Iowa isn’t just about fried food on a stick, loose meat Maid-Rite sandwiches, and presidential hopeful photo ops at the Iowa State Fair. One visit will tell you there’s more to the Hawkeye State than corn fields and corn dogs.
With upstart dining destinations like Lua Brewing and Clyde’s Fine Diner, local food brands like La Quercia cured meats and Maytag blue cheese, and forward-thinkers at the World Food Prize Foundation (which promotes food security and global agricultural innovation), Iowa is slowly inching back to its roots: more small farms and more local businesses to compete with industrial agriculture and chain restaurants. This is especially true surrounding the state’s largest metro area, Des Moines, where young hospitality pros are opening new venues, pushing the restaurant and bar culture in the city forward in a far more diverse direction.
Iowa’s capital, including the hospitality industry, was drastically impacted by COVID-19. But innovative concepts boomed at the same time. Fine dining restaurants tested out new angles, like Harbinger’s to-go Korean fried chicken operation or Django’s virtual burger spin-off. To-go cocktails and curated wine packages helped venues like Bartender’s Handshake and Bubba Southern Comforts recoup revenue lost under capacity limits. Others used the pandemic as an excuse to exit the corporate world and join the baking world. Pastry lovers can now find farmers market stands like Bread by Chelsa B, where Chelsea Smith channels her creative energy into homemade focaccia and sourdough donuts, and Pie Bird Pies, where Kristen Daily and Andrea Piekarczyk feed locals’ penchant for pies.
From quintessential pork tenderloin sandwiches to a roving vegan pop-up in a converted school bus, here are 33 reasons Des Moines isn’t flyover country.
Note: The inclusion of restaurants offering dine-in service should not be taken as an endorsement for dining inside. Studies indicate a lower exposure risk to COVID-19 outdoors, but the level of risk is contingent on social distancing and other safety guidelines. Check with each restaurant for up-to-date information on dining offerings. For updated information on coronavirus cases in your area, please visit the Iowa Department of Public Health.
Karla Walsh is a Des Moines, Iowa-based freelance writer, editor, level one sommelier, and former fitness instructor and personal trainer who balances her love of food and drink with her passion for fitness. Her writing has been printed in Allrecipes, Runner’s World, Shape, and Fitness, and appeared online in Shape, Better Homes & Gardens, Reader’s Digest, and Women’s Health. Keep up with her on Instagram and learn more at karlawalsh.com
Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.