In Greater Des Moines, not all our food is served on a stick. We have some of Des Best restaurants and chefs in the Midwest, sure to surprise and delight with every bite. Take a seat at the table and check out this menu of places, as voted by locals, that are the stars of the Des Moines dining scene.
Harbinger has quickly become the crown jewel of the Des Moines fine dining scene. Its Asian-inspired, vegetable-focused small plates concept has earned chef Joe Tripp multiple James Beard award nominations, not to mention local rockstar status. The hyper-seasonal menu focuses on locally sourced ingredients, and the space is modern, yet intimate and comfortable. Your best bet is to leave your meal in the hands of the experts and opt for the opulent and on-point five -course tasting meal.
Along with Harbinger, Proof has secured its spot on the Mount Rushmore of Des Moines fine dining. With dishes that are almost too pretty to eat, the focus here is on the entirety of the experience, from the food to the wine and cocktail pairings, and the knowledgeable service. Try their seven-course tasting menu and let them build a custom menu just for you. Chef Diego Rodriguez-Negrete has put his stamp on their current offerings, so it’s no wonder Proof was named “Best Restaurant in Iowa” by Time Magazine.
Clyde’s Fine Diner
Clyde’s encapsulates everything we love about the East Village – effortlessly cool, perfectly accessible, and the right mix of contemporary and familiar. The teal motif gives your typical diner a huge style upgrade, and dishes like their smashburger and wild boar ragu make this place destination diner’ing.
Aposto offers one of the most unique dining experiences in the metro, with modern classical cuisine inside an 1880 Victorian mansion. At home in Sherman Hill, Des Moines’ oldest neighborhood, Aposto focuses on simplicity, and doing a few dishes extremely well. Whether its Italian dishes like wild mushroom and truffle gnocchi, berkwood osso bucco, or their famous polenta cakes, the only mistake you can make is not saving room for dessert.
After the quaint little Cheese Shop was named “America’s Favorite Cheese Shop,”, its burgeoning popularity led to a larger offshoot, Cheese Bar, and we’re all better off for it. Their toasted grill cheeses have legions of devotees and their cast iron mac and cheese isn’t far behind. The soaring ceilings, and interesting beer and wine lists add a European feel to the proceedings, but make no mistake, both the food and people are Iowa Nice.
Bubba brings southern hospitality to the heart of the Midwest, with elevated classics like fried green tomatoes, Kentucky hot brown, and buttermilk fried chicken. All washed down with a Mint Julep or two. The Southern charm doesn’t end with the food, with chandeliers, high back chairs, Chesterfield sofas, and hexagon tile that create a dining space as unique as the food.
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 Mahogany interior? Ron Burgundy, your table is ready.
Nothing in life is certain except death, taxes, and Simon’s being a local’s favorite restaurant. Formerly known as J Benjamin’s, people line up outside this quaint bistro before it even opens to assure themselves a seat. That’s because Simon’s is one of the most consistent dining experiences in the metro, with Simon himself walking around the dining room to ensure you are having an optimal experience. And with comfort food like Steak de Burgo, stuffed chicken, and lasagna, optimal comes easy.
Centro deserves credit for helping turn Des Moines into the dining destination it is today, and its reputation is well deserved. Located in the restored Temple for Performing Arts downtown, this beautiful space serves up Italian favorites in an upscale atmosphere. Everything is good, but our favorite might be their wood fired pizzas, which we’ll put up against the best Chicago and New York pies any day.
They say it’s better to be lucky than good. Lucky Lotus is both. Not only will you find Southeast Asian eats you can’t find anywhere else like bing bing wraps (scallion pancake sandwich wraps), sweet potato panang curry, and pad lao noodles, but you won’t find any place that looks like Lucky Lotus either. Think ‘neon kung fu chic.’ You’ll want to take home some of their awesome branded swag along with your leftovers.
French cuisine without the attitude and a killer view of the Pappajohn Sculpture Park across the street. That’s what you’re getting at Django, a downtown staple where you can get a burger (served on a local South Union bun) just as good as the steak frites and mussels. Not to mention there is no corkage fee on up to four bottles of wine. Oh la la!
If you like your steaks rare, your martinis dry, and your dinner check expensed, 801 Chophouse is the place for you. Des Moines’ premiere steakhouse has everything you’d want in a good steakhouse; Rat Pack vibes, spacious booths, a seasoned waitstaff, and multiple potato options for your sides. And we haven’t even mentioned the lobster corn dog appetizer yet.
St. Kilda Collective
Australian raised owner Alexander Hall has established quite the following with his numerous restaurant ventures since coming to Des Moines by way of New York City. But the crown jewels are the two St. Kilda locations, with the downtown café/bakery focusing on breakfast and lunch and the newer Valley Junction location brining in the dinner crowd as well. You’ll find that he brought his NYC vibes here, with a diverse lineup of offerings ranging from crispy fried cod rolls, vegan banh mi, and avocado toast to steak frites and half chicken.
The age-old dilemma: What is Eatery A’s biggest selling point, their patio or their happy hour? The answer: enjoying both simultaneously. Their happy hours run from 3 – 6 p.m. daily and include half-price wine, draft beer, and wood fired pizza. Pick a warm day on the patio overlooking Ingersoll Avenue, and you’ve got pretty much the perfect start to your summer evening.
The Latin King
Founded in 1947 by Italian immigrants, Latin King still takes the crown as the place to try Des Moines’ signature dish, Steak de Burgo. But their chicken spiedini might be just as good, and if they have their legendary strawberry shortcake on the menu, it’s a crime not to indulge. It’s a Des Moines institution for a reason. This is comfort food in peak form.
Waterfront Seafood Market
A seafood market in a landlocked state? Leave your doubts at the door when you try either location of Waterfront Seafood Market (West Des Moines or Ankeny), where fish is flown in daily and prepared however you would like it. Get some to-go seafood from their market or dine in at their New England-esque bistro, with everything from scallops and live Maine lobster to sushi and chowder.
Speaking of seafood, Splash Seafood bills itself as Iowa’s first and only seafood bar, with jet fresh seafood flown in daily from Hawaii, Alaska, Seattle, Boston, and the Florida Keys. They dole out everything from caviar and shellfish to specialties like Sriracha scallops and surf and turf fettuccine that will have you hooked.
RoCA has been serving small plates with big flavors on Court Avenue since 2014. Great for groups who want to try a little of everything, they made their mark with their flatbreads, fondue, and sliders for days. Their Smoking Gun cocktail (Bulleit Bourbon, maple syrup, angostura bitters, hickory smoke) took the Des Moines cocktail scene by storm and helped usher in the buzzy bourbon revival of the last few years.
East Village mainstay Alba serves up upscale American food using seasonal ingredients and a rotating menu with dishes like NY Strip stroganoff, wild striped bass, and hand cut steaks. It’s also probably the only restaurant that we know of with reclaimed doors hanging from the ceiling. That’s right, Alba is the gateway to good dining.
For tasty Latin cuisine and some of the most popular margaritas in town, check out Malo, located in a renovated Art Deco firehouse built in 1937. With notable dishes like lobster corn queso, pork belly tacos, and vegan burritos, you’ll quickly see why it’s one of the most popular cantinas in town. And with a half-dozen pieces of commissioned original artwork, it’s a space that’s as progressive as those tater tot nachos you’re about to attack.
They are perhaps most well known for their Bottomless Bombshell Brunch, which has endless eats with fun options like a mac & cheese bar, mashed potato bar, and brunch taco bar, with bottomless bloody mary/mimosa/screwdriver add-ons. But don’t sleep on their lunch and dinner menus, where you can do shared plates like crab rangoon dip and truffle fries or try signature dishes like the Nashville plate or veggie lasagna.
Irina’s is a family-owned neighborhood restaurant in Urbandale that specializes in Russian-American fare. That means you can get your steak or pasta, but if you want the true experience of Irina’s, opt for dishes like beef stroganoff, Moscow filet, pork shashlik, and wellington salmon. And how could you not get a vodka martini?
Can't decide what kind of food you're in the mood for? The mod menu at Fresko has got you covered, with everything from wood fired octopus and specialty sushi rolls to short rib tacos and good old Iowa pork chops. Fresko (meaning "fresh") uses all locally sourced ingredients and is one of the most interesting and intelligent (not to mention comfortable) places in town.
Don't see your favorite place listed? Chances are it made one of our other Des Best lists, where we have everything from Best Comfort Food, Best International Cuisine, Best Brunch, and more!