Whether your idea of comfort food is meatloaf and mashed potatoes or ramen and wontons, there is no wrong answer, just large portion sizes. We’ve cooked up a list of the best comfort food in Greater Des Moines as voted by locals; all of them worthy of getting their own index card in grandma’s recipe box.
High Life Lounge
It’s just like grandma’s house, minus all the Afghan blankets. This hopelessly hip old-school lounge serves up old school classics such as goulash, chicken pot pie, meatloaf, and pizza burgers; all washed down with beers that would make your grandpa nod in approval. If you prefer an IPA to the Champagne of Beers, head across the hall to El Bait Shop for the same food menu but boasting more than 200 craft beers on tap.
Order This: Hot beef with mashed potatoes, with an appetizer of bacon wrapped tater tots.
The original location, The Cheese Shop, was named the No. 1 Cheese Shop in America and is the perfect place for a cheese tray and glass of vino. But their larger sister restaurant on Ingersoll is where you’ll find their blissfully gooey grilled cheeses and bubbly fondue, paired with one of the most interesting beer lists in town.
Order This: House fondue with a side of cast iron mac and cheese.
Don’t let the unassuming strip mall façade fool you. This authentic Ecuadorian restaurant and West Des Moines staple has been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and has so many loyal fans that it’s rightfully graduated from hidden gem status. If you’ve never had Ecuadorian food (think pork, empanadas, carne asada, rice), don’t be intimidated…this is hearty, rib-sticking goodness.
Order This: Mi Patria for Two – a combination of slow roasted pulled pork, grilled steak, grilled chicken, potato patties, white corn, fried egg, white rice, beans, and fried plantains, with a side of cheese empanadas of course.
Whatcha Smokin' BBQ + Brew
While we don’t get the same recognition as our Midwest neighbors located a few hours south on Interstate 35, Greater Des Moines is an underrated BBQ destination, and no place quite embodies that like Whatcha Smokin’, a short drive north on I-35. This has quickly earned the reputation as the place to go for BBQ aficionados everywhere and is a must-stop after a day spent at Ledges State Park. If you’re reading this on a Wednesday, stop what you’re doing and go get their pork belly burnt ends, post haste.
Order This: Baby back ribs with cheesy potatoes and jalapeno creamed corn.
This greasy spoon café (and we mean that in the best way possible) serves up the best traditional breakfast in Des Moines, with a hearty side of character and charm. The front of the menu boasts “Best Hashbrowns in the Universe,” and even though the universe is a big, scary place, we can’t even call that hyperbole. You’re not here for style points, you’re here for robust dishes like Everything Hashbrowns and The Lumberman (biscuits and gravy over hash browns). And maybe to catch a glimpse of superfan and native Hawiiowan Jason Momoa.
Order This: Da Momoa – biscuits and gravy on top of hash browns with two sunny side eggs and a side of bacon, named after Aquaman himself.
You can’t go wrong with any of the Wasabi locations for sushi, but for comfort food, we’re partial to the Johnston location, which specializes in ramen. A hot bowl of ramen on a cold day warms the soul and goes a long way in making the cooler temperatures more tolerable.
Order This: Black Tonkotsu Ramen with an appetizer of crispy brussels sprouts.
What if we told you that you could either have an eye-opening (and mouthwatering) dining experience OR a relaxed place to take the kids to grab a casual bite to eat? Either/Or operates under the idea that you don’t have to choose, because there you can have both. Enjoy elevated American classics like a cheeseburger with fried bologna inside the chic new space, or head outside and imbibe on a Lua beer while the kids make the most of the outdoor play space. Who says you can’t have it all?
Order This: Corned beef sandwich with an order of Mexican cheese curds.
A Des Moines staple since 1947 that has stood the test of time for good reason. Listen, if you want to get their famous chicken spiedini, we won’t stop you. But that Steak de Burgo? Insert all the drool emojis. Just look at this.
Order This: Steak de Burgo, and if it’s on the menu, strawberry shortcake for dessert.
Magee’s Irish Pub
Finding a place that serves green beer on St. Patrick’s Day is no tall order, but finding an Irish pub that breaks the cookie cutter mold takes a bit of luck. Enter Magee’s Irish Pub in Ankeny. This isn’t just your “go out for corned beef and Guinness once a year” type of place. It’s your weeknight, weekend, “this is better than the food I had in Ireland” type of place. Find us better fish and chips. We’ll wait.
Order This: Shepherd’s Pie with beer bread and an order of Rueben egg rolls.
Located among all the cool kids on Ingersoll’s Restaurant Row is the decidedly old school and unpretentious Noah’s Ark, serving up casual Italian specialties like lasagna and fettucine al burro since 1946. Get your fill of Rat Pack vibes along with your fill of thin crust pizzas and pastas. We’ll take two of everything, please.
Order This: Chicken parmesan with an appetizer of onion rings.
This is the type of place you probably won’t find in a Zagat guide, but that locals all know and love. Come for the Philly Buffalo Chicken and French Dip, stay for the best ranch dressing in town. Dark, unpretentious, and welcoming, Francie’s is the kind of place you wish someone had told you about a long time ago. You’re welcome.
Order This: Patty melt and crinkle cut fries with a side of ranch.
Cooper’s on 5th
Historic Valley Junction is an underrated foodie mecca and Cooper’s may just be the best of the bunch. You can’t even read the words “port braised short ribs” or “maple butter salmon” without having your stomach growl loudly. Awkward. Valley Junction date night for the win.
Order This: Port braised short ribs with garlic white cheddar mashed potatoes.
We don’t know anyone that doesn’t love this place. From pastas and pizzas to seafood and steaks, they’re not reinventing the wheel, they’re just making the best wheel possible. It’s unique, charming, unfussy, and reliably good; pretty much everything we love about Des Moines. If you’re nice, you may be rewarded with red velvet cake at the end.
Order This: Manicotti for the pasta lover, and lamb chops for the meat lover.
The oft-cited answer to “Who has the best Crab Rangoons in Des Moines?”, Thai Flavors has a menu large enough to make Cheesecake Factory blush. Whether it’s Thai favorites like red curry, an extensive sushi bar, or Chinese food classics like Sesame Chicken, Thai Flavors will hit the sweet spot and spice up your day.
Order This: Crab fried rice and an order of Crab Rangoons.
Clyde’s Fine Diner
A diner in the loosest sense of the word, this chic Historic East Village hot spot earns raves for its cool space (can we get the teal chairs to-go?), killer drink list, and small yet delicious menu of elevated diner favorites like sausage and peppers, tuna melts, and Nashville hot chicken. It’s date night dinering.
Order This: Not Nashville Hot Chicken and brownie sundae for dessert
Skip’s does many things, all of them well. Expect classic American fare, with a few curveballs to keep you on your toes (Jambalaya or Rarebit, anyone?). From glazed pork shanks and pecan crusted chicken strips to coconut crusted tilapia, there’s an interesting twist for every appetite at this South Side stalwart.
Order This: Pan-fried walleye and garlic mashed potatoes.
You might know this downtown bier hall for ‘Das Boot’ – a giant glass boot filled with hard to pronounce (but easy drinking) German beer. But you should make the effort to get acquainted with their German food as well. There’s something supremely comforting about a plate of schnitzel or spaetzle, and they’re fun to say too. Lederhosen optional.
Order This: Bavarian Stroganoff with a giant Bavarian Pretzel appetizer.
We’re happy to find any excuse to travel a bit south of downtown to Angry Goldfish, the neighborhood eatery with a legion of loyal fans, thanks to dishes like its crispy chicken sandwich, Siracha goldfish breaded tenderloin, and brisket poutine. The dark wood paneling and hanging lights add to the warm vibe, and you’ll leave knowing that you’ll be on a first name basis with the staff in no time.
Order This: Graziano meatloaf with mashed potatoes and sweet corn.