I have a dealer in central Omaha that is located in a small strip mall. Next to his store is a space that has housed a couple restaurants over the years that I've been going there. About two years ago, a Mexican place opened in the space - Cilantro's. One of the guys at my dealer told me that the food was very good. "They did all the remodeling of the place themselves," he explained. "It's very nice in there." I had a morning meeting with that dealer awhile back and I got into Omaha the night before and checked into a hotel not far from the store. I decided that I'd drive over to Cilantro's to give it a try.
The family behind the three Cilantro's restaurants in the Omaha area - the De La Paz family - came to the United States and found roots in Lawrence, KS. The family opened their first restaurant - El Mezcal - about 18 years ago and eventually opened two other locations in Kansas before the De La Paz family opened an El Mezcal location in Norfolk, NE in 2005. The family then set its sights on Omaha opening the first Cilantro's at S. 144th and F streets on the southwest side of Omaha. The De La Paz family then opened a second location just north of Dodge at 114th Street in the Miracle Hills Square shopping center. Then in May of 2015, they opened their third Omaha location in what was the former Brewburgers location along Pacific just west of 72nd in central Omaha. (see map)
It was a little past 8 p.m. when I got into Cilantro's. The interior of the place was very nice. One of the De La Paz family - Tomas - owns his own construction company and he did the work on this Cilantro's location (and the others). It was quite the departure from the Brewbakers that was in this location before. There was a lot of ornate wood work on the booths, there was an upstairs area that they put in for additional seating, and there was a nice little cantina/bar area in the main dining area. I had stepped into Cilantro's not long after they opened to take a look at the renovations of the place, but being here for the first time to eat I took a little more than just a quick gander at all that they've done to transform the place into a nice Mexican restaurant.
I waited at the hostess stand for a few moments. As I waited, two young women who worked at the restaurant had gathered their coats and appeared to be leaving. One of the women stopped and asked me if I would like to get seated for dinner. She grabbed a menu and she took me to a booth on a step-up level on the main floor. She handed me the menu, turned and put her coat on and walked out the front door.
Sitting there for a moment gave me a chance to look through the menu. I was wanting something to drink as it had been a long day of meetings and travel up to that point. But it appeared that there were no servers in the area. And the bartender was not behind the bar. I was worried that since the young lady who had seated me had gone directly out the front door and not told anyone that she had seated me, I would be a forgotten diner.
I waited patiently for five minutes before I decided I would give them a couple more minutes before I'd get up and walk out. Shortly later, I finally saw the bartender come out from the back and go behind the bar. We made eye contact and he called out from behind the bar, "Sir, have you been waited on." When I told him the I had not, he hastily made it up to my booth on the step-up level. He introduced himself as Francisco and apologized profusely for having me wait. "We're a little slow tonight and I sent a couple of our people home early. I'll be taking care of you tonight." He asked what I'd like to drink and I told him that I'd like a margarita. I figured I'd be able to drink the margarita and then get a Mexican beer to go along with my meal. Francisco went to make the margarita and I felt better about my visit to Cilantro's at that point.
Some chips and salsa had appeared between the time Francisco had left and the time he came back with the margarita. And I was surprised with the margarita - it was served in a 32 ounce mug. Francisco said, "Sir, on the house. For making you wait." Usually, I'll protest that they didn't have to do that, but in this instance since I stood there for nearly five minutes waiting to get waited on I thought it was a nice gesture on his part.
And the margarita was PACKED with tequila! Holy crap! I tried to stir it up a bit to see if I could thin out the tequila in the bottom of the glass, but it appeared that he must have put at least four and probably six ounces into the glass. This was definitely a sipping margarita.
The chips were warm, crisp and most likely house-made. The salsa - with chunks of tomato, chopped onions and - of course - cilantro was sweet and mild. It was also rather salty for my taste. But it was still a nice start to the meal.
Looking through the menu, Cilantro's featured your standard Mexican fare - burritos, chimichangas, fajitas, enchiladas and tacos. But they also had traditional Mexican food such as pork tamales and chicken flautas. I'm guessing the De La Paz family came from the Michoacan area of western Mexico as Cilantro's featured seafood and land-raised items that were under the "Especialidades de la Casa " part of the menu. Some of the house specialties included grilled tilapia with a white cream sauce; steak tacos with beef that is wrapped in banana leaves and marinated in pineapple and orange juices; chicken enchiladas topped with a creamy tomatillo sauce; and "Camarones Diablo" - large grilled shrimp served in a spicy red sauce.
One of the things that caught my eye on the "house specialties" part of the menu was the pork verde platter - braised chunks of pork cooked in a tomatillo and green chile sauce. That's what I ended up ordering.
More than half the plate contained the pork verde concoction. Mexican rice and cheesy refried beans came with the pork verde platter. Three hot soft flour tortillas also came with the platter. And, of course, fresh chopped cilantro was sprinkled on top of the food.
I tried some of the pork verde and found it to be very good - the pork was tender and the tomatillo/green chile sauce had a bit of spicy bite, but nothing that was overpowering. I mixed some of the pork with the chile verde sauce, the rice and the refried beans onto a tortilla and had a couple that way. The taste going on with everything combined together was enjoyable.
But there was also a lot of food - I wasn't able to finish everything on the plate and I certainly wasn't able to finish the margarita, let alone order a Mexican beer to go along with the meal. I was far from intoxicated, but there was no way I would have been able to drink all of the margarita and legally get back to my hotel by driving.
I would have to say the food at Cilantro's was good. It was serviceable Mexican food with a lot of variety on the menu. The pork verde platter was tasty and there was a lot of it. Other than the hiccup with not getting waited on right away, I like the place - including the overpacked margarita. I'd have to say that Cilantro's would be a good place to get a Mexican food fix when you're in Omaha.