I give a lot of recommendations for restaurants, and people often ask me where they should eat. But this week, I’m writing about a recommendation someone gave me — well, kind of.
When I saw my friend Mike’l Severe tweeting photos of what looked like an amazing Mexican breakfast recently, I instantly added Primo’s Modern Mexican to my “try it” list.
A few weeks later, here we are, and after two visits to Primo’s, one for breakfast and a second for dinner, I can agree with Mike’l that breakfast is where this spot excels.
In the mornings, the Primo’s menu has a sort of Mexican diner vibe to it, pairing eggs all sorts of ways with warm tortillas and flavorful salsas next to sausage, bacon and home fries.
I liked Primo’s breakfast menu better than its dinner menu, which while fine, is the kind of Mexican food you can find at lots of Mexican-American restaurants around town. The breakfast pairings are less common.
I’ll get right into it with the huevos divorciados, which I really loved. The restaurant has a “lighter breakfast” menu, welcome to someone like me who can never finish a massive breakfast platter, and that’s where you’ll find this dish.
Two petite tortillas come warm and soft, topped with savory refried beans, eggs made your way — I chose poached — and then one topped with salsa roja and the other with salsa verde.
I often choose verde over roja when it comes to salsa, and this dish was no exception. I liked the tangy tomatillo the best, though the more deeply flavored roja is good here, too. Paired with a double caffeination situation of a hot coffee and an iced tea, this breakfast, which clocks in at just $5.99, is great.
Matthew went all in on the carne con huevos platter: two eggs, massive servings of cheese-topped refried beans and seasoned home fries, sausage and both corn and flour tortillas on the side.
Primo’s kitchen executes well on eggs, important in the morning. The just runny center of Matthew’s over medium is great for dipping tortillas; though I don’t think the home fries are homemade, they’re good, with a crisp exterior and a mild but flavorful seasoning. The pico de gallo, though, does seem homemade, and on a plate of rich Mexican food adds welcome brightness and acidity. Again, the price is hard to argue with: $8.99. No complaints.
I didn’t get a chance to talk to the restaurant’s owner — my messages went unanswered — but the restaurant website has a bit of family history. Three cousins, all part of the Rocha family, wanted to reinvent the recipes of their great grandparents, Luos and Carmen Rocha, Mexican immigrants who lived in Council Bluffs. (There’s also a location of Primo’s on the Iowa side of the river.) The family often gathered around home cooked Mexican food in the “south end” neighborhood of the Bluffs. In the 1950s, Johnny and Lupe Rocha converted a small house into the family’s first restaurant, The Taco House, which served Mexican family recipes and eventually closed in the 1980s.
The fourth generation of the Rocha family opened Primo’s in 2010, at 930 Fifth Ave. in Council Bluffs, where it still operates. A decade later, in 2020, co-owner Travis Taylor purchased the former Petrow’s building in Omaha, at 5914 Center St., revamped the inside and added a large patio to the west. The second location opened about a year later.
If you were ever inside Petrow’s, you’ll recognize the soda fountain at the front, but not much else. The inside has been totally revamped, with new seating and a new design. A circular bar at the back of the restaurant is open seating, and there’s a full bar with a menu of margaritas and other cocktails. Next time, if the weather allowed, I’d seek out a patio seat; it sure looks inviting.
We went back to Primo’s at the dinner hour, and tried two more platters. The design-your-own combo appealed to me, and I went with a shrimp street taco and a pork tamale, both fine. In the evening, seasoned potatoes are replaced with Mexican seasoned rice alongside the beans. I again found the pico de gallo to be a literal bright spot on the plate, enhancing everything I paired it with. The pork in the tamale was especially tender.
We also tried a trio of carne asada tacos with the same fixings; here, we found the meat a bit less tender.
As I write this morning, around 5:30 a.m., taking a second look at the Primo’s breakfast menu leads me to a whole laundry list of things I’d like to try: a bowl of canela oats, topped with hand-shaved cinnamon and berries; a carnitas benedict; chilaquiles and the decadent-sounding dulce de leche pancakes.
Sometimes, it’s the surprisingly simple and affordable that impresses. At Primo’s, that’s a good way to start the day.
Primo’s Modern Mexican
5914 Center St., 402-322-8141
930 5th Ave, Council Bluffs, 712-256-5200
Hours at both locations: Sunday through Wednesday 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Breakfast is served until 11 a.m.