I’m pleased to welcome back OmahaHa! contributor Jessica. You may recall her earlier posts Costco Cocktails … The Slightly Bitter Omaha Housewife and Let’s talk politics. Today, she takes on the role she plays best: Your Food Spirit Guide. Follow her now as she takes you through Omaha’s great Happy Hours. (In case anything has changed since publication, we recommend taking a minute to verify happy hour details with the establishment before heading out.)
Did you revel in the amorous spirit of Valentine’s Day, joyfully crafting paper hearts and spoiling your waistline in the very best most chocolatey way, wistfully thankful that once a year, people are reminded to love one another? Or did you face this week with bitter disdain, picking through the ‘Troubled Relationships’ section at Hallmark while grumbling about the commercialism and forced affection this dreaded day brings? Maybe you found yourself somewhere in the middle, warmed by the sentiment of the holiday and willing to comply with the societal expectations, because, after all, you DO love those special people in your life and it’s nice to say so.
I’m with you. Usually. But this Valentine’s Day, I felt compelled to make a big sappy declaration of love. I’m deeply, madly, completely in love … with happy hour. You may know I’m fond of the drink, but my affection for consumables doesn’t end there. I’m also incredibly enamored with great food. Offer the two at a bargain, and I’m completely smitten.
And because also I adore you, dear readers, I want to introduce you to seven of my favorite Omaha happy hour haunts. And please note, while some of the city’s gastronomic elite are wowing patrons with stylish refinement and serving up seaweed foam and pink peppercorn coulis, this list is absent of any pretentious, fussy nonsense. These restaurants are just simply doing it right in the most straightforward of terms: pleasant service, well-made cocktails, and exceptional food offered at an appealing value.
Omaha Happy Hours by OmahaHa!
Zurlo’s Bistro Italiano
13110 Birch Drive, Suite 100
Happy Hour Monday through Saturday, 3-6 pm in the bar and patio areas only
Live music on Thursdays
$3 house wines, Bud Light draws; $4 sangrias, margaritas, Bellinis, well drinks; $5 martinis
$5 Tomato Bruschetta, Trio Spread, Cheesy Crostini; $6 Calamari; $7 Portabella Caprese, Mussels, Meat or Cheese Plate, Beef Carpaccio, Eggplant Rollatini; $8 Seared Tuna, Shrimp Scampi Bruschetta, Salmon Crostini; Brick Oven Pizzas $6-8
Sitting humbly at the end of a nondescript Northwest Omaha strip mall — neighbor to a closed cigar bar and an empty Borders building — lies a local treasure (cue Rhianna, “… we found love in a hopeless place … .”). In the space once home to Bianco, you’ll find Zurlo’s. Though most of Bianco’s ultra-modern décor remains — with the bright orange accents now a pleasant, fresh green — the atmosphere seems to have shifted from brisk and trendy, to confident and welcoming. The environment lends itself as easily to an intimate date night as to a boisterous birthday gathering of neighborhood regulars.
As he works his way through the lounge, greeting guests as old friends, Owner and Head Chef Enzo Zurlo’s spirit and passion are as evident in his manner as in his menu. Zurlo’s is serving thoughtful, highly craveable, well-executed Italian favorites with a clean, contemporary edge. For a delightfully decadent departure from traditionally light happy hour bites, try the Eggplant Rollatini and a glass of wine. It’s a $10 ticket to Italy, friends. Take the trip.
Stokes Grill & Bar
13615 California Street
Stokes Old Market
12th and Howard
Happy hour daily 3-6 pm and 9 pm to close
$3 house wine; $3 margaritas; additional daily drink specials throughout the week
$2 Bahn Mi Meatball Sliders; $3 Bacon Tacos; $4 Flatbread; $5 Cowboy Dip
Stokes’ creative and flavorful twists on southwestern cuisine have earned it a solid spot among locals, many of whom recently made the migration to their new West O digs. While the floppy booth pillows and fire-kissed, familiar fare successfully made the move, the new location seems to lack the warmth and intimacy prevalent at both the Old Market and now-closed Miracle Hills locations.
The high ceilings and large, expansive space of the new California Street restaurant make for a noisy, albeit generally fun and jovial experience. On the upside, the larger space offers a greater possibility you’ll snag a seat for happy hour, which is available not only at the bar, but throughout the dining room. Though the discounted appetizer offerings are certainly good, I must recommend – nay, inisist – that you roll your cheap drink savings into the full-priced (and worth every penny) Black Bean and Sweet Corn Taquitos, which are sprinkled with perfectly salty cotija cheese crumbles, a smoky red chipotle salsa and slightly milder jalapeno-verde salsa. Oh. Lawwwd.
Kona Grill Village Pointe
295 N. 170th Street
Happy hour Monday-Friday, 3-7 pm; Monday-Thursday, 9-11 pm; Friday-Saturday, 10pm-midnight; Saturday, 1-5 pm; all day Sunday, bar, lounge, and patio areas only
$3-4 margaritas; $3-4.50 beer and wine; $4.50 cosmo; $7 sake bombers
Half Price Select Sushi, Potstickers, Sweet and Spicy Shrimp, Flatbreads, Avocado Egg Rolls, and Chicken Satay; $6 Calamari, Mini Cheeseburgers, Chicken and Shrimp Lettuce Wraps, and Tacos
Circling, lurking, scoping, scheming, hovering, flirting, begging, bribing, sighing, retreating aaaand repeating! Whew! What in the world could possibly warrant such aggravation? What could motivate someone to go to such ridiculous lengths and exhibit such desperate behavior? A patio table at Kona during happy hour.
The only national chain to make this list, Kona Grill is easily one of Omaha’s hottest happy hour spots deserving of mention here because as arduous as it may be to snag a seat here, it IS worth the effort. The broad spectrum of menu offerings promises something for every palate and mood, from fiery shrimp rolls to crisp margarita flatbread pizza with tangy balsamic drizzle. Well-developed dishes and bright, vibrant flavors compliment the lively climate. If you should find yourself lucky enough to have secured a seat here, be sure to sample the avocado egg rolls. And as your server delivers the check, go ahead and accept the bribe from that lurker around the corner.
Jams Bar and Grill
7814 Dodge Street
Happy hour Monday-Friday, 4:30-6, bartop seating only
$3-3.50 beer; $4 cocktail; $5 wines, martinis and specialty cocktails
$5 Ricotta Dumplings, Pizzettes, Onion Rings, Chicken Lettuce Wraps, Pork Potstickers, Grilled Mushrooms; $6 Baked Scampi, Crab Cakes and Shrimp Tostada
Normally, the prospect of a happy hour with seating limited strictly to the bar top is discouraging. Conversation, eye contact, facial expression, it’s all lost as patrons are lined up side-by-side like uncomfortable winos at a Woolworth’s lunch counter. So it’s generally to be avoided. There is one worthy exception: Jams.
Another strip mall jewel offering a contemporary twist on classic flavors, Jams has been pleasing Omaha foodies for more than 20 years. Serving up an eclectic menu ranging from ‘The Salad Formerly known as Dave’s’ to Short Rib Tacos with Poblano Mac and Cheese in a charmingly vibrant setting, it’s easy to understand why so many are drawn to this friendly, bustling place. What truly sets them apart from other area hot spots, however, is simple: consistently excellent food with consistently excellent service. Your food – whether during the busy lunch hour, served up at the bar after work with a cocktail, or during dinner service – will always arrive expertly prepared, beautifully plated, and promptly delivered by a gracious, attentive server who’s been there for years.
So, as you lean forward, then back, then forward on your bar stool, attempting to catch your three-spots-down friend’s attention, mouthing in exaggerated fashion that the Agave Shrimp Tostada is sooo perfectly delicious, it’s clear that despite the awkward seating, she is grinning and nodding back, because hers is sooo perfectly delicious, too. As always.
Roja Mexican Grill + Margarita Bar
17010 Wright Street
1212 Harney Street
Happy hour Monday-Saturday, 4-6:30 pm; and Friday-Saturday, 10 pm to midnight, bar area only
$2 Coors or Red Stripe; $2.50 Pacifico; $3 house lime margaritas and house wines
$2.50-3 Tacos; $3 Guacamole or Chile Con Queso; $3.50 Chicken Taquitos or Cheese Quesadillas; $4 Pork Flautas; $5 Nachos; $7 Shrimp and Crab Tostadas
Roja, sister to Flagship Group’s other popular, locally owned restaurants Red Lounge, Blue Sushi, and Blatt Beer and Table, serves up Tex-Mex with a festive flair. The backdrop is bold. Sleek fixtures stand out against dramatic ruddy hues and play host to fun features: A water channel cuts through the dining room and a long fire pit warms the seasonal open-air patio.
Dim spot in an otherwise bright spot to dine? Service is spotty. Fortunately, the good eats will likely distract you from any less-than-attentive wait staff. Accessorize your complimentary chips and salsa with an order of their delectable guacamole (among the best … nearly as good as Chipotle’s … but that’s another post), add a fish taco, and wash all of the deliciousness down with a house margarita for little more than a Hamilton. That’s a 10 spot. It’s not all about the Benjamins after all. If you’re inclined to spend more, be sure to splurge on the Mexican Cactus Salad, it’s ahhh-mazing. Now if only the live mariachi band would return … their appearances are missed, strolling across the suspended catwalk, delighting diners with their spirited serenade.
Lazlo’s Brewery and Grill
2425 S. 192nd Avenue
Happy hour Monday-Friday 3-7 pm, bar and patio only
$2 off Empyrean pints and big dippers; $2 off classic margarita; $1 off cocktails and wine
Half Price Onion Rings, Pub Sliders, Spinach and Artichoke Dip, Southwest Egg Rolls, and Naked Nachos
Born in Lincoln’s Haymarket District more than two decades ago, Lazlo’s boasts being Nebraska’s first brewpub – and many would argue, the state’s best. Award-winning beer, creative yet approachable made-from-scratch food, and an inspiring company philosophy come together to ensure Lazlo’s continued popularity and success. Try the beer-battered onion rings with a glass of Third Stone Brown, or steer just south of the happy hour fare and share Lazlo’s famous Lahvosh with friends (or take an order to-go and savor the crisp, melty goodness alone at home, in the privacy of your own Slanket…no one’s judging you, we’re all friends here).
6064 Maple Street
Ladies Night Thursday 5 pm-close
$3 sangria; $4.50 sangrita; $5 martinis, $6 mojitos
12 hot and cold tapas menu favorites discounted $4.50-7.75
Meet Benson’s most seductive resident: España. Her dark, sultry ambiance beckons you. Her laid-back, unhurried pace invites you to linger a bit longer over glasses of fruit-spiked Sangria. Unpretentious and warm, with España plays the perfect host to your next outing.
And on Thursday nights, 12 of their most popular Spanish tapas – #7 Ensalada de Verduras a la Parrilla is outstanding — are offered at reduced prices, along with drink specials. With popular neighbors like The Pizza Shoppe nearby, street parking is snapped up quickly, so plan to arrive early — and perhaps plan to stay late as well, as minutes then hours tend to slip away, as you’re lost in España’s distinctively cozy surroundings and enchanted by her luscious offerings.
So friends, did your favorites make the cut? Who did I miss? Tell me in the comments section.