sledding hill is now by the Activity Center.

The toboggan run at Mahoney State Park is a pretty nice, long hill but not too steep. I like that it was far enough away from trees that I could relax.

This is a FREE activity, just bring your sleds.

Another FREE activity is hiking around the park. While I prefer my hikes when I can feel my fingers, trails are still open at Mahoney in the winter.

Exploring the easy-to-hike trails near the lookout tower. If you time it right, you can catch a nice view of passing trains.

Just be warned, Mahoney isn’t the best place for hikes in this part of Nebraska. There aren’t a lot of trails at this park.

But, then again, it’s not like you want to hike very far with young children in the middle of a Nebraska winter.

Or do you?

Anyway.

My kids slept 12 hours straight after our visit to Mahoney in the winter. I’m sold on visiting parks in the winter now.

We're smiling because we know these two monkeys are going to sleep well tonight.

My kids loved the Activity Center so much, I’d even make the drive out to Mahoney just for that. I bet you will be driving home with some tired kiddos after visiting the Activity Center, too.

Special events at Mahoney

I recommend checking the Nebraska Game & Parks calendar before planning your visit. You may be able to time a winter visit to coincide with a memorable holiday event or family-friendly event.

One year, we visited the park when they had ice fishing for children. The park already made the holes in the ice and provided the fishing gear for the kids.

More about Mahoney State Park

Where: Eugene T. Mahoney State Park, 28500 West Park Highway, Ashland, Nebraska

Cost: You need a valid Nebraska State Park annual pass or you can pay a daily admission per vehicle. Annual permits are now $30. A day pass is $6.

Ice Rink conditions(402) 944-2523, Ext. 7122

Mahoney State Park is one of Nebraska's most-visited parks. See what there is to do at Mahoney in the winter, from ice fishing and sledding to indoor wall climbing and a huge activity center. #Nebraska #statepark #winter #winterfun #Midwest

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