Red-hot Roja

Roja Mexican Grill
and Margarita Bar

117010 Wright Plaza

Inspired by Tex-Mex, Roja sizzles with flavor

Chef Tony Gentile offers proof that you can take the chef out of Texas, but you can’t take Tex-Mex out of the chef.

Gentile, corporate executive chef for Omaha’s Flagship Restaurant Group, is the chef behind Blue Sushi’s Asian fusion menu, Blatt Beer and Table’s gastropub fare and Plank’s seafood specialties. But despite these culinary forays, Gentile is a Texas boy at heart. “If I had to choose to eat one thing for the rest of my life, it would be Tex-Mex,” he said.

Roja Mexican Bar and Grill is an ode to Gentile’s Texas upbringing. Now in its 10th year, Roja at 168th and Center offers Tex-Mex inspired dishes tailored for a Nebraska palate. The restaurant continues to draw customers for its crowd-pleasing happy hour and made-from-scratch dishes.

Roja was Gentile’s second foray in menu development after being tapped to open Flagship’s first restaurant, Blue Sushi Sake Grill. With Roja, Gentile wanted to use Tex-Mex to inspire a fiesta-like atmosphere.

“The food lends itself to being social, the drinks lend themselves to being social,” Gentile said. “Whether its happy hour or dinner, it’s always high-energy.”

Over time, the Roja menu has evolved to offer a fusion of Tex-Mex and “West-Mex” with a Midwestern spin. The restaurant is continually “taking Tex-Mex, mixing it up and making it our own,” Gentile said.

Favorite dishes include the Shrimp Alambre appetizer with skewered shrimp, bacon, Jack cheese and ancho tartar sauce. The Texas-style Nacho Tejanos feature tostada chips individually layered with refried beans, cheddar cheese and pickled jalapeños. For entrees, the restaurant is known for its fajitas served with homemade flour tortillas, Gentile said. Diners can also sample enchiladas, burritos, tacos and combo platters.

A solid list of appetizers and about a dozen margaritas woo the happy hour crowd. For tequila lovers, the restaurant offers more than 80 varieties. Roja’s Margarita Mondays and Fajita Frenzy Wednesdays lure customers with tasty (and boozy) discounts.

Like at other Flagship restaurants, the décor at Roja aims to excite the senses. Hard architecture, precise lighting and music work together to create a lively atmosphere. With the success of the West Omaha and downtown locations, Gentile said a third Roja location could be in the future provided Flagship can find the right location.

Gentile said he draws inspiration from personal experiences to create dishes across the Flagship group. From hitting up local markets on vacation to experimenting in his kitchen at home, Gentile is always trying new things. For him, the most important part of the job is enjoying each day. “I preach to people that you have to keep it fresh and innovative, and you have to enjoy what you do and have fun with it,” he said.  

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