As Iowa’s second-largest city, Cedar Rapids plays host to presidential candidate visits very frequently. Known as the City of Five Seasons (the fifth being enjoying the other four, which is just plain weird), there’s plenty to see and do here. In recent years the region has really upped its dining options game, adding upscale restaurants with unique dining options, craft breweries and the development of the New Bohemia district.
There’s several key entertainment districts in the Cedar Rapids area worth exploring. Downtown Cedar Rapids hosts the most bars and restaurants, mainly catering to the office/business crowd. New Bohemia is the hip new district southeast of downtown, built in the washed-out basin devastated by the 2008 flood, revitalizing the area’s economy significantly. The Czech Village is right over the bridge, the two districts combining to form a fun place to bar hop. Marion, the suburb northeast of downtown, mixes a small town square with the surrounding suburbia neighborhoods, providing both fun, small local eateries and upscale fusion restaurants.
Downtown and Nearby
Irish Democrat – Unsurprisingly, this is the unanimous Cedar Rapids favorite of Iowa Democrats. Featuring the best nachos in Iowa, this spacious restaurant with a perfect Irish bar atmosphere offers solid burgers as well. The late, great Linn County activist Peggy Whitworth used to tell stories about the late, great Ted Kennedy visiting back in the day. Also, how has Martin O’Malley not done an event here yet?
3207 1st Ave SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52402
Cobble Hill – This might be one of the nicest, best upscale restaurants in all of Iowa. The interior is beautiful with an urban feel to it. Great cocktails and entrees. Preparing the meals are some of Iowa’s best chefs, who were even nominated for a James Beard award recently.
219 2nd St SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52401
Zins – A classy-looking tapas/small plates restaurant in downtown Cedar Rapids, most consider this one of the area’s best eateries. They were only open for a few months in 2008 when the flood forced them to evacuate. Since rebuilding, they’ve established themselves as a must-try restaurant in town.
227 2nd Ave SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52401
The Blue Strawberry Coffee Company – Right in the heart of downtown Cedar Rapids, people love their espressos and breakfast offerings. Many office workers like to swing by here for lunch.
118 2nd St SE #100, Cedar Rapids, IA 52401
Ruby’s Pizzeria – A new pizza place in downtown that people love for the multiple different crust options you can order. You can drop by during lunch for a cheap slice or two.
223 2nd St SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52401
Brewed Awakenings – Another favorite of Democratic staffers, this coffee shop was next to the local Obama office in 2007 and 2008. It’s a good spot for a meeting with an activist or for a reporter to sit down and file their latest story.
1271 1st Ave SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52402
La Catina – A great Mexican restaurant on the corner of the two main downtown streets. Have a margarita over an interview with an Iowa activist. Can’t beat Friday late night happy hour, with $1 tacos after 9PM.
102 2nd St SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52401
Red’s Public House – Right in the middle of downtown, this bar was once described to me as “a good place to get drunk at.” I have been there too and can confirm.
112 2nd St SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52401
New Bohemia/Czech Village
Parlor City Pub and Eatery – One of the main favorites of the New Bo bars. They have free live music on Friday and Saturday, plus the best, largest selection of beers on tap in town. A great place to hang out after a campaign event.
1125 3rd St SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52401
Brewhemia – Located in the up-and-coming New Bohemia district of Cedar Rapids, this appropriately-named cafe serves excellent coffee and beer. They have a well-liked barista, a good selection of pastries and a number of craft brews on tap. They also offer package deals of coffee, pastries and orange juice for morning meetings of five or more, making it a good spot to plot out your caucus strategies with allies.
1101 3rd St SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52401
Little Boehmia – A dive bar at the south end of New Bohemia, it’s a good place to add to a bar hopping tour, or to sit down for some tasty Iowa food. They have an excellent pork tenderloin, and also a dish called the hot loin – it has a huge pile of mashed potatoes, white bread and a tenderloin with gravy all over it. There’s tons of Cedar Rapids history on the walls, making it a great place to get the local feel.
1317 3rd St SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52401
The Red Frog – Over on the other side of the river in the Czech Village neighborhood, this is an old favorite dive bar of many locals with good bar food.
88 16th Ave SW, Cedar Rapids, IA 52404
Lion Bridge Brewing – Named after the nearby Cedar River bridge with lion statues, this new brew pub is already well-loved among locals, especially for their IPAs. The owners enjoy talking shop about the brewing process with interested customers. The brewhouse has also become a leader in the revitalization of the Czech Village.
59 16th Ave SW, Cedar Rapids, IA 52404
NewBo City Market – A very interesting, unique market that takes up a whole block in the middle of the New Bohemia district. A wide array of vendors serve up all types of fare – from Caribbean to Mediterranean to a cupcake shop. The focus is on local merchants and locally-grown food. Basically, a really cool collaborative project that you should check out.
1100 3rd St SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52401
Zoey’s Pizzeria – Sitting right on the town square of Marion, Zoey’s has the best pizza in the Cedar Rapids area. It’s a smaller restaurant, so you may have to wait, but the deep dish-style pizza they serve is more than worth it. A favorite of Senator Liz Mathis.
690 10th St, Marion, IA 52302
Cibo Fusion – Cool, upscale atmosphere with signature cocktails. Lots of unique food options you won’t find elsewhere in town. Definitely go for the Monday half-price pizzas.
685 Marion Blvd, Marion, IA 52302
Zio Johno’s Spaghetti House – This local Italian franchise has several locations, but it’s usually the one in Marion that Starting Line personally drops in at on trips back from Wisconsin. A good stop for a quick Italian meal.
755 7th Ave, Marion, IA 52302
Napoli’s – For some reason Marion sure does have a lot of Italian places. But this is another Cedar Rapids area favorite, and they have a nice patio area you can eat outside at.
500 Marion Blvd, Marion, IA 52302
Siamville Thai Cuisine – A good Thai place to try down the road from the mall. The green curry there is good.
3635 1st Ave SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52403
by Pat Rynard