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Taste of Omaha heads back to its original home when the festival hits Heartland of America Park and Lewis & Clark Landing this weekend.
The celebration of Omaha's culinary best was forced to relocate inland last year due to the rising Missouri River.
To celebrate its homecoming, this year's festival, from Friday through Sunday, looks to be more packed with eats and entertainment for the whole family.
Taste of Omaha started 15 years ago as a waterfront showcase featuring a few food options. Now it has more than 40 food booths with eclectic and ethnic food choices, from traditional American barbecue to Jamaican jerk chicken, Greek gyros to Spanish piquillo pepper.
“Omaha has such a rich ethnic history,” event producer Mike Mancuso said. “We wanted to reflect that. It's not typical festival food. This event is about cuisines and really good chefs preparing food you normally couldn't eat outside.”
Local and independent restaurants from all over the area will pitch tents around the waterfront and prepare fresh and hot food on the spot. Some of them, like Piccolo Pete's and Cascio's, are longtime Taste of Omaha patrons. Others will be firing up their grills for the first time.
One of those is Saigon Surface, a Vietnamese restaurant at 324 S. 14th St., which will be preparing some of its signature dishes.
“Since we are so new to the downtown area, we thought Taste of Omaha would give us a chance to get our name out there,” Saigon Surface manager Ngoc Nguyen said. “We want to expose the Midwest to our food.”
Nguyen said Saigon Surface will serve its popular egg rolls as well as bahn mi, a pork sandwich marinated in Vietnamese spices and sauces.
Mancuso said ethnic fusion food has become a bigger trend in Omaha and at the festival in recent years. A lot of restaurants are mixing their traditional cuisine with American-style presentation. Eateries such as Saigon Surface and Espańa are combining their homeland-style meats and placing them in buns or wraps.
He said that reflects the notion that Americans want flavorful foods but want to be more comfortable while eating them. This type of packaging will make walking through the festival while eating more convenient.
“This year's festival will be much better for everyone,” Mancuso said. “The layout makes for easier flow. The lighting is replaced, and the parks department just repainted Lewis & Clark Landing. Everything is new and improved.”
As well as showcasing a variety of metro-area restaurants, the festival will offer three stages of live music, cooking demonstrations on the J. Skinner Bakery Culinary Chef Stage and a variety of children's entertainment on the KidZone Stage.
Other attractions include amusement rides and activities in the Family Village, beer and wine gardens and a fire-spinning team performing nights in the World Tour Pavilion.