Shirley’s Diner: Saved by the Tot-chos

Martha’s Pick:

Shirley’s Diner
13838 R Plaza
Fare: Breakfast, burgers, sandwiches
Cost: $45 for one appetizers and three meals
Reservations: Not needed

Greetings, Eaters and Readers!

I have worked at an organization out west (just off of I-80 on Lake Chalco) for about eight years. The entire time I’ve worked there and lunched, explored or talked to people about nearby food gems – Shirley’s Diner has been a repeat highlight. People also regularly give it a shout out on the Omaha Food Lover’s Facebook page. So with it being my turn, and a friend in town to enjoy a recent lovely Saturday, I finally seized my chance to visit the Millard staple.

We weren’t sure what kind of crowd we’d have to fight on a Saturday night at 6 p.m. – but we were seated as soon we walked in. The restaurant was busy but with ample seating, they weren’t so packed that they needed a wait list. They close at 8 p.m. on Saturdays, so the crowd that’s looking to grab a table and share drinks for a long evening isn’t choosing Shirley’s for their weekend option. From our corner booth, we had a clear view of the kitchen and the hosting area and it seemed as though their to-go orders kept them as busy (busier?) than the dining room. We also noticed it was still full/buzzing when we walked out a little after 7pm. Considering their reputation for oversized portions and the steady crowd, our hopes were high. I sat down thinking I knew what I wanted (the French Dip). But when I realized they serve breakfast all day, I was back at square one with my decision. I’m not shy about being a breakfast slut and learning Shirley slings it all day got this visit off to a great start.

Pulled Pork Tot-chos ($8.99) – tater tots, queso, beer braised pulled pork, red onion, jalapeños, chipotle cream, sweet hickory bbq, scallions

It took only a few seconds after glancing at the menu to unanimously agree on the Pulled Pork Tot-chos for our appetizer. Despite being privy to Shirley’s large portions, we were impressed at just how large this loaded tray actually was. The tots were crispy. The pulled pork was tender, juicy and well-seasoned. And the chipotle cream and queso were a nice zingy addition to the sweet bbq sauce. Every bite – no matter which topping you forked – was heavenly.

These flavor-packed tot-chos were Jaclyn and Sarah’s favorite part of the meal. We would have loved to focus on them more, but the rest of our order was brought to our table less than 5 minutes later.

Fried Chicken Royale ($11.49) – fried chicken, sriracha honey, bacon, cheddar, fried egg, sausage cream gravy on a fried biscuit

Delightfully overwhelmed with breakfast options, I was struggling to land on a decision. I was waffling between the Fried Chicken Royale, Chicken and Waffles, and the Monte Cristo. Something about the word Royale reminded me of my past trips to Louisville, Kentucky – so I landed on that and stopped reading all the other drool-inducing options. My choice did not disappoint. With a portion of perfectly crispy hash browns that hung off the plate and a warm, gravy-flooded mound of a sandwich – I thoroughly enjoyed my brinner (breakfast/dinner smoosh).

I love a good dance between heat and sweet – so I was a big fan of the sriracha honey and sausage gravy that mixed around my taste buds with every bite. The biscuit needed, perhaps, a bit more flavor – but it’s so big and fresh, I didn’t really mind. And the gravy adds the right amount of moisture to help the entire process. While discussing our plates between bites, Jaclyn noted her sandwich could have benefited from a moisture helper – like gravy. Thanks to those infamous huge portions, I took half my sandwich and half the hash browns home for my own Sunday morning brunch. If you just want to focus on chicken without the distraction of extra toppings – you won’t want this heaping, delicious mess. But if you want your chicken to have a stellar supporting line up – you’ll love the Royale.

Honey Butter Fried Chicken Biscuit ($10.29) – dixie fried chicken, honey butter, scratch biscuit

Jaclyn’s pick was this tasty-sounding honey butter fried chicken biscuit sandwich. But her experience left her feeling that it was quite the opposite. She says the chicken was pretty dry – and the biscuit was even drier, falling apart in crumbles when she picked it up. Attempting – but failing – to salvage her sandwich with maple syrup, Jaclyn only ate a few bites and went back for the tot-chos. She says if it weren’t for those, Shirley’s would’ve gotten a big fork down for her.

Hot Turkey Sandwich ($10.49) – turkey breast, mashed potatoes, turkey drippings gravy

One bite into her hot turkey sandwich, Sarah sadly proclaimed “this is lukewarm” – which means her plate was probably done and waiting while our chicken was freshly fried. Turkey, potatoes and gravy are, of course, probably ready-and-waiting ingredients for such plates. Before her plate hit the table, Sarah spied other guests getting a pile of hot beef and gravy and was already worried about FOMO. So the underwhelming first bite all but confirmed her worries. Everything tasted good and comforting enough – but the gravy needed pepper to round it out and, again, she wishes it would have been hotter. Like Jaclyn, she kept going back to the tot-chos. Nevertheless, she did reheat and enjoy the leftovers (note: those famous large portions were true for her, too) on Sunday for lunch.

Final Bites

From top to bottom, I loved everything about my meal. (Remember: breakfast slut over here!) And although Jaclyn and Sarah’s main dishes weren’t much to write home about, they both loved those tot-chos. Although Shirley’s had some misses – Jaclyn’s dry sandwich, Sarah’s lukewarm meal, the poorly timed appetizer-to-main course transition – we couldn’t help but feel it’s still a solid contender.

Admittedly, we might be giving it 3 forks up for its potential more than this particular visit. The menu offers everything (we think) you really want to see at a mom-and-pop feeling, huge-portion slinging, comfort food-focused diner. And breakfast served all day? There’s so many items we imagine ourselves coming back to try.

Have you been to Shirley’s? Is there a star item on the menu we missed – something that would have left Jaclyn and Sarah with a better taste? We’d love to hear from you! And maybe we’ll see you at Shirley’s on our next visit!

The Good Bite Gals

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