Jose Dionicio, known for edgy concepts, has been feeding Omahans for over 20 years, introducing Midwestern palates to Nikkei cuisine, a unique fusion of Japanese and Peruvian flavors emblematic of Japanese immigration during WWII in Peru.
Dionicio’s family has been in the restaurant industry since he can remember (his father emigrated from Peru to the United States when he was a young boy). At a young age he committed to working full-time in the field, starting in Omaha at Kona Grill.
From Ika, Kaitei, JoJo’s Diner, and Mas Chingon in Benson to Lucky Tiger in the Blackstone District, each of Dionicio’s eateries carries an indelible sense of place and passion in that the décor, menu, and drink items are crafted with intention. An innate sense of business acumen has contributed to his success, but he readily admits most of it was learned on the job.
“As a small company, I’m proud to be able to create employment for people, including things I didn’t see growing up in the industry such as health insurance and holidays off,” he said. These changes are just the beginning as the proud owner continues to strive toward a hospitality culture in which people encourage and rely on each other. “You can think you can do a lot of things, but without a good team you can’t.”
Today he is grateful for a wonderful staff, crediting his team as the most crucial aspect of his journey. “As a cook growing up, I felt invincible, I could do anything. I felt I was the best, and that put me in a situation where it was hard to hear feedback. Because of that I was set back a little in reaching my goals.”
The accomplished chef and restaurateur loves to travel, relishing the taste of unfamiliar flavors in unique places. Some might call him inventive, but Dionicio employs a pragmatic, thoughtful approach to new dishes, sharing, “Somebody told me there’s nothing new under the sun, but there are a lot of things new to this market. When it comes to inventiveness, I don’t like to use the word fusion but collaboration—different cuisines borrowing ingredients from another culture.”
Centered around an open kitchen, the space Lucky Tiger inhabits was originally designed by the previous tenant. According to Dionicio, “It was already put together beautifully, we added a sushi bar, and gave it a more industrial feel.” Graffiti, a big part of Dionicio’s childhood memories, adorns the walls at all his establishments.
The menu at Lucky Tiger features unique ingredients such as negi (Japanese long green onion), wood ear mushrooms (named for their ear-like visual appearance), and the rich flavors of black garlic. Often served with ramen are egg preparations such ajitama, jammy boiled eggs soaked in an umami marinade or onsen tamago, a custardy soft-cooked egg floating in a broth laced with soy (in Japan, onsen describes the temperate hot springs in which visitors bathe, and tamago is the word for egg).
The Lucky Tiger staff executes their duties with the customer in mind, putting in careful time and effort to create a unique, pleasant experience. Dionicio describes Lucky Tiger as “fun, fast, very low key, there’s nothing fancy about it. It’s created for groups of people to try different things and enjoy a drink.”
Ingredient-driven cocktails are paired with small plates that strike a balance between tender and crunchy. Options include the fried chicken steam bun or the spicy tuna tots, which reinvent a familiar hot dish component with crispy rice, spicy shredded tuna, sweet soy laced mayo, and negi.
Patrons can find unique twists on ramen, including the popular Vin Diesel: noodles topped with Nashville hot chicken, negi, ajitama, and avocado in a chicken-based broth. Regardless of type, the ramen broth is rich, especially so in the traditional tonkotsu or its variation, the Blackstone Tonk. Both pork-based, the Blackstone Tonk amps up the umami with the addition of black garlic oil, pork belly char siu, and tree ear mushrooms.
The ubiquitous bowl is taken up a notch with oven baked options such as Mongolian beef, walnut shrimp, and the zingy bukkake bowl draped in a fried egg. More traditional Donburi bowls are topped with fresh fish, and for special celebrations, diners can order Peking duck served with lotus buns, spicy cucumbers, salsa verde, hoisin sauce, and green onion.
Dionicio wants customers to feel at ease and savor the experience when dining at the lively eatery. He shared, “There are fine dining options, but we aren’t that. The world has changed since 2019, and we don’t take any of it for granted.”