The 41 bygone Des Moines restaurants diners miss the most
The Des Moines dining scene has grown into an eclectic and admirable collection of restaurants, but there are plenty of now-closed — and dearly missed — eateries that led the way.
With the help of our readers, we compiled a list of more than 125 bygone restaurants, but only included the restaurants that were mentioned the most.
We dug deep into our archives to discover the history and popularity of these restaurants that were pillars, cornerstones and landmarks of the Des Moines dining scene over the last 100 years.
Alice's Spaghetti Land
The Italian restaurant named after the proprietor Alice Nizzi is gone, but the road that bears her name in Waukee remains. After running the restaurant for 50 years, Nizzi died in 1997, but her spaghetti sauce is fondly remembered and still served by her descendants.
Run by Italian natives Harry and Ann Tancredi, the restaurant was first in Madrid and then, by popular demand, moved to Des Moines. Though it was closed in 1991, Anjo's is still remembered for its unforgettable authentic Italian cuisine.
Closed since 1996, this iconic Des Moines restaurant still lingers in the memories of many. It was a smash hit as a restaurant and "nite club" during World War II and maintained a reputation as one of the metro's premier restaurants for decades.
There are few other Des Moines restaurants that are remembered as such a singular extension of one man. Bamie Bonanno, known for his "wacko" antics and eccentric hospitality, served pizza at the corner of Fleur Drive and Army Post Road for 23 years before closing in 1986. Long after he died in 1993, people were still commemorating Bamie's pizza by eating it at the Waveland Cafe in 1998, where a fire extinguisher and a trombone were set out in his honor.
The last location of this longtime local favorite lived in the Sherwood Forest shopping center off Hickman from 1963 until it closed in 2006. It once boasted five locations in the metro area and was well known for its house-made pies and bread along with homestyle classics like fried chicken and macaroni and cheese.
It was a deli ahead of its time and stood fast for 35 years, first in the Drake neighborhood and then downtown in the space Proof now occupies. The deli offered inspired sandwiches for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike in a laid-back atmosphere.
Big Daddy's BBQ
A barbecue joint that cultivated a reputation as the best pit in town, the Capitol Park favorite closed in 2018. Even Tom Brokaw would request that his driver pick up an order of ribs when he was in town.
A corporate-owned restaurant chain that dominated the Des Moines metro for the better part of the 20th century, the last Bishops Buffet location at Southridge Mall closed in 1997, though its pies and fried chicken are still missed.
The Blind Munchies
An iconic Des Moines deli that served the Drake neighborhood from 1970 to 1988, diners remember it fondly for its late-night sandwiches and welcoming atmosphere. It reopened briefly in 1990 as Mikey's Place. Owners of deli went on to form several sandwich shops and restaurants while its former home now houses Woody's Smoke Shack.
Boswell's Select Foods
A treasured breakfast and lunch spot in the Drake neighborhood, this restaurant closed when its final Boswell family caretaker, Randy, closed it in 1996. Memories of the hashbrowns, however, will last forever.
This eatery altered the dining scene in Des Moines as soon as it opened in 1991. Serving classic Chinese dishes while drawing from a variety of Asian culinary cultures in a setting that set itself apart with its modern sensibility, the dim sum and the crab rangoons are already missed by its many fans.
Ahead of its time and gone too soon, this restaurant occupied a special place in Sherman Hill from 1994 to 2004, before the area's restoration and gentrification would kick into high gear. Chat Noir was also serving unique dishes with locally-sourced ingredients before the trend really kicked off. Former fans of the Noir can still go to the Northside Cafe in Winterset, which some of the former owners now run.
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Cheddar's Casual Cafe
This restaurant was a regional chain, but it served many metro diners from its location in Clive throughout the 1990s and 2000s with affordable and consistent meals. Former diners still recall the locations sandwiches and cookies fondly.
Though only closed at the end of 2018, this pride of the Beaverdale culinary scene is already sorely missed. The restaurant was bought by Jason Simon, owner of buzzy new restaurants Alba and Eatery A, so expect to hear something about the location soon.
Crimmin's Cattle Company
The Texas-style roundhouse specialized in choice cuts like prime rib and filet mignon and once had multiple locations on the south and west sides of the metro. The last vestige of the restaurant closed at Southridge Mall in 2010.
The Des Moines iteration of this regional chain only lived on Westown Parkway from the mid-1980s to the early '90s, but the freshness of its ingredients and the generous size of its burgers and other offerings keep it in the hearts and minds of many metro diners.
The French Quarter
The short-lived cajun-style restaurant opened in 1989 offered a unique and memorable cuisine on Court Avenue. Unfortunately, the historic and devastating flooding that took place in Des Moines in 1993 closed the original location. The restaurant tried to resume business on Fourth Street after the death of its original chef Tom Stirling shortly before disappearing from the dining scene for good.
The north side of Des Moines' institutional Italian restaurant for nearly 50 years, Gino's closed in 2015 and left a large hole in the Des Moines food scene. Luckily for the restaurant's loyal patrons, you can still purchase various Gino's brand sauces and dressings at many local grocery stores.
Helen & Pat's
For the better part of four decades, Helen & Pat's was ubiquitous with cavatelli, a dish named for the small curled pasta used in the dish. According to reports, Helen & Pat's cavatelli was as delicious as it was affordable. The restaurant's flagship sprung up on the north side before sprouting franchised establishments across the metro before fading away at the dawn of the new century.
Johnny & Kay's
Johnny and Kay Compiano, a husband-and-wife team, opened this still-missed eatery near the Des Moines Municipal Airport in 1946. Its Steak de Burgo recipe made it into "Famous Foods from Famous Places," a recipe book from Better Homes and Gardens in 1964. Also popular were the creamy garlic salad dressing, french-fried onion rings, fried chicken on the weekends and the red cake with white frosting. The Compianos remained in the restaurant business for many years after they sold the restaurant to the Hyatt House hotel chain in 1968.
Johnny's Vet's Club
In 1946, John Stamatelos converted his Valley Junction home into a restaurant. Johnny’s Vet’s Club’s supper club atmosphere with live entertainment was where people went for the version of Steak de Burgo made with garlic, basil and a splash of cream. Johnny’s, owned by Steve Little, closed after the flood of 1993. The recipe was resurrected by Little at Chef’s Kitchen in Beaverdale before it closed at the end of 2018.
Imperial Steak House & Lounge
After its start as Bucknam's Steak House in 1957, Bob and Rita Dietz bought this Ingersoll Avenue landmark in 1974 and changed the name to Bucknam's Imperial House. It was revered for its throwback decor and affordable options like bacon-wrapped chicken livers, Steak Diane, barbecued ribs and ice cream sundaes. After longtime employee and manager Lester Brewer bought the restaurant in 1994 and changed the name to Imperial Steak House & Lounge, the restaurant burned down in 1996 and never reopened.
King Ying Low
When King Ying Low closed, it had been open for a hundred years and, in that time, had become one of Des Moines' stalwart institutions. The restaurant's atmosphere and decor have largely been preserved by Fong's Pizza, the new-generation novelty pizza restaurant that took up in the ground floor of the Hotel Elliott, but the generations of Chinese immigrants and the food they served are now gone.
Like any late-night greasy spoon, Knox's Cafe was more than just the favored eatery of Des Moines' north side. It was a capsule of culture, serving everyone from the after-school crowd to late night ba-rgoers. Opened on Euclid Avenue in 1936 then moved to another location on the same block in 1956, the restaurant was closed and torn down in 1995.
Millie's went by a few different monikers during its time, but the casual dining restaurant, at times a drive-in, along University Avenue was known first and foremost for its tenderloin. That beloved tenderloin was lost to the public when Millie's burned down in 1988, a case authorities believed involved a former police officer and the restaurant's owners. Millie's Tenderloin was revived as Georgia's Diner on the south side before sinking into oblivion in 1996 when the owners declared bankruptcy.
Mustard's Last Stand
As soon as it opened in 1971 on the corner of Harding Road and Forest Avenue, Mustard's burgers and barbecue were a hit. Like many other successful Des Moines restaurants, several franchised versions existed throughout the metro at one point, though the final Mustard's outpost in Windsor Heights closed in 2016.
This long-time luncheonette destination for noon-time (or anytime) steaks and chops was another victim of the downtown development boom. The restaurant outlasted many who opened their doors in the 1960s and saw long lines after announcing its closing in 2015.
This nautical-themed restaurant was a mainstay of a former era on Fleur Drive. It was the place to go in Des Moines to get your fill of surf and turf alike from the 1970s into the late '90s. Former patrons still think of it fondly as they pass the Walgreens that now stands in its place.
Another institution devoted to the worship of the fried pork tenderloin, Porky's Diner had occupied a special place in the hearts of its diners and the wallets of area cardiologists since it opened in the 1980s. It was also a hot spot for classic car enthusiasts. The unique building the diner occupied for several decades was razed in 2009.
Raul's Taco House
It's clear when Raul's Taco House opened in 1962, it brought a new flavor of Mexican food to Des Moines that people felt compelled towards. A review in the Des Moines Tribune hailed it as authentic Mexican food, not Mexican food for American tastes. The last vestige of Raul's in the metro ended in 2015 when Raul Hernandez's daughter, Connie, closed Raul's Mexican Food in West Des Moines to focus on her health.
Robin's Wood Oven Grill
Closed short of what would've been its 25th anniversary in 2009, Robin's — first as the Robin's Nest then as the Wood Oven Grill — showed the south side of Des Moines the value of a local place with reliably good food. The addition of the wood oven grill in the mid-'90s allowed for a truly unique dining experience at the time.
Rocky's White Shutter Inn
Operated out of an ancestral farmhouse, Rocky's White Shutter Inn graced Fleur Drive with offerings of Cantonese food, steakhouse fare, seafood and cocktails, all served in elegant alcoves, for roughly a decade before being bought and converted into Fatino's Italian-American Cucina.
Opened near the end of the 1970s to much fanfare, the premier surf and turf restaurant near Terrace Hill was instantly the nightlife spot du jour where locals could catch music and participate in the local social scene. It epitomized a certain time in Des Moines, though not an enduring one.
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Sam & Gabe's Italian Bistro
Sam & Gabe's moved from Clive to Urbandale in 2004 in the former location of Kenilworth Cafe. The restaurant served Italian specialties including stuffed cannelloni, pizza and its popular lemon mousse cheesecake. In 2016, Jerry Talerico sold the business to Shawn Chapman, who opened another location in The Lyon building in East Village.
The pizza buffet once occupied a solid position in the lunch spot rotation for Des Moines metro diners at its Urbandale location. But as Shakey's dominance faded, so did its Iowa locations. There are 51 Shakey's left in the world: 48 are in California. None are in Iowa.
From the mid-1950s to 1970, Silhouette Restaurant was synonymous with Sunday dinners with family-style spreads of fried chicken, and all the sides. Swiss steak with tomato gravy, creamed chicken over biscuits and prime rib were a few of its signature dishes. Formerly located at the intersection of Douglas Avenue and Merle Hay Road, the restaurant was owned by Mary and Fred Wall, who also owned and operated four other now-closed restaurants like The Inn on Delaware and Hi-Ho Grill.
Stella's Blue Sky Diner
Born among a wave of resurgent enthusiasm for the 1950s and part of a then-new wave of popular restaurants opening in the Des Moines suburbs, Stella's Blue Sky Diner opened in the late '80s and saw immediate popularity. The restaurant gave its patrons a replicated vintage diner experience complete with talented servers who would serve a classic shake poured into a container balanced on the customer's head.
Tea Room at Younkers Department Store
In 1913, the Tea Room opened on the fifth floor at Younkers in downtown Des Moines. Shoppers and diners dressed for the refined occasion and the restaurant was known for its sticky buns, rarebit burger and chicken salad. Younkers closed its downtown location in 2005.
Top's Steak House
For 35 years, Top's Steak House served steak and baked potato dinners with salad. The restaurant was flooded in 1993 but reopened after repairs shortly after. Owners Maroussa and Sotere "Sotos" Annoussis decided it was time to retire in 2007. Sotos Annoussis was also president of a chain of 11 Spartan Steak Houses during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Vic's Tally Ho/Mr. Vic's
After its opening in 1940, Vic's Tally Ho was "the place to go" for steaks, spaghetti and sausage and french-fried shrimp. Owned by Vic Talerico, the original building was destroyed by fire on 1962, but Vic's reopened a year later with much fanfare. After Talerico passed in 1971, the restaurant closed permanently in 1974. By that time, it was called Mr. Vic's.
Wimpy's Steak House
Wimpy's was a Des Moines institution for nearly 50 years, opening in 1931 and closing in 1980. Originally selling large hamburgers for a nickel, owner Joseph Cimino lived above the restaurant and hired men released from the city and county jail to give them a new start in life. These servers were known for taking accurate orders for large parties using only their memories.