As far as I’m concerned there’s no diner experience more greasy, raw, quintessential, or delicious than Lisa’s Radial Cafe (The Diner downtown might come close, but this review is about Lisa’s).
It isn’t so much the classic diner fare that brings me back to Lisa’s so often. And it definitely isn’t the absurdist collection of I Love Lucy posters and memorabilia (although a more complete collection of Lucy posters will be hard to find). It’s rather that the place is an Omaha icon, cherished for the many groggy mornings I’ve spent with headaches and dear friends. Even when I don’t stumble there with friends or bike there with my sister, it’s a certitude that I’ll know someone (although this is more broadly a phenomenon with Omaha in general).
Coffee is one of the yardsticks with which I measure the quality of a diner. The bar for success in this department is either the quality or the amount of coffee, as far as I’m concerned. Lisa’s definitely succeeds by the amount of coffee (especially if you get counter seating), and a passing grade with the quality. Fresh-ground locally roasted Cultiva this is not, but neither is it Folger’s Vak-Pak, with which my office breakrooms are kept in great and dubious supply. And perhaps my judgement has historically been clouded by the lingering haze of a raucous night out, but I’ve always found the coffee to be just fine.
The food is pretty great too. They have a rotating selection of specials, one of which was white-chocolate cashew pancakes, a delicious-sounding name if nothing else. Even their normal pancakes hardly fit on a plate. In fact, the best pancake I’ve ever tasted was a chocolate-chip pancake from Lisa’s. The pancake strangled the plate it arrived on and was so thick that the fork disappeared inside. It soaked up gallons of real maple syurp (which we brought in ourselves expressly for this purpose) and filled my brain with angels and butterflies.
Well, not quite. But it was still pretty good.
A few caveats: It’s small and cramped (I prefer “cozy”) and you’ll probably have to wait if you get there during peak hours or with a large party. But Lisa serves free coffee in the waiting room and the wait is definitely worth it.