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This city's culinary scene is doing some amazing things. With James Beard Award nominees, award-winning barbecue, and a fantastic farmers' market, this Iowa city's culinary creators keep climbing to new heights. Brian Taylor Carlson/The Register

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Welcome to the Register’s first guide to the 48 essential restaurants of Des Moines. No matter what your dining dilemma, this list can answer that tricky question: Where should I eat breakfast, lunch, dinner or brunch? Or where should I eat if I'm only in town for one weekend a year?

Here you’ll find a variety of cuisines, price points and locations all across the Des Moines area. Granted, this is the first attempt to compile such a list, and it should be fluid, changing to add new restaurants that get their legs under them, old places that push the envelope and those in between that step up their games. It’s certainly not meant to be a list of best restaurants. Instead, think of this as a compendium of dependable places we can recommend for any dining conundrum. So as restaurants and situations change, we plan to take restaurants off and add fresh, groundbreaking ones.

Note we didn’t include restaurants that have been open for less than six months. Breweries, bars and lounges that focus on liquor first are also not included since this list primarily covers the dining scene. Everything here is listed in alphabetical order, so this is not a ranking, it is simply a guide.

Before you get your pitchforks, your angry emails and nasty phone calls ready because your favorite restaurant didn’t make the list, consider joining the conversation instead with a thoughtful comment about why an eatery should be included. Again, this is a first draft, and certainly not the end all, be all. We’re all ears.

Without further ado, the very first 48 essential restaurants of Des Moines. Enjoy.

Datebook Diner Karla Walsh contributed to this article immensely. 

INTERACTIVE MOBILE MAP: Sort these restaurants by cuisine and neighborhood

NEED A RECOMMENDATION? Pick a restaurant at random

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801 ChopHouse

Steak/Seafood 
Downtown        
801 Grand Ave., Des Moines
515-288-6000

Yes, it's pricey for Des Moines, but this steakhouse in the tallest building in the city is a place to see and be seen as well as to dine on great steaks and their sides. Perfect for special occasions.

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A Dong

Vietnamese
Sherman Hill     
1511 High St., Des Moines
515-284-5632

Back open after a devastating fire, this Vietnamese gem is always crowded (and for good reason). Don't miss the newly renovated, almost spa-like interior — or the spectacular spring rolls.


Akebono

Sushi    
Western Gateway
215 10th St., Des Moines
515-244-5972

This is about as close as you will get to sushi in Des Moines, but do try the teppanyaki grill dishes and do a shot of Hennessy. You'll fit right in.


Alba

American           
Historic East Village       
524 E. Sixth St., Des Moines
515-244-0261

This farm-to-table concept with chef Joe Tripp at the helm in the East Village changes its menu to offer the best produce and proteins of the season. Do sit at the four-seat chef's table to watch your meal cooked in front of you.

Video: Meet Joe Tripp, Alba's James Beard nominated chef

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Watch as Alba chef Joe Tripp, who has been named a 2016 James Beard Foundation Awards semifinalist for the Midwest region, prepares a tasting menu for customers at the East Village eatery in Des Moines. Michael Zamora/The Register

TRY IT:Sink your teeth into the Alba burgers


B&B Grocery, Meat & Deli

Deli      
Indianola Hills   
2001 SE Sixth St., Des Moines
515-243-7607

Yes, it's a grocery store, but go for the killer sandwiches here, including a breaded pork tenderloin and Dad's Killer Sandwich, both to die for.

Looking for weekend events? Download the Things to Do Des Moines app for iPhone, Android or browse online


Baru 66

French 
Waveland Woods           
6587 University Ave., Des Moines
515-277-6627

David Baruthio brings his exquisite French dishes to Windsor Heights. Be adventurous and try one of the prix fixe menus to see what the chef really wants you to try.

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Bauder Pharmacy

Ice cream          
North of Grand
3802 Ingersoll Ave., Des Moines
515-255-1124

Come for the Iowa State Fair nostalgia (those peppermint ice cream sandwiches!), stay for the old school soda fountain vibe and the fudge and butter pecan turtle sundae.

Related: The future of dining in Iowa

 

MORE DINING GUIDES: DesMoinesRegister.com/DiningEssentials

Centro

Italian 
Western Gateway         
1003 Locust St., Des Moines
515-248-1780

Derek Eidson gets creative with his interpretation of Italian fare. New York classic pizzas are must-orders here, but come for lunch or brunch with the bloody Mary bar as well.


The Cheese Shop          

American          
Drake 
833 42nd St., Suite B, Des Moines
515-528-8181

Come on Wednesday from 4 to 7 p.m. for a cheesy deal: a simmering serves-two pot of fondue, plus cornichons and a mound of La Mie bread bites, for just $15.

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Cool Basil Thai Cuisine & Sushi Bar

Asian  
Clive   
1250 86th St., Clive
515-225-8111

Flip through the novel-like menu to discover everything from sushi to stir fries to satay. More Asian than directly Thai, it's a nice way to dip your toe into more worldly cuisines.

Des Moines buzz, best eats, and NTK trends: Sign-up for the twice a week Your Morning Juice e-newsletter


Crème Cupcake & Dessert  

Dessert
Woodland Heights        
543 28th St., Des Moines
515-288-1050

For a sweet ending to a date night, split a treat in Christina Moffatt's dessert lounge and wash it down with one of the drink pairing suggestions like a spiked Spanish Coffee or French 75 cocktail.


Django 

French
Western Gateway         
210 10th St., Des Moines
515-288-0268

While it's open daily, visit the unfussy French restaurant branch of George Formaro's empire on Tuesday after 4 p.m. for all-night happy hour with $1 oysters, select $4 appetizers and $5 martinis, wines and beers. Oh yes, and no corkage fee ever.


Drake Diner

Greasy spoon  
Drake 
1111 25th St., Des Moines
515-277-1111

This college town greasy spoon can help cure your hangover — or just your cravings — with breakfast all day. Don't miss the supersized pancakes and skillets to stretch your dollar.

Related: Datebook Diner's 44 favorite dishes in central Iowa


Eatery A

Mediterranean
Woodland Heights        
2932 Ingersoll Ave., Des Moines
515-282-8085

Everything at Nic Gonwa's Eatery A has a Mediterranean flair to it, but always order the octopus and the caramel budino and you will never go wrong. Pizzas are a must-order here as well.

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Flying Mango

Caribbean Barbecue     
Beaverdale       
4345 Hickman Road, Des Moines
515-255-4111

Real wood smoking, like with the 24-hour beef brisket, and a suprising Caribbean twist (mango salsa as a chicken-topper!) sets this Beverdale barbecue joint apart from other saucy spots.

Looking for weekend events? Download the Things to Do Des Moines app for iPhone,Android or browse online


Fong's Pizza    

Polynesian cocktail lounge and pizza      
Downtown       
223 Fourth St., Des Moines
515-323-3333

You say you want crab rangoon on top of your pizza? Done. This place serves from lunch until late night and is a must for any visitor or newcomer to Des Moines.

MORE DINING GUIDES: DesMoinesRegister.com/DiningEssentials


Francie's Bar & Grill       

Sports Bar        
Southwestern Hills        
2100 Wakonda View Drive, Des Moines
515-285-5207

This sports bar is a must for its iconic burgers, French dips and grinders. Order some nachos or chicken wings during the big game and get there early if you want a seat.


Gateway Market

Groceries and wine       
Sherman Hill    
2002 Woodland Ave., Des Moines
515-243-1754

Come for the market's 10 Under $10 wine picks by sommelier Abbe Hendricks; stay for the cafe's expansive menu of sandwiches, salads and more served in huge portions. Fun fact: Gateway brought the first ramen to Des Moines.

Related:10 dining pet peeves

Des Moines buzz, best eats, and NTK trends: Sign-up for the twice a week Your Morning Juice e-newsletter

             
The Highlife Lounge

Comfort Food 
Downtown       
200 SW Second St., Des Moines
515-280-1965

Step into this 1960's style tavern and order up divine cheese curds, lil smokeys, bacon-wrapped tater tots and deviled eggs. Stay for the peanut butter and bacon burger. And slip next door to El Bait Shop for 180 craft brews on tap.


HoQ    

American          
East Village      
303 E. Fifth St., Des Moines
515-244-1213

Suman Hoque takes a farm-to-table approach that keeps Iowa farm products on the ever-changing global menu. Organic, sustainable and local are key words here.

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Jesse's Embers

Surf 'N Turf      
North of Grand 
3301 Ingersoll Ave., Des Moines
515-255-6011

This old school steak and seafood restaurant started in 1963 and hasn't looked back since. The staff here treats you like family.


Jethro's Barbecue 

Drake 
3100 Forest Ave., Des Moines
515-279-3300

While Jethro's now has several "siblings", the kitsch of the barbecue sports bar's Drake location makes the original the best. Bring your appetite and take on the $24.95 "Man vs. Food"-sized Adam Emmenecker Challenge (a burger, plus pork tenderloin, brisket, buffalo chicken tenders, bacon and fried cheese).

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La Mie Bakery 

Deli/bakery      
Drake/Western Gateway            
841 42nd St., Des Moines and 1220 Locust St., Des Moines
515-255-1625 and 515-244-3033

Balance out Joe Logsdon's freshly baked pastries and macarons with a nutritious dish like the vegetable scramble with avocado or the roasted beet and quinoa salad.


Los Laureles     

Mexican            
Capitol East     
1518 E. Grand Ave.
515-265-2200

Just consider this the best authentic Mexican experience in Des Moines with its tortas, corn tortillas and margaritas.


Le Jardin    

French
Beaverdale       
2815 Beaver Ave., Des Moines
515-255-5787

With a focus on local ingredients and simple French fare, diners should check out Tag Grandgeorge's clean yet intimate space for a romantic date night or a unique Sunday family brunch option.


Lemongrass 

Thai/Lao           
West Des Moines          
1221 Eighth St., West Des Moines
515-440-4709

For a steal over the lunch hour, try any of the never more than $10.95 noodle, fried rice stir-fries with beef, chicken or tofu.

             
Mi Patria

Ecuadorian       
West Des Moines          
1410 22nd St., West Des Moines
515-222-2755

As tame as empanadas and as extreme as crab, shrimp and clam arroz marinero, this Ecuadorian fare packs more flavor and will push your boundaries. And you'll be glad it did.


Namaste India

Indian
Clive
7500 University Ave, Clive
515-255-1698

Come ready to share and take an Indian flavor adventure via the two-plate-spanning stuffed crepes and the overflowing daily lunch buffet. Wash down the turmeric-laced chicken tikka masala with a glass of sweet mango lassi. Warning: Spicy here means SPICY.

Looking for weekend events? Download the Things to Do Des Moines app for iPhone,Android or browse online


New Le's Chinese Bar-B-Que

Chinese
River Bend
1600 Second Ave., Des Moines
515-244-6111

Consider this your must-visit for Cantonese food. The duck and the tender pork should definitely be part of your order.


Open Sesame

Lebanese
Historic East Village
313 E. Locust St., Des Moines
515-288-3151

Get your Mediterranean diet fix at this East Village Lebanese lunch and dinner spot. Crunchy falafel, creamy tzatziki dip and loaded schwarma pitas shine.

INTERACTIVE MOBILE MAP: Sort these restaurants by cuisine and neighborhood

NEED A RECOMMENDATION? Pick a restaurant at random


Pho All Seasons

Vietnamese
Highland Park
1311 E. Euclid Ave., Des Moines
515-330-1840

Order bun bo hue, the ultimate comfort food, and banh mi, the ultimate Vietnamese sandwich, at this stalwart in Highland Park.


Proof

Mediterranean, North African and French
Western Gateway
1301 Locust St., Des Moines
515-244-0655

Sean Wilson's stellar restaurant changes like a chameleon to reflect the cuisine his culinary prowess fancies at the moment. Come for Second Saturdays, a blind exploration with an insane theme such as modern foods, updated Betty Crocker recipes or an ode to Charles Dickens.

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Des Moines buzz, best eats, and NTK trends: Sign-up for the twice a week Your Morning Juice e-newsletter


Red Rossa

Pizza
Clive 
12695 University Ave., # 100, Clive
515-221-2529

Besides the wood-fired pizzas, this west side order-at-the-counter restaurant offers loaded salads (check out the oh-so-Italian chop chop) served "a libretto" (translation: like a book), stuffed inside a fresh, warm crust.


Royal Mile

British 
Downtown       
210 Fourth Ave., Des Moines
515-280-3771

Classic and modern takes on British fare make the menu here, but keep in mind the 115 single malt Scotches as well as the Red Monk, the upstairs Belgian bar.


Smitty's

Breaded Pork Tenderloins          
Watrous South
1401 Army Post Road, Des Moines
515-287-4742

Pull up a barstool and order the king of breaded pork tenderloins. These babies are the size of a frisbee and pretty much a national treasure.


Smokey D's BBQ Barbecue

Fort Des Moines, Western Gateway and Downtown        
5055 NW Second St., 1210 Locust St., 601 Locust St.
515-243-2747, 515-288-1000, 515-245-3800

Can you argue with 700-plus awards on the national barbecue circuit? No. Head to one of three locations for the king of barbecue in Des Moines.

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South Union    

Deli     
Western Gateway         
1007 Locust St., Des Moines
515-248-1782

Only open for weekday lunch, make sure to get in line at this popular downtown soup, salad and sandwich spot before noon to avoid a long line. Regardless of your meal choice, you'll return for the fresh baked focaccia that comes with every order.


Splash Seafood Bar & Grill

Seafood            
Downtown       
303 Locust St., Des Moines
515-244-5686

Bruce Gerleman flies in fish daily from Boston, Key Largo, Honolulu and beyond to stock his island cooking recipes. Do go for the oyster bar, the first in the state, and wine list.


Strudl Haus  

Austrian            
McKinley School/Columbus Park 
1951 Indianola Ave., Des Moines
515-259-9886

Snag a booth at Michael Leo's Austrian cafe for a mug of coffee and a flaky Dutch letter for breakfast any day, or swing by for dinner Thursday through Saturday for specialties like wiener schnitzel or cheese spaetzle. Save room for a decadent dessert from the drool-inducing pastry case.

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Table 128

New American
Clive   
2695 University Ave., Suite 140, Clive
515-327-7427

Lynn Pritchard's fresh, new American menu changes quarterly, is lick-your-plate delicious and totally special occasion-worthy. Schedule your visit for a Wednesday night to enjoy vino picks from Lynn's wife Sarah as part of the unlimited wine offering ($26) or Saturday for the never-repeated $38 three-course tasting menu.


Tacopocalypse

Fusion
Historic East Village      
407 E. Fifth St., Des Moines
515-556-0571

It started as a biker's favorite on Taco Tuesday rides, then became a farmers market stand. Now, the Asian-inspired fusion food at Tacopacolypse is the cornerstone of Food Network-famous Sam Auen's restaurant empire. (See also: Krunkwich and Piu Piu Dim Sum, with more to come.)

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MORE DINING GUIDES: DesMoinesRegister.com/DiningEssentials


Tacos Marianas

Mexican            
Capitol East     
1305 University Ave., Des Moines
515-288-1499

The freshly made guacamole is studded with cucumbers and a refreshing accompaniment to the spicy salsa, while the $1.25 tacos (filled with anything from steak to pork carnitas to beef tongue) might just be the tastiest you'll find outside of a truck.


Taste of New York        

Pizza   
West Des Moines          
165 S. Jordan Creek Pkwy, Suite 160, West Des Moines
515-223-8669

Can't make it to Brooklyn? This Jordan Creek-area pizza place is the closest you can get to a classic cheese street slice without leaving Des Moines.


Ted's Coney Island   

Burgers Woodland Heights and Urbandale           
3020 Ingersoll Ave., Des Moines and 2667 86th St, Urbandale
515-243-8947

Lamb gyros in fluffy pitas, Chicago dogs in poppy seed-coated buns and appropriately oversized pork tenderloins...this eclectic menu is what you dream would be available at every Iowa fast food joint.


Trellis 

Deli     
Capitol Park     
909 Robert D. Ray Drive, Des Moines
515-323-6288

With a monthly garden-inspired menu and the beautiful blooms nearby, Lisa LaValle's Botanical Garden deli makes for a flavorful yet figure-friendly lunch spot for everyone from students to retirees.

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Tumea & Sons

Italian 
Southside         
1501 SE First St., Des Moines
515-282-7964

This old school Italian red sauce joint comes with its own bocce ball court for serious enthusiasts.

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Zanzibar's Coffee Adventure    

Coffee Shop     
Woodland Heights        
2723 Ingersoll Ave., Des Moines
515-244-7694

There's a reason this coffee shop is always packed to the gills. Zanzibar's sources its own beans from Kenya, Costa Rica, Sumatra and of course Zanzibar. Bonus: Breakfast comes with coffee most of the time.


Zombie Burger & Drink Lab        

Burgers East Village and West Des Moines           
300 E. Grand Ave, Des Moines, and 101 Jordan Creek Pkwy., West Des Moines
515-244-9292

Novelty burgers and a horror movie theme rule the roost at this joint from Tom McKern with a "post apocalyptic chic” setting. It's just more fun to order a Dead Moines with smoked Gouda, prosciutto, ham and truffle mayo.

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