The 39 Best Diners in Iowa, According to Iowans

The 39 Best Diners in Iowa, According to Iowans

Photo by Avery Staker

By Nikoel Hytrek

September 5, 2023

It’s an early morning—maybe you’ve got family in town—and you’re tired and you’re looking for somewhere relatively cheap and entirely comfortable. What diner are you going to?

We asked Iowans, and heard from 120 of you telling us where you go for the best breakfast or lunch. (A decent number of people told us “home” was the best place, or that they were happy with “air conditioned.”)*

Anyway, people seemed excited. Michael O. said, “Yes! All diners are the best!”

But only one rose to the top, and did so pretty easily: Drake Diner, in the Drake neighborhood at 1111 25th St in Des Moines, just off-campus of Drake University.

Drake Diner has been around since 1987 and, most importantly, serves breakfast all day, though it also has lunch and dinner selections. The diner also sells beer and wine.

The place has a retro vibe with neon signs, lunch counters and a covered patio. (The diner was also the site of two murders in 1992. Managers Cara McGrane and Tim Burnett were murdered in a robbery; the killer nabbed less than $500 and ran.)

But what about all the others?

As Rob F. said: “Hundreds, too many to narrow down. Subjective question.”

Don’t worry, here’s your list of all the best diners in Iowa, as chosen by Iowans.

Top 3:

1. Drake Diner, Des Moines

2. Morg’s Diner, Waterloo

3. Bluebird Diner, Iowa City


Bill’s Diner, Spencer (now called Grand Diner, and Ben H. says WAS)

Bluebird Diner, Iowa City

Bubba and Mama’s Family Restaurant, Clinton

Bud’s Café, Estherville

The Café, Ames

The Canteen, Ottumwa

The Classic Deli & Ice Cream Shoppe, Brooklyn

The Chuckwagon, Adair

Darrell’s Place, Hamlin

Dinky Diner, Decatur City

Dottie’s Café, Dubuque

Drake Diner, Des Moines

Family Table, Osceola

The Grove Café, Ames

Gwen’s, Lisbon

Hamburg Inn No. 2, Iowa City (reopening in October)

Harvey’s, Sioux City

Henry’s Diner, Crescent

Highway 63 Diner, Waterloo

Jerry’s Main Lunch, Burlington

Jimmy’s Pancake House, Bettendorf

Johnnie Mars Family Restaurant, Sioux City

Morg’s Diner, Waterloo

Now or Later Restaurant, Des Moines

The Outfield, Richland

Pleasant Hill Diner, Pleasant Hill

Pullman Bar and Diner, Iowa City

Robin’s Nest Café, Clarinda

Ross’ Family Restaurant, Bettendorf

Sally’s Family Restaurant, Forest City

Sally’s on Broadway, Springville

Sunrise Café, LeGrand

Sunshine Diner, Dubuque

Town & Country Café, Madrid

Waveland Café, Des Moines

West End Diner, Marion

West Side Diner, Atlantic

The Whistle Stop, Boone

Wilton Café, Wilton


*These got a surprising number of responses.


Nikoel Hytrek



If you enjoy stories like these, make sure to sign up for Iowa Starting Line’s weekly newsletter.

Have a story idea or something I should know? Email me at [email protected]. You can also DM me on Twitter at @n_hytrek

​​Iowa Starting Line is part of an independent news network and focuses on how state and national decisions impact Iowans’ daily lives. We rely on your financial support to keep our stories free for all to read. You can contribute to us hereFind ISL on TikTokInstagramFacebook and Twitter.

  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].

Seafood in Iowa City: 5 top spots

Seafood in Iowa City: 5 top spots

Good seafood in Iowa City? You bet, it's a thing. Seafood aficionados in Iowa City are in luck, because they can choose from an array of restaurants...

Related Stories
Share This