Iowa Travel Guide: Des Moines Hidden Gems

The Des Moines restaurant scene has seen an explosion in fine dining options, craft breweries and quirky specialty joints in recent years. Reporters and campaign staff traveling to Iowa’s capitol for the Iowa Caucus often come away pleasantly surprised. Sometimes, however, you can get into a rut of returning to your same favorite spots downtown and in the East Village. So Starting Line put together a list of some interesting and unique eating and drinking choices in the metro area to expand your Des Moines palate. Enjoy:


B&B Grocery and Meat Deli (pictured) – This South Side institution has an old school meat counter inside that offers up their packed “Killer Sandwiches,” which may actually kill you if you have a heart condition. Order your sandwich at the counter, pick up a can of soda and some chips in the grocery section, and go sit down on the high top bar stools in their sitting area. A true South Side experience and a place you should really try out for a different, authentic taste of Des Moines.

2001 SE 6th St, Des Moines, IA 50315

Irina’s – Want to try some Russian beer and the best vodka creations in town? Spend an evening at Irina’s off Hickman for a unique Des Moines night. Irina herself usually welcomes you at the door. The blue-lit bar offers the widest selection of vodka you’ll find in the state, along with some delicious (and strong) infused vodka mixes. It’s gotten a little pricey in recent years, however, so be ready to spend some money to get the full experience (try the stuffed chicken or pork shashlik). On Friday and Saturday nights they play a bizarre slide show on a wall, composed of pictures of landscapes, modern art, Eastern Europe cityscapes and outer space paintings. Seriously, it’s worth it just to go watch that.

2301 Rocklyn Dr, Urbandale, IA 50322


515 Brewery – Starting Line’s personal favorite brewery to hang out at in town. They have a rotating selection of their own beers and also a guest tap for other Iowa beers. There’s usually a good selection of Belgian style beers, and always friendly owners who will chat with you at the bar. You can also bring your own food here, and there’s sometimes a food vendor out back.

7700 University Ave, Clive, IA

Mi Patria – Possibly the Des Moines metro’s most underrated restaurant. A menu of Ecuadorian food you won’t find elsewhere, the main thing Starting Line has noticed here is just how fresh all the food feels. Plantains, ensalada criolla and white corn accompany most dishes. Try the Fritada con Mote, or just get a bunch of appetizers, like the arropadas.

1410 22nd St, West Des Moines, IA

Mi Patria

Alpine Tap – Most campaigners and longtime reporter visitors know this spot, but it’s a good one to point out. A cash-only dive bar with a friendly bartender, it’s a good place to go if you don’t want anyone to see you. Well, unless Starting Line happens to be there, as I once got a legislator in trouble for certain reasons when I recognized him there. Also has the best jukebox selection in town, I’m told.

2720 Ingersoll Ave, Des Moines, IA

Flix Brewhouse – One of the coolest recent additions to Des Moines. It’s a neat take on the movie theater experience, where you can order food and beer as you watch your film. The comfy seats have  table-tops in front of them for your dinner. And it’s all reasonably priced – get a dinner, beer and a movie without emptying your entire wallet. It’s a national travesty all theaters aren’t like Flix.

3800 Merle Hay Rd #1300, Des Moines, IA

Goodsons – Regular neighborhood bar with chalkboard tables in Beaverdale that has great paninis.
2815 Beaver Ave, Des Moines, IA

Noodles – No, not the chain restaurant, nor Noodles Zoo of the East Village. This is a little family-run South Side place on SW 9th. Best Italian grinder in town in Starting Line’s personal opinion. Tell Pete hi.

2924 SW 9th St, Des Moines, IA

Shorty’s – They market themselves as “Shorty’s Somewhat Fancy Bar,” and that’s a pretty accurate description. A basement bar below RoCA, the wood and dark green decor gives it a classy old-bar kind of look, but the atmosphere is very relaxed and the prices good. A couple tables in the alcoves along the wall provide a nice place to have private conversations.

208 Court Ave, Des Moines, IA 50309

Scornovacca’s – A solid South Side pizza place founded by the Scorno and Vacca families. A little spicier red sauce than most places. Good for order out too.

1930 SE 14th St, Des Moines, IA

Flying Mango – Consistently rated as one of Des Moines’ top restaurants, but not always a place people bring up a lot. Best BBQ in town and interesting Caribbean dishes.

4345 Hickman Rd, Des Moines, IA

Strudl House – Chandeliers and red-upholstered chairs, servers in black ties and a coffee/wine bar takes you out of the typical Des Moines scene at this Austrian-inspired spot. Come by for some made-from-scratch European pastries and dishes. Also, sausage.

1951 Indianola Ave, Des Moines, IA

Patton’s – Located just east of the Capitol, this is a great soul food spot that often gets overlooked. Opened in 2010, they have Cajun Creole, Caribbean Jerk and Southern Soul options.

1552 East Grand Avenue, Des Moines, IA

Skip’s – Another institution on the South Side. A dark and romantic setting on the inside with great steaks, Italian pastas and seafood. A good place out for a date or a more upscale evening.

4000 Fleur Dr, Des Moines, IA 50321

Kelly’s Little Nipper – Tiny dive bar over on Des Moines’ East Side with cheap everything and a great pork tenderloin.

1701 E Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA

Timbuktu Coffee – If you’re tired of bouncing between Smokey Row, Scenic Route and Caribou Coffee, head out to the suburbs for this quieter cafe. Really good French drip coffee – the Guatemalan one is Starting Line’s favorite.

4825 Ep True Pkwy, West Des Moines, IA


by Pat Rynard
Posted 10/29/15

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