Must-Try Restaurants In Des Moines, Iowa

View of Des Moines from the State Capitol. Des Moines, Iowa.
View of Des Moines from the State Capitol. Des Moines, Iowa. | © Stephen Bay / Alamy
Photo of Max Fletcher
9 February 2017

As the biggest and boldest city in Iowa, Des Moines has an exciting dining scene that’s often overlooked. Here are 10 restaurants not to miss in Des Moines.

The Ritual Café

Cafe, Restaurant, Vegetarian, Coffee
The Ritual Café is not only one of the major spots in Des Moines for quality food and drink, but is also one of the major spots for live music. The cafe’s intimate performance space regularly plays host to local as well as internationally known acts. In terms of genre, the performances range from live poetry readings, to music to theater so it’s worthwhile coming down to the Ritual Café to catch some great live acts that are a little off the beaten track. The menu is 100 percent vegetarian, and ranges from panini and burritos to wonderful salads and quiches. If you’re looking for a Des Moines experience, this is the place for you.

Cooper's on 5th

Restaurant, American, $$$

Cooper’s serves good food, and lots of it. Their menu comprises mouthwatering juicy classics like pulled pork, braised short ribs and meatloaf. With food on offer this indulgent satisfaction is guaranteed. What’s more, this place is bursting with great atmosphere. The absolute antithesis of a chain store, Cooper’s is known in Des Moines for its friendly ambiance and welcoming staff, who make you feel like a regular as soon as you step through the door. If you want a beer, you’ll have a choice of 50 by the bottle.

801 ChopHouse

Restaurant, Steakhouse, $$$
801 Chophouse takes its name from its location, the historic 801 Grand building in downtown Des Moines. This exceptional location lends this restaurant a great atmosphere. Just walking through the door, you feel instantly transported to an authentic 1920s chophouse. As one of the pricier restaurants in Des Moines, this is the place to go if you really want some exceptional quality food. All the beef they serve is guaranteed USDA prime grade, and their appetizer and sides menus are brimming with innovative dishes.


Restaurant, Italian, Contemporary, $$$
Centro | © Centro
Centro is one of the best Italian restaurants in Des Moines. Their menu isn’t the typical, corny Italian fare; it’s innovative and surprising and full of exiting flavors. But aside from great pastas, fresh fish and artisan breads, this place is really known for its pizza. Cooking all its pizza in an authentic New York-style brick oven, each pizza Centro serves is done to a turn, with a crispiness and smoky flavor that’s to die for. The restaurant’s extensive deli menu means that this place is perfect for a lunch on the go, or a relaxed and sophisticated fine dining experience.

The Stuffed Olive

Restaurant, Contemporary, $$$

The Stuffed Olive is one of Des Moines’ most buzzing night spots. With its extensive and luxurious cocktail list, and well-curated tapas menu, this is the perfect place to go for an early evening meal and a late-night drink. The decor is understated and contemporary, and the atmosphere cool yet relaxed. After hours though, The Stuffed Olive turns into a lively night club with regular sets by live bands and entertainment throughout the evening. It’s perfect if you’re looking for the whole evening package: great food, great martinis and a great party.

Alba Restaurant

Restaurant, American, Contemporary, $$$
Alba Restaurant, an East Village establishment, in Des Moines, Iowa, USA.; January 2008; Own work (Original text:  self-made); Cadeseth Cade Ullerich;
TWXNRH Alba Restaurant, an East Village establishment, in Des Moines, Iowa, USA.; January 2008; Own work (Original text: self-made); Cadeseth Cade Ullerich; | © Jonathan ORourke / Alamy
Alba is a much fêted, and deservedly so, fine dining restaurant in Des Moines’ historic East Village quarter. Nominated for a prestigious James Beard award in 2010 and written up by the New York Times and Chicago Sun Times, this is a restaurant that has gained a national reputation for its modern, innovative food and cool decor. The food mostly consists of contemporary twists on classic American dishes. And, because the dishes are only made with the freshest seasonal ingredients, the menu is always changing. This is a sophisticated and cutting-edge restaurant staffed by extremely competent chefs and is worth the hype.


Restaurant, American, Asian, $$$
Americana | © Americana
Styled with a classic American theme, Americana will make you feel right at home wherever you come from. Just as America is a melting pot of races, faiths and nations, so the menu of Americana takes the best of every nation and gives it that classic American twist. Their seared ahi tuna is just as good as their loaded mac ‘n’ cheese; they do a miso noodles that’s every bit as good as their range of prime steaks. Americana’s menu is much less limiting than most classic American restaurants – they’ve had the good sense to incorporate food from all the cultures that made America what it is today. This is the food of the world seen through the sepia tinted lens of Americana.

Jesse's Embers

Restaurant, Steakhouse, Seafood, $$$
This really is a Des Moines institution. Open since the 1960s, ask a Des Moines resident what the city’s favorite restaurant is and, chances are, they’ll say Jesse’s Embers. The menu is traditional, serving mostly steak and seafood, but classic. All the dishes have been perfected with time and experience, and this place would give any up-scale restaurant a run for its money in terms of quality and flavor. With the kind of warm and welcoming atmosphere that you’d expect from a restaurant like this, you’ll want to come back every night. The Des Moines residents have been coming back since the 1960s, and there’s no better recommendation than that.

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