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A Taste of Mexico in Grand Island, Nebraska

After wrapping up my 3rd semester of MBA final exams this past weekend, I was up bright and early Monday morning to fly to Nebraska for a visit home! Continental Airlines won a few bonus points in my book via a) the ability to reserve exit-row seats online 24 hours in advance (thanks to bro Tim for the tip off on that one) and b) giving me full cans of pop on both flights and a free SMALL SANDWICH, CHIPS, AND MINI-TWIX BAR on the flight between Houston & Omaha! I was shocked and awed, given the recent trend of airlines to offer roughly 5 dry pretzels as a substitute for lunch.

I made it out of the tricky Omaha airport (20 whole gates!) to meet up with my mom for some quick shopping & dinner before making the drive back to my hometown of scenic Grand Island. There have been a few unexpected hospital trips due to Grandma having some trouble breathing the last couple nites (luckily she was looking good today, playing fan-favorite game “Snack Bingo” at the assisted living center). Other than that, we’ve focused on what any good midwestern family would focus on: eating.

Mom tested out the Vietnamese pho (beef soup w/noodles) at Vientiane, which was excellent.

Mom tested out the Vietnamese pho (beef soup w/noodles) at Vientiane, which was excellent.

I was craving some Asian food (Thai? Chinese? Vietnamese?) since there is not much of that in Mexico City , but was a bit suspicious as to what would be available here in the middle of Nebraska. The Grand Island, NE page on Trip Advisor actually mentioned an Asian restaurant called Vientiane; one favorable review from a stranger was enough to convince me to go!! We sat down & perused the menu offering a mix of Vietnamese/Thai/Chinese/Lao cuisines.  I was thrilled to see Crab Rangoons on the menu, which turned out to be the lightest, least-greasy Crab Rangoons I have had in many moons. The Egg Rolls also scored points for flavor & no-grease. I made some recommendations to my parents to test out the Pho and Larb (pork version), both of which were amazing. The Larb has a little spice, but nothing too dramatic for Larry. :) I had the Chicken Pad Thai which was nice but not my favorite version ever, and it paled in comparison to the other two. I would definitely to go back & try the other apps, some pork fried rice, and perhaps a dessert or two.

This will help you to recognize GI's new hot Asian restaurant from afar.

This will help you to recognize GI's new hot Asian restaurant from afar.

Getting some ricas carnitas (tasty slow-cooked pork) is definitely on the list for my next trip home.

Getting some ricas carnitas (tasty slow-cooked pork) is definitely on the list for my next trip home.

Anyway, you’ll note in the photo above the sign reading “Arroz Chino”, which is Spanish for “Chinese Rice”. This alludes nicely to the easy transition I had from Mexico City to Grand Island. Grand Island has a hispanic population of around 19%, so a number of restaurant and business offerings have sprung up over the last several years. I doubt that I’m alone in saying that growing up here, I tended to ignore ethnic markets whose products/language I wasn’t very familiar with. Coming back here now, after some Spanish training + a year in DF under my belt, it’s a whole different story. Having become such a fan of autentico Mexican food combined with my affinity for all non-chain businesses, I feel the need to pressure my parents to become regulars at any of these spots that are remotely viable. Although a rigorous existing dinner schedule prevented us from checking out any Latino establishments for la cena, I have extracted a commitment from Mom & Dad to go suss out the coctel de camarones (shrimp cocktail) at Restaurante Ario after I leave. And we did manage to make it to El Taco Naco for a snack, arguably the most DF-esque option in town.

Below are a few photos of the sights in GI that looked quite familiar to this adopted chilanga.

My parents will be reporting back shortly on the status of the Coctel de Camarones here at Restaurante Ario. Note that it is "Estilo Patzcuaro", or "in the style of Patzcuaro", the town a few hours west of DF that is the focal point for each fall's popular Dia de los Muertos celebrations.

My parents will be reporting back shortly on the status of the Coctel de Camarones here at Restaurante Ario. Note that it is "Estilo Patzcuaro", or "in the style of Patzcuaro", the town a few hours west of DF that is the focal point for each fall's popular Dia de los Muertos celebrations.

Obviously I forced Mom to come check out Super Acapulco based on the name alone. This large store has been around for 8 years, and has a great selection of groceries as well as a restaurant. I would recommend testing out their esquites/elote (Mexican-style corn) or licuados (blended fruit drinks).

Obviously I forced Mom to come check out Super Acapulco based on the name alone. This large store has been around for 8 years, and has a great selection of groceries as well as a restaurant. I would recommend testing out their esquites/elote (Mexican-style corn) or licuados (blended fruit drinks).

...though if their tacos al pastor are even half as good as the ones I've had in DF, they should definitely be at the top of your list! Amazingly-marinated pork topped with pineapple, cilantro & onion. Mmmmmm....

...though if their tacos al pastor are even half as good as the ones I've had in DF, they should definitely be at the top of your list! Amazingly-marinated pork topped with pineapple, cilantro & onion. Mmmmmm....

Copa de Oro will definitely have to get added to the list for a happy hour next time 'round, if solely to check on the existence of any actual Cups of Gold...

Copas de Oro will definitely have to get added to the list for a happy hour next time 'round, if solely to check on the existence of any actual Cups of Gold...

As soon as I saw this trailer parked in someone's driveway on "main drag" aka South Locust Street, I knew I needed to confirm whether El Taco Naco was the real deal. We stopped for a snack about 2:00 (narrowly arriving within their operating hours of 11AM-2PM and 4PM-12PM)...

As soon as I saw this trailer parked in someone's driveway on "main drag" aka South Locust Street, I knew I needed to confirm whether El Taco Naco was the real deal. We stopped for a snack about 2:00 (narrowly arriving within their operating hours of 11AM-2PM and 4PM-12PM)...

Marcia & I gave a thumbs up to the spicy barbacoa taco topped w/onion & cilantro. El Taco Naco also get points for their trendy name ("naco" in Mexico City is a word that used to mean "unfashionable, ordinary" that has been adopted by DF's hipsters to signify their alternative style so now it's kinda hip... or at least that's my vague interpretation)

Marcia & I gave a thumbs up to the spicy barbacoa taco topped w/onion & cilantro. El Taco Naco also get points for their trendy name ("naco" in Mexico City is a word that used to mean "unfashionable, ordinary" that has been adopted by DF's hipsters to signify their alternative style so now it's kinda hip... or at least that's my vague interpretation)

The crown jewel of my photo safari in Grand Island had to be this gem:

Nope, folks; no photoshopping at work here. That is the hispanic division of Alcoholics Anonymous located strategically next to Ed & Nets bar. Alcoholicos Anonimos must have gotten a smoking-hot deal on that real estate...

Nope, folks; no photoshopping at work here. That is the hispanic division of Alcoholics Anonymous located strategically next to Ed & Nets bar. Alcoholicos Anonimos must have gotten a smoking-hot deal on that real estate...

While I’m at it, let me pass along two final central Nebraska dining tips of restaurants that my parents frequent.

#1) Bullwinkles sports bar. While “gourmet” might be a stretch, their Wednesday night special of a $3.00 burger-and-fries is a pretty damn good deal & the burger is solid. They even have individual TV at each of the booths. But be aware– we are talking like “Beat the Clock Special” kinda hours in order to get a table for this firesale…I think we were there by 5:45PM. ;)

Uncle Glen even made the trek in from the farm to join us for some beef & 'taters! Glen & I went bold with an extra $0.50 for a cheeseburger. ;)

Uncle Glen even made the trek in from the farm to join us for some beef & 'taters! Glen & I went bold with an extra $0.50 for a cheeseburger. ;)

#2) The Farmer’s Daughter. This place is an institution in Grand Island, open every day but Sunday for breakfast & lunch only. We met my Dad for lunch between the math classes he’s teaching at CCC, but he’s also there every Thursday AM to meet a buddy for breakfast where the coffee flows like wine. The owner Deb is your classic diner proprietress who knows the name of 90% of the clientele at any given time. The day we went, specials include some fine-looking Fried Chicken, Clam Chowder, and classic meat salad sandwiches (i.e. chicken salad, beef salad, etc.). But the top draw here (outside of general food, friends and fellowship) is their amazing pies, particularly the meringue-topped options (as confirmed in the Boston Globe back in 2007!). The Farmer’s Daughter makes a mean banana cream, coconut cream, lemon cream, etc. Word on the street is get there before 12:30PM if you want a slice of the best ones.

On your next road trip through Nebraska, jump off Interstate 80 & hit the Farmer's Daughter for a quick breakfast & caffeine boost for the rest of your trip. And no one will look at you askance if you pick up a few pie slices for the road at 8:00AM....

On your next road trip through Nebraska, jump off Interstate 80 & hit the Farmer's Daughter for a quick breakfast & caffeine boost for the rest of your trip. And no one will look at you askance if you pick up a few pie slices for the road at 8:00AM....

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11 Comments on “A Taste of Mexico in Grand Island, Nebraska”

  1. #1 Kim in Grand Island
    on Sep 4th, 2009 at 8:40 am

    Wow, you should work for the GI Visitors bureau. You make our little town sound like an exotic destination. Hope you have a good time while you are here.

  2. #2 Joy
    on Sep 4th, 2009 at 9:30 am

    Well, it’s official: I could live in Grand Island.

    (I love how the Mexican business do their best to cover every inch of free space with text — just like here in the DF. Warms my heart.)

    And damn that Vietnamese soup makes me hungry.

  3. #3 Alice
    on Sep 4th, 2009 at 11:50 am

    Hot damn! GI is the new DF. Workin’ like a slave on the farms must drive many to Alcoholicos Anonimos…

    Tell me this: If their pies are so famous, why is the Farmer’s Daughter’s only neon sign of pork cutlett? Maybe a sale/overstock going on at the neon sign-makers shop?

  4. #4 Susie
    on Sep 4th, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    LOVE the pic of Ed & Net’s. :)

  5. #5 Jesus Chairez
    on Sep 5th, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    Loved your observations and pictures – cool. I have not been to GI in years, I was there on business – twice! I used to work for the FCC in the 80’s, so I was there at a monitoring station. It has changed a lot, but I still prefer Mexico City. Nice post.

  6. #6 Links for Sunday Brunch « The Mex Files
    on Sep 6th, 2009 at 7:32 am

    [...] Midwesterner in Mexico seeks sustenance during a stint in Grand Island, [...]

  7. #7 Liz
    on Sep 10th, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    I just love to read you because I always learn new words in every post jeje.

    I can recommend you my favorite Asian Food Restaurants, one is Japanese, and the other is Chinese.
    The Japanese is in Las Flores, one block before Periférico. It’s name is Sensu, and they have the most delicious sushi I ever tasted.
    The Chinese restaurant I don’t remember it’s name, but is in the left side of Xola (eje 4), between Peten and Palenque.

    Best wishes!

  8. #8 Julie
    on Sep 15th, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    Kim– I do what I can! :) I feel like there is a wealth of food options in GI that half the populace hasn’t taken advantage of!

    Alice- you raise a valid point ;) Unfortunately what my photo didn’t capture is the neon sign rotating through a variety of comments. Hopefully a pie ad was included!!

    Susie- many a fond memory of awkwardly drinking with our teachers there over Christmas break… haha

    Jesus– that is too funny that you’ve actually BEEN to GI!! But yes, I understand why you chose DF instead for retirement ;)

    Liz– awesome! Thanks so much for the recs. I will definitely check these out ASAP!! Am dying for some cream-cheese-free sushi & good Chinese ;)

  9. #9 pcNielsen
    on Dec 5th, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    Wow, Vientiene opened when I was living here in high school. I thought they went out of business, but apparently they just moved. I recently moved back to GI; I’ll have to go find the restaurant!

  10. #10 Casseroles heal all wounds – Midwesterner in Mexico
    on Aug 5th, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    [...] two weeks here in Nebraska, hanging out both at the hospital in Omaha and in my hometown of Grand Island, the time has come for me return to Mexico City. I think the Carmann family is feeling a lot better [...]

  11. #11 Ana Nolasco
    on Nov 12th, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    Hey,
    My parents own Super Acapulco. I was on google and this came up. Thanks its a very nice review

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