When it comes to culture, fine dining and an overall vibrant city for a short getaway, there are certain perennial favorites. With these behemoth cities come high price tags for fun and recreation, not including parking and transportation whilst visiting. But there are several up and coming cities not yet on the radar of many. Two such cities can be found in cattle country, aka Nebraska.

Here are 10 Reasons to Visit Nebraska…

1. Omaha Zoo

Imagine being able to feel like you are in the midst of a South American Rain Forest or in the desert of Africa without ever leaving the United States. Now you can experience this year round at the Omaha Zoo. What they’ve done is quite genius. They’ve re-created these ecosystems on acres of the zoo. The Omaha Zoo is home to North America’s largest indoor rainforest. You get to experience the rainforest at bird level. Walk amongst the birds as they soar through the air. The zoo also has the largest indoor desert. They replicate soil structure and plants in these regions. The Nebraskan zoo features the Namib Desert of Africa, Red Center of Australia and Sonoran desert of the US.

2. Grane

Yes, we’ve all heard of the wine and beer dispensers at bars. These machines allow enthusiasts to take special small “tastes” so you can sample a variety. But what about spirits? Well if you love Whiskey, then a visit to Grane is in order. Pours are available in .5, 1 and 1.5 ounce sizes. They run the gamut with price points from as low as $7 for a half-ounce pour to $50 for a rare varietal.

Grane Bar, nebraska
The Grane bar has every drink you could order

3. Dundee Dell

This dive bar is harboring a secret: it is home to the largest single malt scotch collection in the US, about 700. They do a scotch tasting once a month, which is a great way to learn about scotch in an unpretentious atmosphere. They also have about 200 beers and 150 bourbons. You’d be missing out if you don’t have the Fish n’ Chips. Their secret recipe had us lusting for more. And we’re not alone. They cook about 2 million pieces of fish annually.

Dundee Grill nebraska
Crispy Fish n’ Chips at Dundee Dell with over 200 beers to choose from

4. Dante Ristorante Pizzeria

This unassuming restaurant has all the indications of your run of the mill brick oven pizzeria. Yet it is hiding so much talent and good food, you would be shocked. First off, you’ll want to visit for dinner when you can indulge in a bottle of wine or at least several glasses. They specialize in offbeat wines. But menu items like the Duck pate served on duck fat fried bread or the Rabbit Roulade are clear winners. Of course, pizzas are nothing to discount either with a lemon, cherry pepper and fried chicken liver pizza as well as the Armore di Carne with sopressata, sausage and mortadella.

Dantes-chef-with-award-winning-pizza nebraska
The brick oven adds complexity to a classic dish

5. Le Boullion

Chef Kulik gives his interpretation of French comfort food at Le Bouillon in the Old Market in Omaha. Located in a converted fruit and vegetable warehouse, Le Bouillon is an open, yet seemingly intimate restaurant. Kulik sourcing from local producers in Nebraska marries sensible yet fancy French foods. Standouts are the mussels braised in cider and foie gras butter as well as the toasts topped with items like Duck Confit and Pork Rillettes. Small plates like the Steak Tartare with cured egg yolk and parsley cream are to be savored.

6. Grey Plume

An eight-course tasting menu left us ready to slip into a delightful gastronomic coma. A Spaghetti Squash Galette with pastrami, leeks, kale and pomegranate, was an unexpected, yet winning dish. An infusion of fruit in this and many of the dishes was surprising and pleasurable like the persimmon with the scallops. Although the wine list is something to behold – don’t miss out on craft cocktails like the Les Paul, with scallion vodka and celery sour.

7. The Joslyn Museum of Art

Located in Nebraska, the Joslyn Museum of Art is one of the top art museums in the country, particularly for American paintings and sculptures. The museum’s original 1931 building itself is a magnificent example of Art Deco architecture. The museum also features a 1,000–seat concert hall, fountain court, education technology gallery, and much more. Joslyn’s Sculpture and Discovery Garden opened in 2009.

Joslyn Museum

8. Cornhusker Hotel

A stay in Nebraska is not complete without sleeping at the Cornhusker Hotel. Although purchased by Marriott, it still retains its charm and unique style. The soaring lobby was home to a beautifully decorated Christmas tree during our holiday visit. And just adjacent was a mini-library where you could get lost in a book while sipping on your favorite cup of tea. Rooms were large with comfortable beds. Start your day off with a hearty breakfast including the house special Nebraska omelet.

9. Licorice International

No matter what side of the fence you are on for Licorice (love it or hate it) you should browse the offerings at Licorice International in Nebraska. While, understandably most of the candies have a licorice spin, they have unique varieties including gluten free and sugar free items as well. Employees love to talk shop, which invariably leads to free samples. Want to reorder? No problem, Licorice International ships about 10,000 orders per year.

10. The Normandy

Who would have thought that you’d find the haute cuisine in the Midwest? The Normandy, a quaint restaurant in Lincoln, is owned by a couple: one a native Nebraskan (Renee), and the second a Frenchman (Lawrence) who fell in love with the Nebraskan. In fact, Lawrence even jokes that only love could keep a Frenchman in Nebraska. This spot is the epitome of a hidden gem. Some of the best mussels we’ve had were here swimming in a creamy saffron sauce. Don’t miss out on Gougère (cheese in puff pastry) or the lamb chops.

~ Malika Bowling is the author of  Food Lovers’ Guide to Atlanta, Food Blogging 101 and founder of Atlanta Restaurant Blog. She has been a contributing writer to USA Today and Urbanspoon. Malika holds the title of President of the Association of Food Bloggers. Follow her on twitter @ATLEatsNTweets and on Instagram @malika_bowling.

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