The essential restaurants in Des Moines
Welcome to the Register’s guide to the 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
This old school steak and seafood restaurant started in 1963 and hasn't looked back since. The staff here treats you like family.
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).
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.
Just consider this the best authentic Mexican experience in Des Moines with its tortas, corn tortillas and margaritas.
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.
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.
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.
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.
New Le's Chinese Bar-B-Que
Consider this your must-visit for Cantonese food. The duck and the tender pork should definitely be part of your order.
Get your Mediterranean diet fix at this East Village Lebanese lunch and dinner spot. Crunchy falafel, creamy tzatziki dip and loaded schwarma pitas shine.
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Order bun bo hue, the ultimate comfort food, and banh mi, the ultimate Vietnamese sandwich, at this stalwart in Highland Park.
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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
MORE DINING GUIDES: DesMoinesRegister.com/DiningEssentials
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.
West Des Moines
165 S. Jordan Creek Pkwy, Suite 160, West Des Moines
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.
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.
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.
This old school Italian red sauce joint comes with its own bocce ball court for serious enthusiasts.
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.
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.