The 27 essential restaurants in the Des Moines metro: 2024 edition (2024)

Susan StapletonDes Moines Register

Welcome to the Des Moines Register’s guide to the essential restaurants spanning the Des Moines metro area. No matter what your dining dilemma, this list can help you answer your restaurant questions:Where should I eat breakfast, lunch, dinner or brunch? Where should I eat if I'm only in town for one weekend a year? I'm bored with my regulars;where can I get something different?

The list includes a variety of cuisines, price points and locations across themetro. Thinkofit as a compendium of dependable places we can recommend for any dining conundrum.

We didn’t include restaurants that hadbeen open for less than six months before publication. 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.

We want your feedback on our guide— are there places that should be considered essential that we didn't include? Let Entertainment Editor Susan Stapleton know atsstapleton@registermedia.com.

Without further ado, the 27 essential restaurants of Des Moines. Enjoy.

801 Chophouse

A grand steakhouse stakes a claim in downtown Des Moines as a fine example of a restaurant for celebrating a big deal—an anniversary or a birthday, or just getting through a week. All the steakhouse favorites make the menu at 801 Chophouse — the bone marrow, the shrimp co*cktail, the pancetta-wrapped scallops to start. Order an 801 Wedge with blue cheese dressing plus crumbled Maytag blue cheese and bacon for a true steakhouse experience, and follow it with USDA Prime dry-aged cuts of rib-eyes, porterhouses, filets or strips. Add Béarnaise or black truffle butter on the side, then pair steaks with scalloped potatoes or baked creamed spinach. Handsome booths decked out in clubby dark woods give a sense of intimacy.

801 Chophouse, 801 Grand Ave., Suite 200, Des Moines; 515-288-6000

Website:801chophouse.com/des-moines/

Neighborhood:Downtown Des Moines

Cuisine:Steakhouse

Price:$$$$

Of note:

  • Request the Caucus Room, outfitted with memorabilia from caucuses of the past, for a private event.
  • Ask to see the Daily Fresh Sheet, featuring fresh-finned fish, East and West Coast oysters, live Maine lobsters, seasonal salads and sides.
  • The first 801 Chophouse opened in Des Moines in 1993. Now there are six more locations from St. Louis to Denver.

More: How to spend a perfect day in downtown Des Moines with food, drinks and more

Alba

It’s hard not to look up when dining at Alba — rustic reclaimed wooden doors are whimsically suspended from the ceiling, giving the upscale American restaurant a warm and approachable feel. Restaurateur Jason Simon established Alba in a renovated 1950s auto garage in 2008, and it’s earned three nominations for a James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef Midwest in 2010 for Simon and 2016 and 2017 for former chef Joe Tripp. The menu changes often and features seasonal ingredients unexpectedly paired to delight the senses. Find plates such as a New York strip stroganoff, duck ragu, and root beer-braised pork cheeks. During the pandemic, Simon leaned into steaks with options such as hanger, filet and a New York strip. Pair with a bordelaise sauce, pave potatoes or tarragon risotto. The farmhouse burger here is a solid must-order.The restaurant is known for its molten lava chocolate cake.

Alba, 524 E. Sixth St., Des Moines; 515-244-0261

Website: albadsm.com

Neighborhood:Historic East Village

Cuisine:American fine dining

Price:$$$$

Of note:

  • Alba’s name was inspired by white oak trees.
  • Alba was the first Iowa restaurant that chef Joe Tripp, owner of Harbinger, Basic Bird and Little Brother, worked in.
  • A secondary dining area in Alba features a large, curved bar where customers can enjoy a more casual dining experience while watching the chefs work in the open kitchen.
  • Request the chef’s table for a seat in front of the kitchen.
  • Alba’s happy hour runs daily from 4 to 6 p.m. at the bar and on the patio.

Angry Goldfish Pub & Eatery

This quirky pub on the south side offers wood floors, a bar anchoring the dining room and chandeliers overhead. Order the AG Burger withtwo of the best pattiesin town smothered in cheddar cheese and a spicy sauce, and add the parmesan fries or tots on the side, or try pulled pork or a breaded pork tenderloin. For a larger appetite, Graziano meatloaf, a pot roast, or fish and chips made with cod will fill you to the brim.

Angry Goldfish Pub & Eatery, 2301 S.W. Ninth St., Des Moines; 515-288-2358

Website:angrygoldfishdsm.com

Neighborhood:Indianola Hills

Cuisine:Casual American comfort food

Price:$$

Of note:

  • Head here on the weekends for brunch.
  • A small patio offers great views of downtown to the north.
  • Look for a daily rotation of specials on thewebsite.
  • The Dam Pub in Beaverdale is a sister restaurant.

Aposto

Everything is right at oh so romantic Aposto, the Italian fine-dining restaurant in Sherman Hill founded by Tony Lemmo. The restaurant, open for dinner only on Wednesday through Saturday, sits on a hill inside a Victorian mansion from the 1880s. From the verandain the front surrounded by gardens to the rooms converted into tucked away pockets of tables, Aposto defines elegance. The menu frequently changes, but do look for Lemmo’s handmade cavatelli mixed with marinara and house Calabrian sausage,as well asLou Ann’s Italian wedding cake, an ode to Lemmo’s mother.

Aposto, 644 18th St., Des Moines; 515-244-1353

Website:apostodm.com

Neighborhood:Sherman Hill

Cuisine:Italian

Price:$$$

Of note:

  • A very small bar sits at the back of the restaurant.
  • Sign up for the newsletter to keep posted on special events.
  • Reservations recommended.

Craving pasta? Here are 10 essential Italian restaurants in the Des Moines metro

B&B Grocery, Meat & Deli

Since 1922, this grocery store south of downtown Des Moines has kept pantries full in what locals affectionately call the “Little Italy” neighborhood. The butcher shop carries everything pork, beef and chicken from sausages made in house and hickory-smoked bacon to bone-in hams to custom blends of beef for burgers. It also stokes the line of Killer sandwiches, which got their name from a railroad worker who stopped in and said he wanted a “killer sandwich.” Customers who saw the Brooks family eating sandwiches in the early 1980s sparked the move into deli favorites from the Dad’s Killer Sandwich stacked with roast beef, turkey breast, smoked ham, corned beef, pepper cheese, Swiss cheese, American cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, Kosher pickles, mustard, Miracle Whip and Tuscan Italian dressing on an Italian hoagie roll to burgers and breaded pork tenderloins, some of the best in the city.

B&B Grocery, Meat & Deli, 2001 S.E. Sixth St., Des Moines; 515-243-7607

Website: bbgrocerymeatdeli.com

Neighborhood: Indianola Hills

Cuisine: Deli

Price: $

Of note:

  • John and Joe Brooks represent the third generation to run the grocery store.
  • Family photos and historic newspaper clippings line the walls of the shop.
  • A row of whiskey bottles over the deli coolers represents gifts from adoring customers.

Centro

No trip to Des Moines is complete without a stop at Centro, the Italian restaurant from Orchestrate Hospitality. Chef George Formaro opened this gem at 10th and Locust Streets more than 20 years ago, and it changed the whole dynamic of downtown Des Moines. Diners can stop in for pizza baked in the coal-fired oven and topped with La Quercia meats or Rosa pepperoni. Or for a heartier dish, try ricotta gnocchi or handmade cavatelli, highlighting Tony Lemmo’s cavatelli and Graziano’s Italian sausage. Those Portobello fries should be on every order. Salmon with lemon caper butter sauce, chicken saltimbocca in a Marsala wine sauce, and a grilled 14-ounce beef ribeye topped with bone-marrow butter round out entrees that should be ordered.

Centro, 1003 Locust St., Des Moines; 515-248-1780

Website: centrodesmoines.com

Neighborhood: Downtown Des Moines

Cuisine: Italian

Price: $$$

Of note:

  • The restaurant is open for lunch on Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Centro serves brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday with fried chicken biscuits and gravy, banana Nutella French toast, a ham and cheese omelet, or crab cake Benedict.
  • Happy hour includes $6 appetizers such as fried Brussels sprouts and bruschetta and drink specials in the bar area on Tuesday and Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m. and Thursday and Friday from 3 to 6 p.m.
  • On Mondays, Centro offers Pizza and Peroni with half-priced pizza and Peroni beers when dining in the restaurant or on the Centro patio every Monday from 4 p.m. to close.

More: How Centro became a Des Moines restaurant staple from celebrities to caucus power tables

Cheese Bar

Some people say if they could eat one food for the rest of their lives, it would be cheese. And the Cheese Bar from cheesemonger C.J.Bienert and his wife, Kari, delivers. Why, yes, there are grilled cheese sandwiches that come as Cubans, bacon and blue cheese, or the royale (with ham, bacon, Mornay sauce and a sunny-side up egg), or come back every week for a different variation on the dish. Of course there are cheese and charcuterie boards, cheese curds and even cheese fritters with homemade sour cream. Sure, there’s mac and cheese, peppered with Frisian Cheese gouda, Mornay sauce, a four-year cheddar and Rustichella d’Abruzzo. And yes, you can get rarebit, smothered in Mornay sauce. Pair any with one of the 30 beers on tap or 18 wines by the glass. Belly up to the bar, or share one of the long communal tables to make a new friend.

Cheese Bar, 2925 Ingersoll Ave., Des Moines; 515-277-7828

Website:cheesebardsm.com

Neighborhood:Woodland Heights

Cuisine:Casual American

Price:$$

Of note:

  • Stop by every Tuesday through Friday from 2 to 5 p.m. for $5 glasses of Champagne and sparkling wine and $5 bites.
  • Love fondue? Cheese Bar serves raclette melted over confit potatoes as well as Swiss fondue.
  • Want to buy cheese to take home? Head to sister restaurant The Cheese Shop in the Shops at Roosevelt, 833 42nd St., for wedges of cheesy goodness.

Clyde’s Fine Diner

Here the diner grows up with reimagined classics. James Beard Foundation semifinalist for Best Chef Midwest Chris Hoffmann named Clyde'sfor his grandfather, who taught him to cook.He moved to Des Moines after working in kitchens such as Vistro in Chicago under Paul Virant, a three-time James Beard Foundation finalist for Best Chef Great Lakes. Hoffmanntakes his fine-dining pedigree and applies it to comfort foods, such as Brussels sprouts with Caesars dressing, a tuna melt that uses Gruyere and Chicago-style giardiniera, and the Hot Bird, two pieces of Bell & Evans fried chicken slathered in a Sichuan hot sauce. Hoffmann even makes his own sausage. The burger, griddled on a flattop, may be one of the best in the city. The aesthetic combines midcentury modern with the simplicity of a diner, so grab a stool at the semicircle bar or snag a table near the floor-to-ceiling windows.

Clyde’s Fine Diner, 111 E. Grand Ave., Suite 111, Des Moines;515-243-3686

Website:clydesfinediner.com

Neighborhood:Historic East Village

Cuisine:American comfort food

Price:$$

Of note:

  • Open for lunch and dinner.
  • Happy hour runs from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
  • Find a nonalcoholic co*cktail menu with composed drinks sans the alcohol.
  • Head here on Tuesdays for a $15 burger, shot of Evan Williams Bourbon and PBR, or Wednesdays for $3 oysters on the half shell and half-priced wine.
  • A small patio sits on the east side of the restaurant.

Craving a good burger? Where to find the best burgers in Iowa, from Clyde’s Fine Diner to Steel Plow Burger Co.

Django

Django, named after jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, takes an unpretentious approach to French cuisine. After 10 years on the ground floor of the Hotel Fort Des Moines, the restaurant moved to Locust Street and into a space with mezzanine seating and a patio with a Pappajohn Sculpture Park view. Django touts its seafood menu with seasonal raw oysters, scallops, mussels and poached shrimp. For a dining experience fit for royals, order a Grande or Django Plateau, seafood platters served on a tiered serving tray. Warm baskets of pain d'épi bread are on the house. There are plenty of French favorites to choose from, such as the croque-madame—an open-face ham and Swiss cheese sandwich smothered in béchamel sauce and topped with a fried egg—and beef bourguignon featuring certified angus beef short ribs braised in a red wine sauce with carrots, mushrooms, onions, bacon and handmade pappardelle.

Django, 1420 Locust St., Des Moines; 515-288-0268

Website:djangodesmoines.com

Neighborhood:Downtown Des Moines

Cuisine:French

Price:$$$

Of note:

  • There is no corkage fee for up to two bottles per party, so feel free to bring your own wine if nothing on the extensive menu suits your tastes.
  • Django acquired space in the neighboring building and established a rentable event space called the Reinhardt Room.
  • Tuesdays are all-night happy hour.
  • Open for lunch Tuesday through Thursday.

Des Moines restaurant news: Django brings back lunch with tuna Niçoise and coq au vin

Drake Diner

Groups of diners stack up at the entrance, spilling outdoors, for one of the seats at Drake Diner, the venerable restaurant in the Drake neighborhood that originally opened in 1987. And it makes sense, given the diner’s big menu of breakfast all day, meatloaf clubs and blue-plate specials that start early in the afternoon. The neon-ringed restaurant comes with a long counter for faster service and cozy booths that can seat oodles of college kids or families. Do try roast beef or turkey with smash potatoes and gravy for a true diner experience, or dabble in chicken fried steak and eggs or a Benedict to keep those weekend vibes going.

Drake Diner, 1111 25th St., Des Moines; 515-277-1111

Website:drakediner.com

Neighborhood:Drake

Cuisine:American

Price:$$

Of note:

  • The restaurant has a covered patio and a bar.
  • Look for starred “Our Own” items on the menu for dishes that make the restaurant noteworthy.
  • Sit at a long counter in front of the open kitchen for prime views of the cooks at work.

Francie’s Bar & Grill

The line out the door of patrons waiting for a table at tiny Francie’s Bar & Grill is a good indication of how popular this south side restaurant is. And justifiably: The sandwiches, burgers and casual fare that bring in these crowds are that good. The compact menu highlights sports bar fare: five types of burgers, including a must-order Swiss and 'shrooms on a brioche bun, Buffalo wings and the best French dip sandwich found in Des Moines. Francie’s, which originally opened in 1987, features wood-paneled walls (and ceiling) for the feel of a suburban den, complete with LeRoy Neiman art of athletes and more than 10 TV screens up high. Do try a Moscow mule, one of the staples on the co*cktail menu.

Francie’s Bar & Grill, 2100 Wakonda View Drive, Des Moines; 515-285-5207

Website:franciesbarandgrill.com

Neighborhood:Southwestern Hills

Cuisine:American comfort food

Price:$$

Of note:

  • A small patio sits to one side of the restaurant.
  • Most of the tables are two-tops, so expect an even longer wait for a larger group.
  • Swap out beef for a veggie patty on any of the burgers.

Harbinger

Five-time James Beard Foundation semifinalist for Best Chef Midwest Joe Tripp fell in love with Vietnam the first time he backpacked through the country. That trip inspired Harbinger, the vegetable-forward restaurant that implements Asian techniques in every dish. Tripp handed over the reins to chef Ryan Skinner, who frequently changes the menu as produce goes in and out of season. Every meal should start with steamed buns, stuffed with cauliflower tempura, pork belly or chicken curry. Okonomiyaki, a Japanese pancake, has recently appeared on the menu, with the newest rendition topped with bacon and Brussels sprouts, while farm carrots, memories from Vietnam, have made an appearance on the menu since the restaurant opened in 2017. The décor at this 54-seat restaurant feels cozy and a little loud on a busy weekend. Watch the action in the open kitchen or sidle up to the bar, where the co*cktails are as creative as the food.

Harbinger, 2724 Ingersoll Ave., Des Moines; 515-244-1314

Website:harbingerdsm.com/

Neighborhood:Woodland Heights

Cuisine:Asian-inspired small plates

Price:$$$$

The 27 essential restaurants in the Des Moines metro: 2024 edition (1)

The 27 essential restaurants in the Des Moines metro: 2024 edition (2)

Harbinger named one of USA TODAY's best restaurants of 2024 - Video

Take a look inside Harbinger in Des Moines, IA, named one of USA TODAY's best restaurants for 2024

Of note:

  • Harbinger was named one of 47 Restaurants of the Year by USA TODAY.
  • Want to try something new? The chef’s tasting menu features many of the newest dishes the kitchen is testing.
  • Happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday includes snacks, another menu that routinely changes.
  • Skinner said that he never repeats a dish. Once it leaves the menu, it’s gone.

The High Life Lounge/El Bait Shop

Want something casual with food and décor that makes you feel like you stepped back in time to your father’s cool den with meatloaf and wood paneling on the walls? Go to The High Life Lounge. Prefer fish tacos in a setting replete with taxidermied animals and more than 170 beers on tap? Make a stop at El Bait Shop. Can’t decide? Just swing through the adjoining doors of the side-by-side restaurants. The High Life Lounge is home to comfort foods such as a hot beef sandwich, mom’s pot roast, goulash and deviled eggs. Next door at El Bait Shop, order pizza puffs, nachos or a quesadilla. But don’t leave without at least one order of broasted chicken at The High Life Lounge. It's the stuff of late-night infomercials (as seen on the menu).

The High Life Lounge/El Bait Shop, 200 S.W. Second St., Des Moines; 515-280-1965

Website:thehighlifelounge.comorelbaitshop.com

Neighborhood:Downtown Des Moines

Cuisine:Old-school comfort food at The High Life Lounge/Tex-Mex at El Bait Shop

Price:$

Of note:

  • More than 170 beers from around the world are on tap. Head online to find out what beers are on tap and in bottles and cans at El Bait Shop.
  • A small covered outdoor bar is open in the summer on the El Bait Shop side.
  • Stop by The High Life Lounge for a specialty Tangermeister shot made of Jägermeister and Tang.

HoQ

Suman and Cynthia Hoque lean into local farmproduce and ingredients at their eatery in the East Village with light woods, exposed ducts and plants decorating the corner space with lots of windows. HoQ claims that 90% of the ingredients used come from Iowa farmers and lists their names on the menu. The ever-changing menu explores lighter fare such as quinoa bowls and Mediterranean bowls topped with tandoori chicken, or go for a more leisurely meal of wild Alaskan salmon, grass-fed beef or a vegetarian dish with spiced veggies wrapped in rice and lentil crepes. Head here for lunch for an abbreviated version of the menu or stop by the new adjacent lounge, HoQtail, beforehand.

HoQ, 303 E. Fifth St., Des Moines; 515-244-1213

Website:hoqtable.com

Neighborhood:Historic East Village

Cuisine:Seasonal American

Price:$$$

Of note:

  • Head over on Saturdays for brunch from a stand outside the restaurant during farmers' market season. The restaurant also has a stand at the Downtown Des Moines Farmers' Market.
  • The restaurant is open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday.
  • The Hoques recently opened HoQtail, a co*cktail lounge next door, where drinks come with a bite. The tiny space requires a reservation.

Lachele’s Fine Foods

Cory Wendell named his slim restaurant on Ingersoll Avenue for his wife, and when customers decided they loved the burgers, he made them the main focus in this eatery decked out in salmon with tables straight out of the ’50s and stools at the counter for watching the cooks griddle up favorites. These smash patties get crispy on the outside and still juicy inside, creating the best burger in Des Moines. Try the Jake with grilled minced onion and pickles, the Uncle Denny with pepper jelly and American cheese, or the Big Gym with bacon and spicy giardiniera. The melts side of the menu is just as big with the Casey Jones topped with ham and bacon on Texas toast, the Hot Rod with grilled chicken and bruschette, or the Big Balandran with chopped steak topped with bacon and Swiss. Order those tater tots on the side, and if you take them to go, they will never make it home.

Lachele’s Fine Foods, 2716 Ingersoll Ave., Des Moines; 515-330-6876

Website:lacheles.com

Neighborhood:Woodland Heights

Cuisine:Burgers

Price:$$

Of note:

  • Lachele’s offers specials daily. Check the restaurant’s Instagram page for the latest.
  • A second location opens in the Highland Park neighborhood of Des Moines this fall.

Lucky Lotus

For 15 years, Seng and Dala Chen ran Café Fuzion on the east side of Des Moines. When they moved their Vietnamese, Laotian and Chinese restaurant to Ingersoll Avenue in 2019, they renamed it Lucky Lotus and turned over the reins to their sons Souriyno Chen and Kevin Chen. Pull up a chair in the dining room filled with enchanting umbrellas turned upside down hanging from the ceiling or the corner with framed tributes to the family, who immigrated from Vietnam. Or slip out to the new patio behind the restaurant. Start with bing bing wraps stuffed with five spice beef, lemongrass chicken or tofu, or potatoes in a yellow curry sauce. Opt for after-school fried rice with optional Chinese sausage, pho with chicken or tofu, curries, or noodle dishes. Optional proteins include a mock duck, chicken, tofu, shrimp, beef or veggies. The menu notes vegan, vegetarian, nuts, and gluten-sensitive dishes, and most dishes start at the sassy level of heat, which can be increased to a raging 5.

Lucky Lotus, 2721 Ingersoll Ave., Des Moines; 515-262-8488

Website:luckylotusdsm.com

Neighborhood:Woodland Heights

Cuisine:Vietnamese

Price:$$

Of note:

  • Choose your own adventure with your dish’s heat level. Options range from mild to raging spice.
  • A special corner of the restaurant pays homage to the Chens’ family history.
  • Vegetarian and vegan friendly.

LzazaIndo-Pak Cuisine

This restaurant in the Drake neighborhood offers Indo-Pak food. Lzaza opened in 2018, taking over a former church, and kept the décor simple with white walls, stark lighting and few decorations. By day, slide through Lzaza’s buffet with its ever-changing selections of Indian and Pakistani food. By night, order off the menu. Look for everything from chicken biryani, goat vindaloo and aloo palak to tandoori chicken and vegetable samosas. Every buffet meal comes with naan.

Lzaza Indo-Pak Cuisine, 1409 23rd St., Des Moines; 515-381-1121

Website:facebook.com/Lazaindopak

Neighborhood:Drake

Cuisine:Indian and Pakistani

Price:$$

Of note:

  • Check the Facebook page for the current menu.
  • Also make sure the restaurant is open. The family tends to go on vacation in May.

La Mie Bakery

Since 2003, diners have flocked to La Mie Bakery from Joe and Christina Logsdon for breads and baked goods in the Shops at Roosevelt. Once the Logsdons expanded to breakfast and lunch dishes, such as tartines, quiches and omelets, they became a staple in the city. Joe even earned a nomination for Outstanding Pastry Chef from the James Beard Foundation in 2010. Pick and choose baked goods, pre-made sandwiches and salads, or bread. Or order at the counter and wait for dishes to be served at a table. You’d be remiss not to order a chocolate or almond croissant.

La Mie Bakery, 841 42nd St., Des Moines; 515-255-1625

Website:lamiebakery.com

Neighborhood:Drake

Cuisine:French bakery

Price:$

Of note:

  • Pastries go fast on the weekend, so stop by early for takeout.
  • There is a nice patio off the back of the restaurant.
  • La Mie has a second location in the skywalkin downtown Des Moines called La Mie Elevate at601 Locust St.

Mi Patria Ecuadorian

Cesar Miranda opened the only Ecuadorian restaurant in the metro in 2011 to showcase the diversity of food his native country serves. The West Des Moines restaurant sits in an unassuming strip mall, hiding the hearty fare inside. Go for the llapingachos, mashed potato patties filled with cheese and topped with a peanut sauce. Try arroz con pollo, a fried rice dish with chicken, peas and carrots snuggled next to plantains. Devour the empanadas, stuffed with chicken, beef or cheese. Or share the churrasco, a grilled skirt steak topped with a fried egg. The simple sides — fried plantains, black beans and rice — come with many of the entrees. Another option, the Mi Patria for Two, features slow-roasted pulled pork, steak, chicken, potato patties, corn, two types of beans and a fried egg, as well as rice andplantains. The simple dining room with mustard yellow walls features all tables and chairs for a casual approach to lunch or dinner.

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

Website:mipatriadsm.com

Neighborhood:West Des Moines

Cuisine:Ecuadorian

Price:$$

Of note:

  • The friendly staff will help you with the pronunciation of dishes and explain what they are.
  • You can never go wrong with empanadas.
  • Serves lunch and dinner.

Motley School Tavern

Nic Gonwa got his start at Eatery A, the Mediterranean restaurant on Ingersoll Avenue in Des Moines, and earned a Rising Star Chef nomination from the James Beard Foundation in 2015. He went on to open Motley School Tavern in Beaverdale in 2019 with his own twist on comfort foods. It has the feel of a place to hang out when you’re not working. Find snacks such as a fried bologna sandwich and deviled eggs, dishes to share such as pierogi and smoked chicken wings, and sandwiches including a smash burger, a Nashville hot chicken, or a sweet potato and pecan veggie burger. Entrée options include gnocchi with shaved mushrooms, a grilled pork chop or beef stroganoff, but note that the menu changes. The restaurant opens for breakfast every day but Monday with chicken fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, omelets and chorizo hash.

Motley School Tavern,1903 Beaver Ave., Des Moines; 515-279-0075

Website:mstdsm.com

Neighborhood:Beaverdale

Cuisine:New American

Price:$$

Of note:

  • Alba, Bar Nico, Eatery A and Parlor are sister restaurants to Motley School Tavern.
  • The restaurant specializes in pies served by the slice or whole.
  • The restaurant serves breakfast every Tuesday through Sunday.

Oak Park

Few restaurants make as big of a splash as Oak Park did when it opened in October. Owner Kathy Fehrman and her husband Bill have a winner on their hands with an elite team that includes executive chef Ian Robertson, executive pastry chef Jess Robertson, general manager Damon Murphy, director of operations Billy Dohrmann, and wine director Sam Tuttle. The restaurant, built from scratch at 39th Street and Ingersoll Avenue, was designed to resemble a Frank Lloyd Wright home with long banks of windows, a transom in the bar area, built-in booths and acorn light fixtures. Diners can find everything from gnocchi with truffle cream and bourbon candied bacon to a carrot Wellington, pan-roasted duck breast and the bacon-glazed pork chop on the menu. Steaks are aged in house. The wine list continues to grow with options by the glass and bottle, some housed in the bar or wine room. For dessert, try the $4 lemon tart or chocolate pecan bar or share the $100 banana split.

Oak Park, 3901 Ingersoll Ave., Des Moines; 515-620-2185

Website: oakparkdsm.com

Neighborhood:North of Grand

Cuisine: New American with French techniques

Price: $$$$

Of note:

  • The restaurant also offers a chef’s table overlooking the kitchen with a special menu.
  • Oak Park offers more than 700 different labels of wine.
  • Most of the beef is dry-aged in house, but the filet mignon is wet-aged.
  • Oak Park feeds its leftovers to pigs at Pine Grove Family Farms in Bondurant. The pigs are then used on the menu at the restaurant for a complete circle of life.
  • Oak Park has its own garden that feeds the menu. Often you can see chefs picking produce to use in dishes served that night.

Panka Peruvian

Peruvian cuisine comes to Des Moines via Panka Peruvian, the Ingersoll eatery from Mariela Maya, who moved to the United States from Lima, Peru. The restaurant is named for the ají panca pepper, an ingredient central to Peruvian cuisine. Favorites at this chic restaurant include lomo saltado, a dish made with marinated beef stir fried with onions, cilantro and tomatoes, then served with rice; arroz con chaufa de cerdo, a fried rice dish made with pork, ginger and scallions; or aji de gallina, a chicken stew served with white rice. Do save room for suspiro a la limeña with a custard base and meringue topped with cinnamon.

Panka Peruvian, 2708 Ingersoll Ave. Suite 200, Des Moines; 515-244-1430

Website: pankadsm.com

Neighborhood: Woodland Heights

Cuisine: Peruvian

Price: $$

Of note:

  • Stop by for happy hour daily from 5 to 7 p.m. with half off wines and beer and $5 appetizers.
  • The restaurant is open for brunch Tuesday through Sunday.
  • Diners can order vegan dishes as well.

Railroad Bill’s Dining Car

Think of Railroad Bill’s Dining Car as a spot for a quick breakfast or lunch for less than $10. The railroad-themed restaurant features Burlington Northern signs decorating the 100-year-old building, formerly home to the American Railway Express Co. The charming space offers counter-service ordering for dishes such as the Burlington Sleeper, a hearty helping of hash browns topped with bacon and ham, onion and American cheese, plus two eggs any style. Or go for a French dip, a Dagwood club or BLT for lunch. Employees here are part of Racoon Forks Microbusinesses, owned and operated by Optimae LifeServices, which provides jobs to people with disabilities or those who have other barriers to employment.

Railroad Bill’s Dining Car, 621 Des Moines St., Des Moines; 515-243-0247

Website: raccoonforks.com/railroadbills-menu/

Neighborhood:Historic East Village

Cuisine:Breakfast and lunch fare

Price:$

Of note:

  • A small patio at the front features three tables.
  • Railroad Bill’s offers a separate vegetarian and vegan menu.
  • The restaurant sits next to an antiques store, Raccoon Forks Trading Co., filled withvintage furniture, books, albums, knickknacks and dishes. Spend some time browsing while you wait for your meal.
  • Keep in mind the restaurant is open only from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

RoCA

RoCA, an abbreviation of Restaurant on Court Avenue, keeps dining fun with sharable plates, craft co*cktails and flatbreads housed in one of the oldest buildings in downtown Des Moines, hosting retail stores before becoming a restaurant in 2014. Co-owner Todd Millang asked readers of the Des Moines Register to pick the name of the restaurant before it opened in 2014 in the Historic Court Avenue neighborhood. Chef Andrew Havlovic takes a different spin on steak de Burgo, moving it to toast form, while serving favorites such as seared yellowfin tuna, peppadew peppers stuffed with whipped goat cheese, and pork belly tacos slathered in a spicy chili glaze. Try a charcuterie and wine or go for a fig and goat cheese flatbread topped with truffle honey.

RoCA, 208 Court Ave., Des Moines; 515-282-3663

Website:rocadsm.com

Neighborhood:Downtown Des Moines

Cuisine:New American small plates

Price:$$

Of note:

  • Head to the basem*nt to find the dive bar Shorty’s, found via RoCA’s back door. While more of a dive with a different ambiance, it does serve dishes from the RoCA menu.
  • RoCA resides in one of Court Avenue’s oldest buildings that dates back to at least 1865.

Tacos La Familia

The self-proclaimed “Casa de la Barbacoa” specializes in street tacos in the River Bend neighborhood, but know that you can order sopes, huaraches made with a thick oval-shaped tortilla, and pambazo, a sandwich dipped and fried in red guajillo sauce with options such as lengua, tripa, al pastor, and pollo. Beef birria dishes come in quesadillas, tacos, burritos, tortas, and pizzadilla, a quesadilla. Stop by in the morning for breakfast dishes such as huevos rancheros, huevos con jamon, or chilaquiles served with beans, rice and two eggs.

Tacos La Familia, 1610 Sixth Ave., Des Moines; 515-244-6659

Website:tacoslafamiliaia.com

Neighborhood:River Bend

Cuisine:Mexican

Price:$

Of note:

  • A breakfast menu is available until 11:30 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

Looking for some good Mexican food? Here are the best Mexican restaurants in Des Moines.

Taste of New York

Joy and Louis Savelli made the move from Brooklyn to Des Moines in 2014, and decided to bring a taste of their hometown with them. Taste of New York specializes in pizzas, Italian fare and Italian ice. Try the New York-style thin crust meant to be folded and ordered by the slice. Or go for the fluffier Sicilian crust, a puffy and airier crust that comes in squares. Do order the rice ball, a fried risotto ball stuffed with mozzarella and a meatball. While the walls here come decorated with tributes to the Big Apple along with graffiti and memorabilia, there’s not much space for sitting, so order a pie to go.

Taste of New York, 165 S. Jordan Creek Parkway, West Des Moines; 515-223-8669.

769 S.E. Alice's Road, Waukee; 515-987-1585

Website:tasteofnewyorkpizza.com

Neighborhoods:West Des Moines and Waukee

Cuisine:Pizza and Italian fare

Price:$

Of note:

  • Save room for zeppoli, fried doughnut holes, for dessert.
  • The Waukee location has a drive-thru.

Wasabi Ankeny

Japanese flavors come alive at Wasabi restaurants from owner Jay Wang. In Ankeny, the restaurant at Prairie Trail offers its lineup of nigiri, rolls and sashimi, as well as novelty rolls such as the Marilyn Monroll with spicy tuna and spicy salmon; the Rock n Roll with spicy tuna, mango and white tuna; and the Iowa Strong roll with kani crab, cucumber, avocado and a topping of crunchy spicy tuna. Diners can also find ramen dishes spiked with black garlic, spicy seafood and even kimchi and char siu pork. Try the crispy pork katsu for a Japanese version of a breaded pork tenderloin or order one of the red curry dishes. The chic interior features overhead lights shaped like a lotus, salmon jumping over the bar and sexy pink mood lighting. Sit at the sushi bar to watch the chefs ply the rice and fish into works of art ready to be eaten.

Wasabi Ankeny, 1615 S.W. Main St. #100, Ankeny

Website: wasabiankeny.com

Neighborhood: Ankeny

Cuisine: Japanese

Price: $$$$

Of note:

  • A small patio sits in front of the restaurant.
  • You can find Wasabi locations in West Des Moines, Johnston and Urbandale as well.
  • This location has a happy hour every Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m.

Pricing key, average price of meal for one

$: Up to $15

$$: $16-$30

$$$: $31-$50

$$$$: $50+

Susan Stapleton is the entertainment editor and dining reporter at The Des Moines Register. Follow her onFacebook,X, orInstagram, or drop her a line atsstapleton@gannett.com.

The 27 essential restaurants in the Des Moines metro: 2024 edition (2024)

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