5 hidden restaurants in Eastern Iowa that are worth the drive

5 hidden restaurants in Eastern Iowa that are worth the drive

Photo courtesy of Palisades Cafe via Facebook

By Katie Giorgio

June 27, 2024

There are several city hubs in and around eastern Iowa that are home to great local dining options, but venturing out into the smaller towns to discover some great eats should be on your to-do list as well. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of five great hidden restaurants in Eastern Iowa that are a little off the beaten path, but totally worth the drive for a tasty and special dining experience. 

Palisades Cafe

Mount Vernon

This little cafe on the heart of Main Street in the eclectic eastern Iowa town of Mount Vernon offers up creative food with a local flair.

They source many ingredients locally to create inspired bistro fare and a seasonally changing menu. The winter dinner menu features ossobuco, chicken and gnocchi, and sea scallops. Plus they feature a burger of the month that’s sure to leave your mouth watering.

This casual, family-friendly eatery is open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, and now regulars can also enjoy breakfast, served from 7-10 a.m., Tuesday through Saturday. You’ll find dishes like ribs and eggs with fries, crème brûlée French toast, veggie skillets, and plenty of omelet options.

Breitbach’s Country Dining

Balltown

5 hidden restaurants in eastern Iowa that are worth the drive

Photo courtesy of Breitbach’s Country Dining via Facebook

If longevity in the restaurant business is a competition, Breitbach’s Country Dining is the reigning champion in Eastern Iowa. First opened in 1852, today it is operated by the sixth generation of the same family.

Located just outside of Balltown—take a moment to check out the scenic overlook views before or after you dine—it’s a destination for people to grab a delicious home-cooked meal for lunch or dinner on Thursdays through Sundays.

The menu features a host of Midwest staples like Iowa chops, broasted chicken, and ribs. They also offer a buffet option with daily homemade soups and salads. Their Friday night seafood buffet is very popular, and you simply cannot leave without trying a slice of pie. Made fresh daily, you’ll find everything from apple and cherry to Snickers or coconut cream.

A meal at Breitbach’s gives you a true taste of home cooking in the heart of Iowa. 

Bluff Lake Catfish Farm

Maquoketa

5 hidden restaurants in eastern Iowa that are worth the drive

Photo courtesy of Bluff Lake Catfish Farm via Facebook

Perhaps the quirkiest restaurant on the list, Bluff Lake Catfish Farm just outside of Maquoketa is a truly unique dining experience.

Tucked between two lakes and located near a 50-foot waterfall in the Iowa River Valley, this eatery is dedicated to its all-you-can-eat, family-style approach.

They dish up whole and filet-style catfish, haddock, shrimp, chicken, and even prime rib (yes, all you can eat) with sides of coleslaw and fries. They take great pride in turning self-proclaimed non-fish-eaters into loyal customers who love the dishes they serve.

Not sure you’ll like it? Just ask for a sample. The staff at Bluff Lake Catfish Farm is happy to oblige. The restaurant does run on limited hours during the winter months, so check their social media page or give them a call before you stop by for a bite to ensure the fish is fried and ready to go.

Whether you cozy up to a table inside or find a spot on the patio, the scenic views surrounding this off-the-beaten-path eatery are definitely worth the trip. Plus there’s a cute little gift shop to browse through as well. 

Schera’s Restaurant and Bar

Elkader

5 hidden restaurants in eastern Iowa that are worth the drive

Photo courtesy of Schera’s Restaurant and Bar via Facebook

It may be a bit unexpected as you drive through northeastern Iowa, but when you pull into historic downtown Elkader and spot Schera’s Restaurant and Bar, make sure to stop for a meal.

This Algerian-American restaurant opened back in 2006 and has been delighting locals and those driving through the area with its unique and distinct dishes and flavors ever since.

You’ll have to try the signature dish—couscous royale—or sample other Algerian and Mediterranean dishes such as spinach samosas, doubara biskra, falafel, or an Algerian camel burger. They also offer Midwestern favorites like BBQ pulled pork, fried walleye, and Cubano paninis.

Schera’s is also popular for its wide array of vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and low-carb menu options. Schera’s hosts a variety of themed dinners throughout the year, so check them out on social media to see upcoming events. When the weather warms up a bit, stop by and enjoy a meal on their patio. 

The Crane & Pelican Cafe

Le Claire

5 hidden restaurants in eastern Iowa that are worth the drive

Photo courtesy of The Crane & Pelican Cafe via Facebook

Just before you hit the bridge to cross the Mississippi River into Illinois, pull off into Le Claire first.

This boutique restaurant was opened in the historic Dawley House—originally built in 1851—where they offer up fine dining in an atmosphere made more quaint by the home’s original pine floors, chandeliers, and fireplaces. You’ll truly feel transported to the 1800s. Plus, the location boasts spectacular views right on the banks of the Mississippi.

The food will surprise and delight guests, as well. There is Iowa corn dip and brie on the appetizer menu, but we suggest the Pelican’s Nest, which includes avocado, goat cheese, and cream cheese rolled in pistachios and pumpkin seeds served on arugula with pita chips. Dinner features a number of homestyle sandwiches with a twist as well as salmon, steak, and pesto pasta options. Finish your meal with their signature dessert: orange crepes.

The restaurant opened in 2009 and is not only family-owned-and-operated but run by LGBTQ+ women. The Crane & Pelican Cafe hosts special events like their regular beer dinner, unique brunches, and more throughout the year. It might very well be the most adorable restaurant in the state.

  • Katie Giorgio

    Katie Mills Giorgio is a freelance writer, editor, and nonprofit professional living and working in her hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She’s written for a wide variety of publications, including WashingtonPost.com, BHG.com, and U.S. News & World Report. 100 Things to Do in Cedar Rapids Before You Die, her first book came out in October 2022. Learn more at katiemillsgiorgio.com or follow her on Instagram at @ktmgiorgio.

CATEGORIES: FOOD and DRINK
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