clock menu more-arrow no yes
A huge fried pork tenderloin topped with mac and cheese, bacon, and a top bun, sitting in a checkerboard paper-lined basket Goldie’s Ice Cream Shoppe

The 33 Essential Restaurants in Des Moines

Where to find an unfussy BYOB French bistro, Ecuadorian comfort food in a strip mall, and the largest craft beer selection west of the Mississippi.

View as Map

Iowa isn’t just about fried food on a stick, loose meat Maid-Rite sandwiches, and presidential hopeful photo ops at the Iowa State Fair. One visit will tell you there’s more to the Hawkeye State than corn fields and corn dogs.

With upstart dining destinations like Lua Brewing and Clyde’s Fine Diner, local food brands like La Quercia cured meats and Maytag blue cheese, and forward-thinkers at the World Food Prize Foundation (which promotes food security and global agricultural innovation), Iowa is slowly inching back to its roots: more small farms and more local businesses to compete with industrial agriculture and chain restaurants. This is especially true surrounding the state’s largest metro area, Des Moines, where young hospitality pros are opening new venues, pushing the restaurant and bar culture in the city forward in a far more diverse direction.

Iowa’s capital, including the hospitality industry, was drastically impacted by COVID-19. But innovative concepts boomed at the same time. Fine dining restaurants tested out new angles, like Harbinger’s to-go Korean fried chicken operation or Django’s virtual burger spin-off. To-go cocktails and curated wine packages helped venues like Bartender’s Handshake and Bubba Southern Comforts recoup revenue lost under capacity limits. Others used the pandemic as an excuse to exit the corporate world and join the baking world. Pastry lovers can now find farmers market stands like Bread by Chelsa B, where Chelsea Smith channels her creative energy into homemade focaccia and sourdough donuts, and Pie Bird Pies, where Kristen Daily and Andrea Piekarczyk feed locals’ penchant for pies.

From quintessential pork tenderloin sandwiches to a roving vegan pop-up in a converted school bus, here are 33 reasons Des Moines isn’t flyover country.

Note: The inclusion of restaurants offering dine-in service should not be taken as an endorsement for dining inside. Studies indicate a lower exposure risk to COVID-19 outdoors, but the level of risk is contingent on social distancing and other safety guidelines. Check with each restaurant for up-to-date information on dining offerings. For updated information on coronavirus cases in your area, please visit the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Karla Walsh is a Des Moines, Iowa-based freelance writer, editor, level one sommelier, and former fitness instructor and personal trainer who balances her love of food and drink with her passion for fitness. Her writing has been printed in Allrecipes, Runner’s World, Shape, and Fitness, and appeared online in Shape, Better Homes & Gardens, Reader’s Digest, and Women’s Health. Keep up with her on Instagram and learn more at karlawalsh.com

Read More
Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Whatcha Smokin

Copy Link
403 Iowa Ave
Luther, IA 50152
(515) 257-7490
Visit Website

Located in a renovated gas station surrounded by cornfields, this Texas-style barbecue is certainly worth the 30-minute drive from downtown Des Moines. Instead of “what are they smoking?” the more apt question might be “what aren’t they smoking?” Feast on a platter of brisket, double-smoked sausage, pulled pork, turkey, baby back ribs, or pork loin smoked daily in their pit. Reserve some stomach real estate for the sides (cornbread, campground beans, mac and cheese, pimento cheese pasta salad) and desserts (Nutter Butter banana pudding).

A pile of tater tots topped with thick slices of charred meat, a fried egg, sauce and chopped herbs
Texas Trainwreck: Tater tots topped with brisket, fried egg, and barbecue sauce.
Whatcha Smokin

2. Five Borough Bagels

Copy Link
13435 University Ave #300
Clive, IA 50325
(515) 809-1807
Visit Website

This bakery and deli is inspired by the bagel shops of New York City, where owners Toney and Sarah Chem met. The sandwiches are named for the city’s boroughs and various landmarks, served alongside espresso drinks, teas, and fresh-squeezed juices. If you’re not feeling a classic fresh-baked lox deluxe bagel, try the Bronx sandwich, a BLT with Sriracha cream cheese and banana peppers.

A bagel sandwich cut in half to reveal meat, vegetables, and flavored cream cheese, held in front of a neon ‘open’ sign
Bronx sandwich with Sriracha cream cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and banana peppers.
Five Borough Bagels

3. Mi Patria

Copy Link
1410 22nd St
West Des Moines, IA 50266
(515) 222-2755
Visit Website

Bring your appetite to this Ecuadorian restaurant tucked away in a West Des Moines strip mall; every order is a feast that guarantees at least one round of leftovers. From empanadas and llapingachos (cheese-filled potato patties served over peanut sauce), to hearty carne asada and fall-apart-tender slow-roasted pork, this is comfort food for any chilly day.

A large grilled steak over beans on a plate with fried eggs, shredded lettuce, and slices of avocado and tomato
Churrasco with rice, tomatoes, avocado, bean menestra, fried egg, and fried plantains.
Mi Patria

4. Kathmandu

Copy Link
7229 Apple Valley Drive
Windsor Heights, IA 50324
(515) 255-1270
Visit Website

Stop in just once at this Nepalese restaurant, located in the western suburb of Windsor Heights, and you’ll be on a first-name basis with the omnipresent owner, Thakur Neupane. The samosa chaat is made to be sopped up with onion kulcha or garlic naan. If mild is your MO, the biryanis and curries will satisfy. But if spice is your style, you can’t miss the chef’s special grill platter, a sizzling skillet almost overflowing with tandoori chicken, shrimp, paneer, and chicken and lamb tikkas. Not long after its aroma wafts through the dining room, a deluge of orders for the platter hit the kitchen.

From above, a platter of dumplings topped with bright sauce and chopped chives, with metal tongs hanging off the side
Soup chicken momos.
Kathmandu

5. St. Kilda Collective

Copy Link
333 5th St
West Des Moines, IA 50265
(515) 705-2030
Visit Website

Modern Australian-American spot St. Kilda Cafe and Bakery kicked off a daytime restaurant renaissance on the south edge of downtown in 2017. In summer 2020, this outpost opened in Valley Junction — an area of West Des Moines once known mainly as an antiquing destination — joining the new cocktail bars and cat cafes that have recently taken over the area. St. Kilda Collective fits right in with a falafel-topped rendition of the original cafe’s signature avocado toast, uber-creamy hummus, vibrant grain bowls, and entrees like mustard-marinated pork tenderloin with kombucha glaze, sweet potato polenta, and chow-chow.

From above, avocado toast overloaded with vegetables, creme fraiche, falafel, and egg
Avocado toast with falafel, creme fraiche, zucchini, radish, and a poached egg.
St. Kilda Collective

6. Simon’s

Copy Link
5800 Franklin Ave
Des Moines, IA 50322
(515) 255-3725
Visit Website

While it has changed names and ownership a few times since originally opening in 1952, this cozy neighborhood Italian restaurant has a remarkably loyal following. Lines begin to form, especially on weekends, well before 5 p.m., when owner Simon Goheen opens the doors. All night long you can eat your fill of entrees like cheese-stuffed chicken over a bed of spaghetti topped with both alfredo and marinara, but diners try to beat the rush for slices of red velvet cake, delivered to each table — on the house — while supplies last.

A dish of cheese topped with tomatoes and olives, on a larger plate with toasted bread
Baked feta drizzled with olive oil, black olives, and tomatoes.
Simon’s

7. Pie Bird Pies

Copy Link
4801 Franklin Ave
Des Moines, IA 50310
(515) 238-3245
Visit Website

Kristen Daily and Andrea Piekarczyk initially connected over the curry-spiced pastry on a butterscotch custard pie Piekarczyk brought to the office where they both used to work. Their bond grew through baking, shared meals, and eventually marriage in 2019. A pandemic furlough left Daily with more time on her hands, so the wife-wife team decided to make their baking hobby a business at select farmers markets and pop-ups. Fans line up to score slices and whole pies, many crowned with intricate pastry toppings, as well as galettes and hand pies. You can find them at the Beaverdale Farmers Market every Tuesday during spring and summer, and find out about pop-ups by following Pie Bird Pies on Instagram.

From above, several mini pies, one half revealed in a decorative box, on a patterned picnic blanket
Mini cherry and peach pies.
Pie Bird Pies

8. Veggie Thumper

Copy Link
4808 University Ave
Des Moines, IA 50311

Even the most carnivorous of diners will find something to adore at Lyssa Wade’s roaming vegan destination. One-upping food trucks, Wade operates out of a converted school bus, serving items like buffalo chick’n nachos and lentil tacos. She hops from farmers markets to hardware store parking lots to (come winter) commercial kitchen pop-ups to feed the metro area’s growing appetite for all things plant-based. You can find Veggie Thumper through Street Food Finder and Instagram.

Ground (imitation) chicken meat with vegetable fixins in a pita
Chili-lime mango jicama jerk “chicken” with black beans in a pita with potato wedges.
Veggie Thumper

9. Pyra Pizzeria

Copy Link
729 Main St
Norwalk, IA 50211
(515) 981-5353
Visit Website

About 20 minutes south of downtown, on Main Street in charming small-town Norwalk, this wood-fired pizza spot is worth the trip. Since late 2018, the family-run operation — under owner Steve Taylor and wife Deb, whose daughter is also a server — has followed the rules for a classic Neapolitan pizza, just sans certification. Each pie is made with Italian 00 flour, San Marzano tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella cheese, and cooks for 90 seconds or less in an 800-degree oven. Try the namesake recipe, the Pyra, with garlic white sauce, Romano, prosciutto, artichokes, kalamata olives, mushrooms, and fresh mozzarella. Or opt for the pie named after the Norwalk High School mascot, the Warrior, which features tomato sauce, Romano, bacon, local Graziano Brothers sausage, pepperoni, red onion, mushrooms, black olives, and fresh mozz.

From above, an open pizza box with a sliced pizza inside
Margherita pizza with tomato sauce, Romano and fresh Mozzarella cheeses, EVOO, basil.
Karla Walsh

10. La Mie Bakery

Copy Link
841 42nd St
Des Moines, IA 50312
(515) 255-1625
Visit Website

Next door to the original Cheese Shop (the retail side of the Cheese Bar operation) you’ll find this bakery that supplies bread to both cheesy destinations, as well as several other local bistros. Open for dine-in breakfast and lunch, La Mie also excels at French pastries, laminated doughs, shiny fruit-adorned tarts, and rainbow-colored French macarons. The satellite location in the Skywalk downtown, La Mie Elevate, keeps office employees riding high on turkey club energy all afternoon long.

Trays of fruit-topped tarts on a bakery counter
Fresh fruit tarts.
La Mie Bakery

11. Hansen’s Manhattan Deli

Copy Link
3705 Ingersoll Ave
Des Moines, IA 50312
(515) 274-1208
Visit Website

Every day around noon, the Hansen family’s deli overflows just like their hoagies. Some of the sandwich combos at the locally owned shop might sound strange, but put your faith in the sandwich artists behind the counter. Try the Blue Bird, slices of blueberry bread stuffed with cream cheese, deli turkey, green pepper, lettuce, Swiss cheese, mustard, coleslaw, and mayo. From warm Italian subs to New York-style stacks to kid-pleasing burgers and single-meat sandwiches, this is a timeless local lunch favorite.

A well-packed hoagie, cut in half on branded wax paper, with sliced meats, vegetables, and cheese
The Louie with capicola, pepperoni, hot pepper cheese, roast beef, provolone, Manhattan Seasoning, Parm, red sauce, mayo, onion, and green pepper.
Hansen’s Manhattan Deli

12. The Bartender's Handshake

Copy Link
3615 Ingersoll Ave
Des Moines, IA 50312
(515) 630-3008
Visit Website

Owner and bartender Dave Murrin-von Ebers made one of the most impressive pandemic pivots at this trendy snack and cocktail hotspot. Before the pandemic, customers packed elbow-to-elbow in the bar beneath stained glass windows. So Murrin-von Ebers closed the indoor space, designating it for staff to shake up complex cocktails and spirit-free drinks, then transformed the parking lot into an apres-ski-style outdoor bar complete with fire pit. Come for the drinks, like the Karate Kick with carrot juice, vodka, chile liqueur, and ginger syrup. Stay for the hospitality and snacks like a gochujang barbecue jackfruit sandwich or cold noodles with mint pesto, chile crisp, and ground mushrooms.

From above, a bowl of red oil-slicked soup, on a plate beside a slice of garlic toast
Butternut squash soup with ancho chili, carrot, pumpkin seed, ginger, coconut milk, chili oil, and garlic toast.
The Bartender’s Handshake

13. Jesse's Embers

Copy Link
3301 Ingersoll Ave
Des Moines, IA 50312
(515) 255-6011
Visit Website

A quintessential Des Moines steakhouse, Jesse’s Embers is Iowa’s answer to a Wisconsin supper club. Kick off a meal with shrimp cocktail or local favorite super-thin-sliced onion rings. The Ember Special is a 12-ounce aged prime sirloin, but you can also dive into a half-pound sirloin Ember Burger, a French dip sandwich, or even baby back ribs. The cozy dining room welcomes newcomers like regulars; you’ll feel like part of the family far before you polish off your first martini or ice cream brandy Alexander.

A hunk of steak on the grill with flames leaping up in the background
Ember’s Special.
Jesse’s Embers

14. Eatery A

Copy Link
2932 Ingersoll Ave
Des Moines, IA 50312
(515) 282-8085
Visit Website

Finding a spot to please diners with a variety of food preferences and allergies can be stressful — until you find Eatery A. At brunch, dinner, and dessert, this Mediterranean-inspired restaurant excels at everything from wood-fired pizzas, to chickpea-cauliflower falafel platters, to San Marzano tomato-based shakshuka with sumac-spiced flatbread. Every day from 3 to 6 p.m., the pizza, draft beer, and wine are half-price.

From above, a plate of balls of falafel surrounded by salad, piles of pickled vegetables, a mound of hummus, and triangles of flatbread
Cauliflower and chickpea falafel with sumac flatbread, hummus, pickled veggies and raita.
Karla Walsh

15. Cheese Bar

Copy Link
2925 Ingersoll Ave
Des Moines, IA 50312
(515) 277-7828
Visit Website

The younger sibling of the retail-focused Cheese Shop, the Cheese Bar is an ideal stop on a crawl down Ingersoll Avenue (one of the best dining drives in town). Owner C. J. Bienert and his team of experts showcase the best Iowa cheeses and cured meats on their signature massive monger boards alongside homemade pates, jams, and crackers. For lunch, don’t miss their next-level grilled cheeses with spicy roasted tomato bisque. For happy hour, fondue and raclette steal the show. And if dinner is on the agenda, you can’t miss the cast-iron skillet mac and cheese. Pair anything with their thoughtful selection of New and Old World wines, beers, and cocktails.

A board with various hunks of cheeses, a pile of crackers, a jar of jam, on a wooden tabletop
Three-cheese cheese board with cornichons, marcona almonds, jam, and crackers.
Karla Walsh

16. Harbinger

Copy Link
2724 Ingersoll Ave
Des Moines, IA 50312
(515) 244-1314
Visit Website

Locally sourced and Asian-inspired, this earthy, centrally located restaurant suits its name; it’s a harbinger of brilliant things to come in the Iowa food scene. Chef-owner Joe Tripp keeps ideas fresh in the kitchen by closing for a month each year to give staff time to travel, study, experiment, and recharge. The fruits of their labor are vegetable-forward, innovative dishes, like local duck egg seasoned with dried yuzu peel and sancho pepper paired with wild chanterelles, melted leeks, and hollandaise. During the pandemic, Tripp and his team tested out a more casual Korean fried chicken operation under the name Basic Bird, which was so popular they’re now searching for a separate storefront to fly into.

From above, a wood table set with place settings and various dishes in decorative ceramic plates and steamer boxes
Happy hour snacks.
Harbinger

17. Lucky Lotus

Copy Link
2721 Ingersoll Ave
Des Moines, IA 50312
(515) 262-8488
Visit Website

This Southeast Asian fast-casual restaurant is a haven for vegans, gluten-free eaters, and anyone craving fresh herbs and punchy sauces. Six multigenerational members of the Chen family helm the restaurant, which often features products made by other local food brands, such as noodles from DSM Ramen Club and vegetables from Grade A Gardens. The After School Fried Rice is a menu mainstay and a playful delight, showcasing eggs, peas, onions, and carrots tossed in a fiery wok with your choice of Chinese sausage, shrimp, chicken, tofu, beef, or veggies.

A table with several dishes, including a plate of stir-fried noodles that someone is eating with chopsticks, along with shaved banana blossom salad and corn salad
Drunken noodles, banana blossom salad, and jungle corn salad.
Lucky Lotus

18. Lachele's Fine Foods

Copy Link
2716 Ingersoll Ave
Des Moines, IA 50312
(515) 330-6876
Visit Website

You’ll likely see a line outside the walk-up window at this burger restaurant, opened in February 2021, by Cory Wendel, who named the place after his wife. Pair the crispy double-fried fries with a chili dog built on a frank from Des Moines-based Berkwood Farms. Or prepare a handful of napkins and dive into the smash burger special of the day, like the recent Pride or Die Melt, which raised funds for a local LGBTQ nonprofit and came topped with cream cheese, roasted jalapenos, and pepper jelly on Parmesan-crusted sourdough.

An overflowing burger with fried onions, cheese, and sauce melting over a patty and onto the dish below. The dish sits on a wood counter with cans of soda in the background
Pork rib smash burger topped with bone marrow barbecue sauce, onion straws, and horseradish-chive aioli.
Lachele’s Fine Foods

19. Black Cat Ice Cream

Copy Link
2511 Cottage Grove Ave
Des Moines, IA 50311
(515) 720-2672
Visit Website

Alex Carter started Black Cat as a tiny ice cream shop out of a walk-up window at a downtown bar and music venue. In June 2021, the brand found a permanent home in the former Woody’s Smoke Shack space in the Drake neighborhood. Many of the from-scratch flavors are inspired by local ingredients or classic Midwestern childhood desserts, such as peanut butter puppy chow, butter-flavored ice cream with chunks of fried Twinkies (a hit come state fair time), and sweet corn with raspberry.

Two cups of ice cream, one with bright blue and pink twist, and the other a rich buttery flavor with chunks of Twinkie sticking out
Cotton candy ice cream, and butter and fried Twinkie ice cream.
Black Cat Ice Cream

20. Tacos Degollado

Copy Link
1717-1815 University Ave
Des Moines, IA 50314
(515) 559-7509
Visit Website

Look for the white truck and awning in the Advance Auto Parts parking lot on University Avenue. You have arrived at the spot for tacos, sold by the plate, by the sheet pan, and even in counts of 50. Choose from fillings including asada, pastor, pollo, pescado, tripa, lengua, camarones, birria, and more; all come topped with generous handfuls of sliced radishes, chopped onions, fresh cilantro, and lime wedges. Don’t skip the salsa station, and be sure to bring cash.

A hand holds two paper plates of tacos overflowing with herbs, radishes, and a lime wedge, with meat peaking out from below
Pastor taco and steak taco with onion, cilantro, lime, and radish.
Karla Walsh

21. Aposto

Copy Link
644 18th St
Des Moines, IA 50314
(515) 244-1353
Visit Website

Book a table on the wraparound porch or in one of the intimate dining rooms on the first floor of this 1880s Sherman Hill home for a charming date night, Italian-style. Owner Tony Lemmo pays homage to his late mother, Lou Ann, with Italian dishes like handmade cavatelli, salad dressings, crispy polenta cakes, and too-good-to-split walnut-spice cake. Come spring and summer, you can see Lou Ann’s purple petunias lining the window boxes that surround the Victorian home.

A bowl of risotto topped with mushrooms and herbs
Mushroom risotto with local mushrooms, microgreens, and hazelnuts.
Karla Walsh

22. Lua Brewing

Copy Link
1525 High St
Des Moines, IA 50309
(515) 630-5311
Visit Website

Since November 2019, Whitney and Scott Selix’s microbrewery has been charting new territory on both the food and drink fronts. At Lua (named after the couples’ Staffordshire bull terrier), they tap new seasonal sours, stouts, ales, and IPAs several times a month. Meanwhile, chef James Arbaugh, who has honed his culinary chops at Michelin-starred restaurants in Chicago and the Bay Area, works with partners to fly in fresh-caught seafood for Dungeness crab cakes and fish and chips. Burgers, wings, unique vegetable sides and salads, and caviar are also frequently in rotation.

A rounded dish with fried fish on top of french fries, beside a pint of beer on a wooden table
Mahi mahi fish and chips with a Lua beer.
Lua Brewing

23. Django

Copy Link
1420 Locust St
Des Moines, IA 50309
(515) 288-0268
Visit Website

“All French. No attitude. No corkage fee.” Django’s tagline does a decent job of explaining the sculpture park-adjacent downtown bistro — but a bite of yolk-dripping croque-madame does it even better. Bring your own bottle of wine to enjoy alongside duck frites, beef tenderloin tartare, and house-made tots with smoked bottarga.

From above, a plate featuring a duck leg in bright orange puree with accoutrements plated around
Duck leg confit, carrot-orange puree, grilled radicchio, marcona almonds, roasted grapes.
Django

24. Proof

Copy Link
1301 Locust St C
Des Moines, IA 50309
(515) 244-0655
Visit Website

For the first nine years of his life, Diego Rodriguez-Negrete visited a local mill in Mexico to grind masa with his grandma before whipping up homemade tortillas together. In 2007, he moved to Iowa from Mexico, received DACA status, and began stuffing burritos at Chipotle in a local mall. Quickly realizing his passion for the hospitality industry went far beyond fast casual, he trained under former Proof co-owner and head chef Sean Wilson for three years, before Rodriguez took the reins. These days he blends his Mexican roots with the local sourcing and magazine spread-worthy plating that had already earned Proof national recognition. You can taste the result in recent menu highlights like wagyu beef with sour cream potatoes, broccoli, and carrot-top chimichurri.

Chunks of watermelon on a bright ceramic plate beneath crumbled egg yolk, radish slices, and herbs
Compressed watermelon with shaved salt-cured egg yolk.
Karla Walsh

25. Bubba

Copy Link
200 10th St
Des Moines, IA 50309
(515) 257-4744
Visit Website

Shrimp and grits, fried chicken and waffles, biscuits, and pimento mac and cheese; you’d probably picture devouring these Southern delights in an elbows-on-the-table spot. At Bubba, managing partner Chris Diebel uses the dishes to pay homage to his Southern roots, but does so in a date night-worthy atmosphere beneath sparkly chandeliers. The restaurant also boasts one of the largest bourbon lists in the corn-loving state. Don’t end your meal without the bananas Foster or whiskey pecan pie — or both.

Hands lift a piece of chicken from a plate of fried chicken, beside another plate nearby and a glass of whiskey
Chicken wings and whiskey.
Bubba

26. Bread by Chelsa B.

Copy Link

Chelsea Smith (and her starter named Gloria) often draw block-long lines at farmers markets and pop-up appearances. Under the name Chelsa B (a phonetic spelling to help customers pronounce her name correctly as Chel-suh), Smith offers homemade focaccia, sourdough doughnuts, babka-like sweet rolls, and pan loaves. She also teams up with local farmers, honey producers, and cheesemakers to go beyond basic flavors. One recent smashing success: tomato, basil, and garlic miso sourdough focaccia made with miso from local partner Young Ferments. Follow her on Instagram for the next pop-up.

Different kinds of cream-filled donuts, topped with flowers or other garnishes, in rows in a box
Cinnamon-sugar sourdough donuts.
Bread by Chelsa B.

27. Mulberry Street Tavern

Copy Link
206 6th Ave
Des Moines, IA 50309
(515) 985-2066
Visit Website

Think of this midcentury-inspired bistro as a modern twist on the bed and breakfast. Nestled in the first floor of a downtown hotel that opened November 2020, and open for brunch, pub snacks, and dinner, Mulberry Street Tavern has the feel of a restaurant in a much-larger cosmopolitan capital. Upscale comfort food is the cuisine du jour. The butcher cut for two, for instance, is a play on the Iowa classic steak de burgo (a filet swimming in garlicky sauce). At Mulberry Street, it comes as a generous portion of Iowa-raised beef crowned with horseradish cream and de burgo sauce. That’s best washed down with the Smoke + Mirrors cocktail, a tableside-smoked combo of Templeton four-year rye, Angostura bitters, and demerara sugar.

A plate of gnocchi in sauce topped with herbs
Five-spiced pumpkin gnocchi with brown butter, sage, and prosciutto.
Mulberry Street Tavern

28. Flavory Bistro

Copy Link
The District - Left on Main, 1450 SW Vintage Pkwy
Ankeny, IA 50023
(515) 443-7272
Visit Website

Drive about 15 minutes north of downtown and you’ll find the District at Prairie Trail. The bustling walkable area of locally owned businesses sits in sharp contrast to the residential neighborhoods and strips of chain restaurants that make up the rest of Ankeny (Des Moines’s second-largest suburb). Head for Flavory, a Mediterranean bistro run by chef Lisa Morales and her husband, Hector. The chef excels at seafood paella, gyro pitas, and platters overflowing with salads, homemade bread, sauteed vegetables, falafel, and dips.

A decorative platter topped with little piles of various dishes
Mediterranean platter with salad, hummus, roasted peppers and veggies, falafel, lima beans, and breads.
Karla Walsh

29. The High Life Lounge

Copy Link
200 SW 2nd St
Des Moines, IA 50309
(515) 280-1965
Visit Website

Pull up a stool at El Bait Shop, home to 262 draft beers (the largest craft beer selection west of the Mississippi), and order a glass of your favorite brew. Then walk through the door that connects the shop to this downtown lounge, which feels like stepping back into Grandma’s basement. Start with quintessential Iowa bar food, including bacon-wrapped tots, fried cheese curds, and chicken wings, then move on to just-like-Mom-made entrees like goulash, meatloaf, or chicken pot pie.

A plate of green bean casserole beneath fried onions on a serving dish with a roll, sitting on a wooden bar with a bottle of High Life
Green bean casserole with bacon, roasted chicken, and fried onions.
The High Life Lounge

30. Clyde's Fine Diner

Copy Link
111 E Grand Ave Suite 111
Des Moines, IA 50309
(515) 243-3686
Visit Website

Diner grub and the classic diner environment get a chic, Instagram-era upgrade at Clyde’s. With local ingredients and creative riffs on crowd-pleasing comfort foods (fried Brussels sprouts tossed with Caesar salad dressing and breadcrumbs), the results are far beyond “fine.” Whether you opt for the double smash burger, Chicago hot link with cornbread and vegetable panzanella, or hot chicken with kimchi collards, just be sure to save room for the soft serve flavors of the moment.

A double burger overflowing with melted cheese and pickles on a plate beside a pint of beer
CFD Burger with double smash patty, American cheese, burger sauce, shaved onion, and pickles.
Clyde’s Fine Diner

31. Trellis

Copy Link
909 Robert D. Ray Dr
Des Moines, IA 50316
(515) 323-6288
Visit Website

Chefs Lisa LaValle and Rebekah Kohl and pastry chef Nik Pugmire follow the season’s best produce at this locally sourced bistro, situated inside the tropical escape of the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden. Snag a table in the window-lined, plant-filled dining room or on the deck that overlooks the garden’s pond to enjoy an Iowa sweet corn BLT, grandma’s peach salad with Maytag blue cheese and white balsamic dressing, and blackberry-rhubarb lavender crisp.

A plate overflowing with vegetables and dips, held in front of a green house
Beet hummus plate.
Trellis

32. Alba

Copy Link
524 E 6th St
Des Moines, IA 50309
(515) 244-0261
Visit Website

Home to Central Iowa’s only chef’s table, this East Village new American restaurant allows you to choose your own adventure. For a casual night out, snack on spicy chorizo fries at the bar, or grab a table in the dining room to devour cloud-like gnocchi and seasonal creme brulee. For the most unique and intimate experience, book the chef’s table for two to six diners. Just name your budget, any food allergies, and your drink pairing of choice, and let the chefs and sommelier take it away.

A hand holding a plate of empanadas topped with cauliflower florets, crumbled cheese, slices of onion, and herbs
Chicken birria empanadas with pickled cauliflower, pickled onions, and cotija.
Karla Walsh

33. Goldie's Ice Cream Shoppe

Copy Link
304 W 2nd St #8578
Prairie City, IA 50228
(515) 994-3190
Visit Website

Pork tenderloin sandwiches are a staple at many diners in Iowa, where the meat is pounded thin, typically making it far larger than the bun, and fried in breadcrumbs. (There’s even an Iowa Tenderloin Trail if you’re feeling ambitious.) Goldie’s, about 30 minutes east of the metro, is home to a terrific example, alongside burgers featuring locally sourced Iowa beef. No trip is complete without a Twister, the signature milkshake.

A huge fried pork tenderloin topped with mac and cheese, bacon, and a top bun, sitting in a checkerboard paper-lined basket
Bacon-mac tenderloin.
Goldie’s Ice Cream Shoppe

1. Whatcha Smokin

403 Iowa Ave, Luther, IA 50152
A pile of tater tots topped with thick slices of charred meat, a fried egg, sauce and chopped herbs
Texas Trainwreck: Tater tots topped with brisket, fried egg, and barbecue sauce.
Whatcha Smokin

Located in a renovated gas station surrounded by cornfields, this Texas-style barbecue is certainly worth the 30-minute drive from downtown Des Moines. Instead of “what are they smoking?” the more apt question might be “what aren’t they smoking?” Feast on a platter of brisket, double-smoked sausage, pulled pork, turkey, baby back ribs, or pork loin smoked daily in their pit. Reserve some stomach real estate for the sides (cornbread, campground beans, mac and cheese, pimento cheese pasta salad) and desserts (Nutter Butter banana pudding).

403 Iowa Ave
Luther, IA 50152

2. Five Borough Bagels

13435 University Ave #300, Clive, IA 50325
A bagel sandwich cut in half to reveal meat, vegetables, and flavored cream cheese, held in front of a neon ‘open’ sign
Bronx sandwich with Sriracha cream cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and banana peppers.
Five Borough Bagels

This bakery and deli is inspired by the bagel shops of New York City, where owners Toney and Sarah Chem met. The sandwiches are named for the city’s boroughs and various landmarks, served alongside espresso drinks, teas, and fresh-squeezed juices. If you’re not feeling a classic fresh-baked lox deluxe bagel, try the Bronx sandwich, a BLT with Sriracha cream cheese and banana peppers.

13435 University Ave #300
Clive, IA 50325

3. Mi Patria

1410 22nd St, West Des Moines, IA 50266
A large grilled steak over beans on a plate with fried eggs, shredded lettuce, and slices of avocado and tomato
Churrasco with rice, tomatoes, avocado, bean menestra, fried egg, and fried plantains.
Mi Patria

Bring your appetite to this Ecuadorian restaurant tucked away in a West Des Moines strip mall; every order is a feast that guarantees at least one round of leftovers. From empanadas and llapingachos (cheese-filled potato patties served over peanut sauce), to hearty carne asada and fall-apart-tender slow-roasted pork, this is comfort food for any chilly day.

1410 22nd St
West Des Moines, IA 50266

4. Kathmandu

7229 Apple Valley Drive, Windsor Heights, IA 50324
From above, a platter of dumplings topped with bright sauce and chopped chives, with metal tongs hanging off the side
Soup chicken momos.
Kathmandu

Stop in just once at this Nepalese restaurant, located in the western suburb of Windsor Heights, and you’ll be on a first-name basis with the omnipresent owner, Thakur Neupane. The samosa chaat is made to be sopped up with onion kulcha or garlic naan. If mild is your MO, the biryanis and curries will satisfy. But if spice is your style, you can’t miss the chef’s special grill platter, a sizzling skillet almost overflowing with tandoori chicken, shrimp, paneer, and chicken and lamb tikkas. Not long after its aroma wafts through the dining room, a deluge of orders for the platter hit the kitchen.

7229 Apple Valley Drive
Windsor Heights, IA 50324

5. St. Kilda Collective

333 5th St, West Des Moines, IA 50265
From above, avocado toast overloaded with vegetables, creme fraiche, falafel, and egg
Avocado toast with falafel, creme fraiche, zucchini, radish, and a poached egg.
St. Kilda Collective

Modern Australian-American spot St. Kilda Cafe and Bakery kicked off a daytime restaurant renaissance on the south edge of downtown in 2017. In summer 2020, this outpost opened in Valley Junction — an area of West Des Moines once known mainly as an antiquing destination — joining the new cocktail bars and cat cafes that have recently taken over the area. St. Kilda Collective fits right in with a falafel-topped rendition of the original cafe’s signature avocado toast, uber-creamy hummus, vibrant grain bowls, and entrees like mustard-marinated pork tenderloin with kombucha glaze, sweet potato polenta, and chow-chow.

333 5th St
West Des Moines, IA 50265

6. Simon’s

5800 Franklin Ave, Des Moines, IA 50322
A dish of cheese topped with tomatoes and olives, on a larger plate with toasted bread
Baked feta drizzled with olive oil, black olives, and tomatoes.
Simon’s

While it has changed names and ownership a few times since originally opening in 1952, this cozy neighborhood Italian restaurant has a remarkably loyal following. Lines begin to form, especially on weekends, well before 5 p.m., when owner Simon Goheen opens the doors. All night long you can eat your fill of entrees like cheese-stuffed chicken over a bed of spaghetti topped with both alfredo and marinara, but diners try to beat the rush for slices of red velvet cake, delivered to each table — on the house — while supplies last.

5800 Franklin Ave
Des Moines, IA 50322

7. Pie Bird Pies

4801 Franklin Ave, Des Moines, IA 50310
From above, several mini pies, one half revealed in a decorative box, on a patterned picnic blanket
Mini cherry and peach pies.
Pie Bird Pies

Kristen Daily and Andrea Piekarczyk initially connected over the curry-spiced pastry on a butterscotch custard pie Piekarczyk brought to the office where they both used to work. Their bond grew through baking, shared meals, and eventually marriage in 2019. A pandemic furlough left Daily with more time on her hands, so the wife-wife team decided to make their baking hobby a business at select farmers markets and pop-ups. Fans line up to score slices and whole pies, many crowned with intricate pastry toppings, as well as galettes and hand pies. You can find them at the Beaverdale Farmers Market every Tuesday during spring and summer, and find out about pop-ups by following Pie Bird Pies on Instagram.

4801 Franklin Ave
Des Moines, IA 50310

8. Veggie Thumper

4808 University Ave, Des Moines, IA 50311
Ground (imitation) chicken meat with vegetable fixins in a pita
Chili-lime mango jicama jerk “chicken” with black beans in a pita with potato wedges.
Veggie Thumper

Even the most carnivorous of diners will find something to adore at Lyssa Wade’s roaming vegan destination. One-upping food trucks, Wade operates out of a converted school bus, serving items like buffalo chick’n nachos and lentil tacos. She hops from farmers markets to hardware store parking lots to (come winter) commercial kitchen pop-ups to feed the metro area’s growing appetite for all things plant-based. You can find Veggie Thumper through Street Food Finder and Instagram.

4808 University Ave
Des Moines, IA 50311

9. Pyra Pizzeria

729 Main St, Norwalk, IA 50211
From above, an open pizza box with a sliced pizza inside
Margherita pizza with tomato sauce, Romano and fresh Mozzarella cheeses, EVOO, basil.
Karla Walsh

About 20 minutes south of downtown, on Main Street in charming small-town Norwalk, this wood-fired pizza spot is worth the trip. Since late 2018, the family-run operation — under owner Steve Taylor and wife Deb, whose daughter is also a server — has followed the rules for a classic Neapolitan pizza, just sans certification. Each pie is made with Italian 00 flour, San Marzano tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella cheese, and cooks for 90 seconds or less in an 800-degree oven. Try the namesake recipe, the Pyra, with garlic white sauce, Romano, prosciutto, artichokes, kalamata olives, mushrooms, and fresh mozzarella. Or opt for the pie named after the Norwalk High School mascot, the Warrior, which features tomato sauce, Romano, bacon, local Graziano Brothers sausage, pepperoni, red onion, mushrooms, black olives, and fresh mozz.

729 Main St
Norwalk, IA 50211

10. La Mie Bakery

841 42nd St, Des Moines, IA 50312
Trays of fruit-topped tarts on a bakery counter
Fresh fruit tarts.
La Mie Bakery

Next door to the original Cheese Shop (the retail side of the Cheese Bar operation) you’ll find this bakery that supplies bread to both cheesy destinations, as well as several other local bistros. Open for dine-in breakfast and lunch, La Mie also excels at French pastries, laminated doughs, shiny fruit-adorned tarts, and rainbow-colored French macarons. The satellite location in the Skywalk downtown, La Mie Elevate, keeps office employees riding high on turkey club energy all afternoon long.

841 42nd St
Des Moines, IA 50312

11. Hansen’s Manhattan Deli

3705 Ingersoll Ave, Des Moines, IA 50312
A well-packed hoagie, cut in half on branded wax paper, with sliced meats, vegetables, and cheese
The Louie with capicola, pepperoni, hot pepper cheese, roast beef, provolone, Manhattan Seasoning, Parm, red sauce, mayo, onion, and green pepper.
Hansen’s Manhattan Deli

Every day around noon, the Hansen family’s deli overflows just like their hoagies. Some of the sandwich combos at the locally owned shop might sound strange, but put your faith in the sandwich artists behind the counter. Try the Blue Bird, slices of blueberry bread stuffed with cream cheese, deli turkey, green pepper, lettuce, Swiss cheese, mustard, coleslaw, and mayo. From warm Italian subs to New York-style stacks to kid-pleasing burgers and single-meat sandwiches, this is a timeless local lunch favorite.

3705 Ingersoll Ave
Des Moines, IA 50312

12. The Bartender's Handshake

3615 Ingersoll Ave, Des Moines, IA 50312
From above, a bowl of red oil-slicked soup, on a plate beside a slice of garlic toast
Butternut squash soup with ancho chili, carrot, pumpkin seed, ginger, coconut milk, chili oil, and garlic toast.
The Bartender’s Handshake

Owner and bartender Dave Murrin-von Ebers made one of the most impressive pandemic pivots at this trendy snack and cocktail hotspot. Before the pandemic, customers packed elbow-to-elbow in the bar beneath stained glass windows. So Murrin-von Ebers closed the indoor space, designating it for staff to shake up complex cocktails and spirit-free drinks, then transformed the parking lot into an apres-ski-style outdoor bar complete with fire pit. Come for the drinks, like the Karate Kick with carrot juice, vodka, chile liqueur, and ginger syrup. Stay for the hospitality and snacks like a gochujang barbecue jackfruit sandwich or cold noodles with mint pesto, chile crisp, and ground mushrooms.

3615 Ingersoll Ave
Des Moines, IA 50312

13. Jesse's Embers

3301 Ingersoll Ave, Des Moines, IA 50312