When it comes to dining in Greater Des Moines, there are so many appetizing options that it seems cruel to limit yourself to three meals a day. Instead, we’ll provide a smorgasbord of options and leave you to your own devices. Treadmill and post-meal nap not included.
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Hotel: Surety Hotel
There are many reasons to stay at the amazing new Surety Hotel downtown, not the least of which is the buzzy Mulberry Street Tavern. With elevated dishes like duck ragu, lamb skewers, and oysters on the half shell, served in a warm space with rich wood accents, this isn’t your typical hotel lobby restaurant with continental breakfast; it’s destination dining at its finest.
If you’re looking for an old-school, stick-to-your-ribs breakfast – diner food done right – look no further than Waveland Café and Drake Diner. Waveland is home to the “best hash browns in the galaxy,” and you’ll find little argument from native Hawaiiowan Jason Momoa, who likes it so much he’s had a dish named after him. Try Da Momoa - biscuits and gravy overtop hash browns with sunny side up eggs and bacon.
Drake Diner has been a Des Moines landmark since it opened in 1987, although we’d believe you if you told us it opened in 1957, given the interior aesthetic. Come for the charm, stay for the Whole Hog omelet and coffee refills.
If you’re more of the bottomless mimosa and avocado toast type, two of the best brunch options in town happen to have those in spades. Try Americana’s practically famous Bombshell Brunch, with bottomless mimosas and Bloody Mary’s, not to mention family-style dining that includes everything from fried donut holes to a grilled cheese station.
St. Kilda is the new-ish (and cool) kid, with two locations, including St. Kilda Collective in Valley Junction. You can’t go wrong with the original St. Kilda just south of downtown, specializing in just about any kind of toast (avocado, mushroom, berry) that your heart…or stomach…desires.
Other must-try brunches:
The Breakfast Club – East Village newbie with an already legendary drink menu.
University Library Café - Legendary breakfast nachos.
Gilroy’s - Al fresco brunch at it’s finest.
Mullets - Breakfast pizza with a skyline view.
Eggs and Jam - Hip-themed breakfast with dishes like Toast Face Killah.
Authentic Des Moines:
If you visit the #1 pork producing state in the country but don’t have a breaded pork tenderloin, were you even here? You won’t have to look for long since it’s an unofficial state law that every restaurant must offer pork tenderloins. We’d recommend starting with old stalwarts like Smitty’s and B&B Grocery, serving up lauded loins that are a favorite of both locals and visiting political press every caucus season.
If you want a Des Moines original that’s more cloth napkin than wet nap, try our signature dish, Steak de Burgo. A filet topped with a garlic and butter sauce, fair warning, it may render future steaks rather dull in comparison. You can find it at practically any Des Moines steakhouse with an Italian sounding name, but the dish at Tursi’s Latin King is so good we made a video about it.
Irreverent yet delicious would be the best way to describe Fong’s Pizza and Zombie Burger. Fong’s is a tiki bar with Asian-inspired pizza whose famous Crab Rangoon pizza earned coveted praise by Alton Brown on Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate.” Zombie Burger serves up inspired creations like the Walking Ched (burger between fried mac and cheese patties) and spiked milkshakes in a post-apocalyptic setting. It’s the perfect date night for horror-movie aficionados.
Other must-try classics:
Jesse’s Embers - A Des Moines institution serving up steaks and old-school charm.
Big Al’s - A smoked tenderloin you didn’t know you needed in your life.
Simon’s - Locals are obsessed with their Steak de Burgo for good reason.
Tasty Tacos - Tacos in a puffed flour shell.
B-bops - Everyone’s favorite local burger chain.
Waterfront Seafood Market - Rustic New England fish market and restaurant with fresh fish flown in daily!
Greater Des Moines is home to so many new and innovative eateries that sometimes it’s hard to keep up. But we have an insatiable appetite for deliciousness, so we’ll put on stretchy pants and give it a shot. Start with Eatery A and their patio overlooking Ingersoll Avenue’s “restaurant row.” Their happy hour (even on weekends) is the worst kept secret in town because it’s amazing (half-price pizza and drinks!).
HoQ prides itself on farm-to-table cuisine (we’re Iowa - we practically invented it) with an evolving menu that showcases whatever’s in season. For elevated diner food in a decidedly hip setting, check out Clyde’s Fine Diner in the East Village. This ain’t your grandpappy’s diner, although he’d probably still love their Old Fashioned.
Other must-try new school:
Dirt Burger - Spoiler alert: vegan food is really good!
Lucky Horse - Beer and burgers don’t have to be boring.
Fresko - The buzz is warranted.
Bubba – Southern comfort in the heart of the Midwest.
Motley School Tavern - An underrated gem in the underrated Beaverdale neighborhood.
Mulberry Street Tavern – See and be seen at swank hot spot inside Surety Hotel.
We’re not all quirky fusion, food on a stick, and extra sides of ranch dressing. Sometimes our food gets gussied up, and when it does, it cleans up nicely. Take Harbinger, the brainchild of chef Joe Tripp, who’s earned five James Beard nominations for Best Chef Midwest. With vegetable-focused small plates and cocktails with an Asian twist, this is the kind of place you can’t stop talking about.
Centro is one of the most renowned restaurants in the city, with remarkably consistent food and service, whether you opt for a wood-fired pizza or homemade pasta. The same could be said for Django, a French-brasserie across from the beautiful Pappajohn Sculpture Garden, offering the best French food you never thought you’d find in the middle of Iowa.
Table 128 is proof that you don’t have to go downtown to get an award-winning meal. Diners flock to Clive to try the modern American dishes made with seasonal ingredients. Their chef was recently asked to cook at the James Beard House in NYC. Still waiting for them to accept the invite to come cook for us.
Other must-try award-winning eats:
The Cheese Bar - Named #1 Cheese Shop in America.
Proof - The proof is in the multiple James Beard nominations.
Alba - An East Village favorite with reclaimed doors hanging from the ceiling.
Trellis - Located in the Botanical Gardens, the food is matched only by the scenery.
Believe it or not, we have more than just corndogs and other assorted meats on a stick. We have a diverse selection of ethnic eats for every taste bud and spice tolerance. Located in an unassuming strip mall in the burbs, Mi Patria serves up Ecuadorian food (think empanadas, skirt steak, and plantains) that has been featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” and once you’ve eaten there, will likely be featured on your Instagram feed.
Hessen Haus downtown is a German-style bier hall with German fare like schnitzel and currywurst, that you can wash down with a crisp hefeweizen served in a glass boot. If your glass of choice is more margarita glass than glass boot, check out Malo. At this trendy downtown Latin American hotspot, you can upgrade your regular nachos to Totchos (you’re welcome) or perhaps change your life with a pork belly pupusa.
Speaking of life-changing, Aposto offers Italian, French, and Mediterranean cuisine inside an 1880 Victorian mansion. Talk about date night done right.
Other must-try ethnic eats:
Tacos La Familia - One word: Birria. Two words: Birria tacos.
Wasabi - We have sushi in Iowa! And it’s good!
Lucca - Date night Italian in the East Village.
Open Sesame - You don’t have to tell us twice.
A Dong - Vietnamese pho to warm the soul.