Des Moines is not only the largest city in Iowa, but also the capital of the state, making it a busy cultural hub with a great seasonal schedule of events, excellent shopping spots and a great food scene. From fine dining establishments to quirky eateries, everyone will find something to tickle their taste buds in this updated article on the 10 must-try restaurants in Des Moines.
Des Moines Skylight Night Shimo/Wikimedia Commons
Zombie Burger + Drink Lab
Restaurant, American, Vegetarian, $$$
Interior | Courtesy Zombie Burger
A quirky and fun dining establishment, Zombie Burger is the creation of chef and restaurateur George Formaro. Opened in 2011, this restaurant features a delectable array of gourmet burgers, tasty cocktails, and spiked shakes — try the carrot cake shake with vanilla ice cream, carrot cake mix, and cake vodka. The restaurant features a colourful modern retro interior with zombies being prominent decorations. Keeping each customer in mind, Zombie Burger offers a choice of patty from a special grind to a chicken breast to three different types of vegetarian/vegan options for the burgers. One innovative option is the envy corpse with pepper jack cheese, pulled pork, ham, salsa, fried jalapeños, red onion, and chipotle mayo. Pair the burger with some house-cut fries, such as the chilli cheese fries, to complete the meal.
Established in 1993 in Des Moines, 801 Chophouse is an exquisite steakhouse that has grown to include several locations throughout the Midwest. Situated downtown in the historic 801 Grand building, this restaurant exudes sophistication with its upscale interior, which evokes the feeling of an establishment from the 1920s. Using USDA prime-grade beef, fresh seafood, and seasonal produce means the menu changes often, but it also ensures some of the finest cuisine to be found in Des Moines. Discerning diners can feast upon a host of succulent steaks, such as the 24 oz. porterhouse, plus numerous side dishes, including hash browns with aged cheddar and sautéed spinach. With impeccable service, 801 Chophouse is the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion.
The USA is known for being a land of many cultures from around the world, and the cuisine offered at Americana reflects this fact. Specialising in New American fare imbued with international flavours, this restaurant gives diners a chance to sample delicious innovative dishes, all in a cosmopolitan environment. Guests can start off with truffle fries — fries with white truffle oil, black truffle salt, parsley, and goat cheese dip — for a decadent appetiser, followed by the flavourful Cajun chicken gnocchi, and ending with the bacon brownie sundae. While vegetarians do not have as wide a selection as their meat-loving counterparts do, there are some delicious veggie options plus gluten-free choices as well, making Americana a venue that will appeal to many tastes.
Established in 2002, Centro is an eatery with an upscale yet relaxed vibe located downtown in the beautiful historic Masonic Temple. Specialising in creative Italian-inspired cuisine, the menu changes often to reflect the freshest seasonal ingredients. Centro always features a host of delicious fare, from salads to sandwiches to entrées with seafood, chicken, beef, and pork to New York-style coal-fired brick oven-baked pizzas. Vegetarians and meat- lovers alike will be pleased with the choices offered here, which include the pizza bianca with mozzarella, fresh roasted garlic, ricotta, parmesan, and olive oil, and the New Yorker pizza topped with mozzarella, Mama’s meatballs, roasted peppers, mushrooms, and red sauce.
Located in the community of Windsor Heights, which is part of the greater Des Moines Metro area, Baru 66 is a bistro specialising in contemporary French cuisine. Inspired by nature, acclaimed chef and co-owner David Baruthio seeks ingredients at their source and from artisanal family farms. Therefore, the menus — which comprise three courses — are seasonal and many of the dishes offered change daily. For the first course try the classic soupe à l’ognion (French onion soup) followed by the roast free-range chicken supreme with truffles under the skin, served with red wine risotto infused with herbs and truffles. Diners also have a choice of tantalising desserts, such as the Wisconsin black cherry crêpe with house-made vanilla ice cream.
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Opened in 2009 by a group of local residents, Fong’s Pizza is a fun eatery and tiki bar serving pizza and other tasty delights late into the night. Located in what used to be an old iconic Chinese restaurant — King-Ying-Low opened in 1908 – Fong’s has an eclectic retro environment with Chinese, Tiki, Polynesian, and Italian décor, and serves a creative Asian-Italian fusion menu. Pizza lovers can try one of several pies, including Asian-inspired options like the crab rangoon pizza which has a crab rangoon base topped with surimi, green onion, asiago, mozzarella, crispy egg roll strips, and sweet chilli sauce. Catering to a wide range of tastes, Fong’s pizza also offers vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free choices.
Opened in 2003 by Joe and Christina Logsdon, La Mie Bakery is a vibrant establishment specialising in artisan breads, pastries, and desserts, and features a café that serves breakfast and lunch items Monday through Saturday. The delicious treats are made from scratch daily from the freshest and best quality ingredients available, and include tantalising options such as croissants, cinnamon rolls, tarts, and éclairs. Seeking something savoury? Try an omelette with fresh asparagus, brie, and crème fraîche; a tartine with hummus, spinach, carrots, lentils, feta, red onions, and egg; or a French ham sandwich with brie, lettuce, and Dijon mustard. With so many delicious options plus the friendly environment, it is easy to see why people return again and again to this local treasure.
Owned by Sean Wilson and Zachary Mannheimer, Executive Chef and Sommelier, respectively, Proof is an exceptional restaurant featuring cuisine with Mediterranean and North African flavours. A beautiful, clean and modern space with colourful fresh flowers on each table, this eatery focuses on ingredients found locally, and offers wines from Mediterranean vineyards. Serving dinner Tuesday through Saturday, the menus change frequently but can offer dishes such as garlic-thyme sumac pork with pickled fig, bacon-braised kale, medjira rice, and fig gastrique. There are vegetarian offerings as well, like the roasted za’atar eggplant with black and tan grain salad, bell pepper-shallot-caper relish, Spanish stuffed pepper, black pepper yogurt, and preserved lemon. Discerning diners can also let the chef take over rather than order from the menu, which is always an excellent choice.
A cheese lover’s haven, The Cheese Shop is part-shop and part-café, specialising in cheese and cured meats. Having a wealth of knowledge in everything cheese, husband and wife C.J. and Keri Bienert founded this speciality shop, which offers over 100 artisan and farmhouse cheeses, in 2011. The cosy environment has tables and chairs for those who want to sit and sample their delicious offerings, such as roasted tomato soup; a ham and cheese royale toastie with Fra’ Mani ham, Niman Ranch bacon, and a fried local egg; and cast-iron baked bacon mac and cheese with bacon and Frisian Farms gouda. The Cheese Shop also has a cheese-tasting bar, hosts events and workshops for those wanting to learn more about cheese, wine, and beer, plus it has fondue night every Wednesday.
Ritual Cafe is an eclectic space that provides visitors with a unique experience. It’s a music venue where a variety of local, national, and international musical acts perform. It is also an art gallery space with permanent and rotating displays of works by local artists. However, it is a coffee shop above anything else. Located in downtown’s Gateway Park, this café will attract a wide range of tastes with its great coffee — try the tasty horchata latté with espresso, steamed milk, almond, vanilla, and cinnamon — sweet treats from area bakers, plus delicious vegetarian cuisine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Highlights from the food menu include the spicy four-cheese panino, a grilled veggie mozzarella sandwich, and a hummus plate.