Greater Des Moines’ food scene is celebrated for its rich tapestry of global cuisines from Vietnamese and Ecuadorian restaurants to traditional steakhouses and Mexican food trucks. After all, the city is home to countless cultural festivals, but if there is one food tradition that is synonymous with Greater Des Moines, it would have to be Italian.
The storied history of Italian American culture in Greater Des Moines stretches back to the late 1800s/early 1900s. Many Italian families immigrated to America in search of a better life. Central Iowa had particular appeal with plentiful coal mining jobs north of Des Moines and construction opportunities working on the Rock Island Railroad. Many of the Italian families who settled in central Iowa were from southern Italy, heavily influencing the region’s flavors to this day.
Traditional southern Italian food used far less meat than is now customary in dishes you’re likely to encounter at the more than 40 Italian restaurants throughout Greater Des Moines. Traditional dishes in Italy relied heavily on produce like eggplant for the base of many entrees. The abundance and low cost of meats such as pork and beef in America lead to more of a starring role for heartier proteins in Italian American dishes.
A Des Moines staple, GRAZIANO BROTHERS grocery store, which opened in 1912, sells classic Italian ingredients such as fresh cheeses, spices and pizza dough. Their famous Italian sausage is sold nationwide and is featured on restaurant menus throughout the Midwest.
Two long-standing restaurants, Tursi's Latin King (try the famous chicken spiedini) and Noah's Ark (you can’t go wrong with classic spaghetti) have long argued over which establishment is oldest after opening within months of each other more than 70 years ago.
Italian chefs in central Iowa pride themselves on their well-rounded approach to cooking, introducing techniques and flavors from throughout the country of Italy. For those looking to experience Italian culture, Greater Des Moines will surely cure your craving.