Back in the summer of 2018, Food and Wine Magazine published a feature titled, “We Can’t Believe How Cool Des Moines is Being Right Now”. And that was before they’d even tried any of these cool kid places! Below are some of the top spots, as voted on by our followers, that have opened in the last year or two (2020 was kind of a do-over anyway). Try these places and watch both your street cred and your social media followers’ FOMO increase ten-fold.
Clyde’s Fine Diner
Don’t let the diner moniker fool you. Clyde’s is destination dining (dinering?), with a mod interior straight outta your girlfriend’s Pinterest board. The Not Nashville Hot Chicken is not to be trifled with and their burger concept (Clyde’s Fine Burgers) was one of the most ingenious ideas during the pandemic.
Motley School Tavern
This new neighborhood spot in Beaverdale is destined to become your favorite spot, even if it’s not your neighborhood. This is the type of place you can go grab a pastrami sandwich and beer after work or gnocchi and a bottle of wine on a weekend. And then you’ll want to get up early the next day and try their brunch. After all, frequent visits are the hallmarks of a neighborhood spot.
Mulberry Street Tavern
Whether it’s a girls’ night out or date night, Mulberry Street Tavern, located inside the swank new Surety Hotel, is the place to be seen. And who wouldn’t want to be seen noshing scotch eggs and lamb shanks while sipping bubbles in a warm, rich Mahagony interior? Ron Burgundy, your table is ready.
They say “better to be lucky than good.” Well Lucky Lotus is both. This cool Southeast Asian eatery looks just as great as the food tastes, which is really saying something. Come for the Bing Bing Wrap and Heavenly Beef, leave with an acrylic pin or sticker to rep your new favorite restaurant.
Whoever says vegan food is boring has probably never had vegan food. At least not the food at Dirt Burger, where burgers like the Cobra Kai, Magic Mushroom Burger, and Torta Frita are epic enough to make even Zombie Burger blush.
Blue Sushi Sake Grill
Des Moines has enough good sushi spots that the opening of a new sushi place isn’t news in and of itself. But when that sushi place brings, exciting new dishes like bigeye tuna atop tempura rice (Cherry Bomb), tuna towers, and Mango Crab Rangoon, well...that’s news worth shouting about.
Speaking of ingenious pandemic concepts, Basic Bird was the brainchild of the culinary commanders at the James Beard nominated Harbinger. The concept was decidedly more...basic. Korean fried chicken to go, with sides like ramen salad and black pepper brussels sprouts. Look for a brick-and-mortar location soon.
Lachele’s Fine Foods
Hot off the burger presses is Lachele’s Fine Foods, whose smash burgers have people lined up out the door, literally. Besides their burgeoning claim to “best burger in the metro,” they also offer vegan options, Berkwood dogs, Sunday brunch, and interesting rotating specials like fried lobster tail. The hype is warranted.
Unrvld Barbecue Bar
In a region of underrated BBQ option, Unrvld has in a short time become exactly what it claims to be. Unrivaled. The brisket earns rave reviews, and their ribs, which have a little heat and don’t even need a lot of sauce, tend to sell out, so get there early.
The Breakfast Club
There are plenty of good greasy spoon diners around town, but The Breakfast Club fills that hip, elevated (and delicious) breakfast spot void with aplomb. With a booze menu just as ambitious as the food menu, eat, drink, and be merry has never sounded so good, even if you’re not a morning person.
Bellhop Tiki Bar
The place that started Des Moines’ apparent tiki bar revolution was Bellhop, everyone’s new favorite neighborhood tiki bar in the East Village (right next to the aforementioned Ernie’s for you bar hoppers). With elevated tiki classics, a robust craft beer list, and décor that is more “classy tiki” than “cheesy tiki”, it’s no wonder that Bellhop has become the place to be to soak up the faux sun.
Ernie’s pulls of the rare feat of being a “new bar” and “dive bar” at the same time, without feeling forced. Perhaps it’s the retro neon sign, the bison head on the wall, the Old Style in the beer case, or their signature “coffee slushie”, made with Folgers Coffee and Black Velvet whisky. Whatever it is, we’re here for it.
On a list full of cool places, Bartender’s Handshake may be the most effortlessly cool of the bunch. This crazy cool cocktail bar has all the standards you’d expect (Old Fashioned, Martini) plus inventive drinks like the Partridge in a Pear Tree (tequila, pear brandy, honey, cinnamon, rosemary, chocolate bitters). All served with a smile on an Astroturf patio where you can roast your own S’mores.
Revival House is the newest addition to the tiki bar scene here in Des Moines, offering exotic drinks in an atmosphere that looks like one of Magnum PI’s shirts (and we mean that in the best way possible). With its dark, “Don Draper on holiday” aesthetic and cool drinks, it’s the perfect place to warm up in the winter or unwind in the summer.
Ken’s - A No So Secret Speakeasy
Located in the basement of the Iowa Taproom, Ken’s is the speakeasy whose cover is already blown. With dark woods, walls adorned with old Templeton Rye and Cedar Ridge whiskey barrels, and a mirrored fireplace, Ken’s checks all the boxes for a cool speakeasy. Oh, and did we mention the whiskey list? That’s the real reason you’re there anyway, isn’t it?
You don’t have to head downtown to find a good watering hole. Case in point, the Trailside Tap in Ankeny. Located at the beginning of the High Trestle Trail in Ankeny, Trailside Tap has become the premier place to stop for a bite or a brew, pre or post bike ride. Their menu is full of delicious and interesting options, from burgers to bone marrow.
Rarely has a place burst on the scene with as much fanfare as Lua Brewing, who have already made quite the name for themselves with their infamous “push pop” sour beers and a food menu which screams more “James Beard” than it does brewery food truck (name another brewery where you can order caviar, we’ll wait). With an inviting taproom that’s just as good for date night as it is post-work beers, Lua’s already lofty reputation is well earned.
Kinship Brewing Co.
The latest addition to the Greater Des Moines brewery scene can be found in Waukee. Crisp, accessible beers are the name of the game here, and their gigantic patio and dog park will surely be the place to be on a warm summer day. Or crisp fall evening for that matter. If it’s over 50 degrees, it’s always shorts and beer weather here.
The new kid on the block in the East Village, across from the old stalwart Peace Tree Brewing, 1717 was founded by three brothers with a love of beer and people. No too cute by half beer names here, just drinkable, easy going beers, which is what you look for in a drinking buddy anyway.
For more Best Of lists in Greater Des Moines, check out our new Des Best page.