Fast forward to 2023. Not only is W.D. still kicking, it’s become known locally for something I simply had to try: that aforementioned homemade pasta cooked until hot and then swirled around inside a giant round of aged Parmesan cheese, creating what I imagined must be a melty, umami-laden, salty cheesy masterpiece.
I was right.
I’d drive the 25 minutes from my house to the restaurant again just for that cheese wheel pasta. But it turns out that the restaurant also does killer versions of both pesto and bolognese, a good chicken parmesan and even some tasty, Asian-inspired rice bowls during the lunch hour.
I got my bowl of cheese wheel pasta topped with two of the house-made meatballs,which each got a light dunk in tomato sauce and a sprinkle of Parmesan and fresh parsley before being placed atop the cheesy pile.
The dish is like an adult mac and cheese, with a rich creaminess and a lovely al dente texture. The meatballs, flavorful and nicely seasoned on their own, brought some brightness to the dish, and though I probably didn’t need any more butter, pillowy sticks of toasted, buttery bread on the side are a nice touch.
Cotrina told me later that he’s had the idea for the cheese wheel pasta for years, after he first saw it on a YouTube video featuring a similar pasta served by a London-based street food vendor.
“I told myself that one day, when I have my own restaurant, we will do something similar,” he said. “And here we are.”
Cotrina said W.D. Cravings is the only restaurant in Omaha and likely the only in Nebraska serving pasta in this way. It’s worth a trip, I guarantee it.
Summery and bright, the pesto pasta served over a pleasant campanella pasta is a nice side dish next to the absolutely enormous chicken Parmesan cutlet. (In fact, portion sizes across the board are nothing to sneeze at.) The chicken in the cutlet gets pounded thin, breaded and then fried to a crispy dark brown. It’s nicely seasoned and not too dry with a tender bite under a layer of melted cheese and chunky tomato sauce.
W.D. Cravings has both a drive-thru and a fast-casual style dining room where diners order at a counter and pick up their own food. There’s no table service and no liquor license, though they do serve a wide variety of coffee and tea drinks.
Cotrina said after Covid, the restaurant saw all the challenges: higher food prices and labor costs and challenges finding reliable staff. A Starbucks coffee shop also moved into the complex where the restaurant is located, off the Irvington exit on Interstate 680.
“We had to get creative to bring more customers in here, and we had to do it better than other places to keep them coming back,” he said.
That explains their process for making pasta. They use 00 flour and put it through a pasta extruder, which Cotrina said they bought because of the volume of pasta the restaurant sells. Sometimes, depending on the dish, the kitchen rolls pasta by hand to get a specific texture. The double zero flour, he said, gives the pasta a “crunch” texture versus semolina flour.
“Our guests truly love the texture of the pasta,” he said.
I saw it in all three of the dishes we tried, but maybe most clearly in the house bolognese, which I got another day during a lunchtime visit through the busy drive-thru. The thin bolognese studded with bits of beef clung just so to the serving of Mafalda pasta, and the bits of meat got caught in its ruffled edges in a delightful way. It was lunch, I was by myself and I had another dish to try; I can assure you, it was tough to quit eating.
The lunch menu includes several rice-based bowls, including one with brisket and two with fried chicken. I got the chicken tinga, which had a nice temperature variation going on, with hot white rice; a cool, crunchy cabbage salad, a fried egg clearly cooked to order and slices of super crispy katsu-style breaded white meat chicken. It’s obvious these dishes are made fresh to order, and a sign in the drive thru even points out that you may have to wait five to ten minutes for your food to be ready. It’s worth the wait.
Cotrina said he and co-owner Delgado always have new ideas for the restaurant, including one that will take that cheese wheel pasta on the road for an upcoming series of pop-ups in downtown Omaha; keep an eye on their social media pages for details and dates.
W.D. Cravings is in an area of Omaha that doesn’t have a big presence of locally owned, make it all to order restaurants, and if you live in the area, you’d be well served to check it out. And even if you don’t, well. We all probably need a little more giant cheese wheel pasta in our lives, right?
M-F: 10a – 2p & 5p – 8p
Sat & Sun: 8a – 2p