Iowa is famous for quality beef, which you can find in great burger spots all around the state. It’s easy to find the popular ones in and around Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and Iowa’s other large cities, but finding an awesome burger in Iowa’s small towns is a little trickier … unless you know where to look.
We’ve compiled this list of small-town burger spots you have to try. Many of these restaurants and bars have been finalists for the Iowa Beef Council’s annual Best Burger contest in the last decade. Some have won, others are newer establishments that are gaining attention for their great burgers.
Arty’s Ice Cream & Grill, Wilton
This small family-friendly restaurant offers several burgers, but they are different from what you might expect. Their unique combinations might not make everyone’s palate happy, but everyone who likes burgers will surely find a combination they love. When you visit Arty’s Ice Cream & Grill, try a fried pickle burger, a Dump Truck with cheese balls and chipotle sauce, or a Wilton PD, which is a burger with bacon, egg, and cheese on a frosted doughnut bun. There’s also ice cream for the kids and a wine bar for the adults.
Although Bambinos is technically a bar and restaurant, it’s the latter — and especially the beef — that draws people to this family business in Ossian. The owners serve fresh, never frozen, 7-ounce burgers made with 80/20 ground beef from 9 a.m.-2 a.m. each day. Customers love the “Veggie Burger,” which we’ve put in quotes because it is not actually a vegetarian choice, it just comes with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and onion. Customers can also build their burgers any way they want, adding toppings like bacon, hash browns, onion rings, and more.
Brady’s Pub, Sheldon
Brady’s Pub is the perfect example of surprisingly delicious food found in an unsuspecting place. Every burger starts with fresh 100% ground chuck that’s shaped into patties daily. Brady’s ended up in the Top 10 finalists for the Best Burger in Iowa a few years ago with their Brady Burger, a jazzed-up mushroom swiss burger with bacon, garlic spiced mushrooms, roasted garlic aioli, and swiss and mozzarella cheeses. When you visit, make sure to check out their daily specials. You might find something like the Apple, Bacon, and Bleu Burger, which features provolone, apple slices, blue cheese crumbles, balsamic vinaigrette, and spinach on a brioche bun.
Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, Sac City
Sometimes you just want a burger, even when you visit a steakhouse. Whether you visit Cattlemen’s Steakhouse at lunch or dinner, you will find fresh Iowa Angus burgers. Choose between a juicy half-pound patty or, if you can handle it, a full 16-ouncer. The burger on the menu comes with options for various cheeses, onions, bacon, tomato, lettuce, and pickles. However, check for the weekly special to try something a little different. You might find a mushroom and swiss burger, or a special burger with onion rings, jalapenos, and homemade barbeque sauce.
Harper’s Public House, Dysart
Most of the small-town burger spots on this list have been in business for at least a couple decades, some for much longer. That makes Harper’s Public House the new kid on the Corn Belt, as they began serving their local community in summer 2021. The traditional-style public house is a great way for you to meet the locals in Dysart while enjoying a great burger and a beer. Head to Harper’s for a fresh Iowa Premium Beef two-patty burger with your choice of traditional fixings. If you are watching your figure, opt for the “skinny” burger with only one patty.
Top Hat Tavern, West Union
This hidden gem in West Union is your archetypal dive bar. You won’t find a website for Top Hat Tavern and their social media is practically non-existent. However, don’t let it scare you away from trying their burgers. The locals know Top Hat Tavern is the place to go for a mouth-watering Iowa beef burger. You can order a single, double, or triple, with or without cheese and traditional fixings, and they offer a delicious mushroom and swiss burger. If you want to spice it up, they also offer jalapenos.
Victoria Station, Harlan
If you are in the far southwestern corner of Iowa, you have to try a burger at Victoria Station, the historic steakhouse that used to be a train depot. Victoria Station uses fresh Iowa beef like other places on the list, but the toppings selection sets them apart. Their Build-Your-Own Burger is an 8-ounce, fresh patty seasoned with Victoria Station’s blend of spices and cooked to perfection. Customers can choose to add nine types of cheese, country gravy, bacon, sauteed mushrooms, grilled onions, peanut butter, grilled banana peppers, and more.
By Jessica Lee
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