Des Moines' Hottest Food Neighborhoods You Need to Know About

Korean egg sandwiches, Australian baked goods,Southeast Asian bing bing wraps—here’s an in-the-know guide to eating your way through this culinary capital.

I pull into the parking lot of a suburban community college and follow a stream of people trickling into an angular glass building. We're all heading to a large dining room that looks more like a convention center than a restaurant—an unlikely setting for what will soon become my favorite dining experience in Des Moines. Over the next three hours, chef Katie Van Dyke performs culinary magic. She weaves a vibrant tapestry of ingredients and techniques into her five-course menu, each plate its own work of art. A colorful salad arranged as a wreath highlights a rainbow of produce: Tiny purple huckleberry tomatoes, pineapple tomatillos, petite green beans and pickled cucamelon (mini sour cucumbers) intermingle with compressed canary melon and a tangy-sweet "tomato water." Vietnamese caramel sauce glazes crispy-skinned Guinea hen. Iowa sweet corn infuses a rich panna cotta paired with white nectarines. With each course, Van Dyke also seeks to introduce diners to unique wines, like a bubbly blush crémant from India.

chef katie van dyke dinner series
Chef Katie Van Dyke Dinner Series. Joie Probst

With the help of students from the Iowa Culinary Institute, Van Dyke plates these wine-pairing dinners on select Wednesdays for a frequently sold-out crowd. After working in a Michelin-starred restaurant in California, Van Dyke moved back to Des Moines to pursue her restaurant dreams. She saw opportunity in Iowa's capital city, where the cost of entry is lower, and the food scene had been simmering for a decade. Though the pandemic slowed the momentum, it also inspired inventiveness.

The city has emerged from the past few years at a rolling boil. Small-plate restaurants pump out playful dishes like squash blossom rangoons and vanilla-poached lobster. Southeast Asian street food tingles the taste buds around the corner from a late-night dessert bar. Weekend pop-ups dot the calendar, and cocktail bars buzz with creativity. You'll find most of the hot spots downtown or just west along Ingersoll Avenue—but don't discount chasing suburban standouts like Van Dyke's dinners in Ankeny. The excitement is palpable, as new restaurants open, chefs push the boundaries, and James Beard nods roll in. And it's best tasted on a trip here yourself.

clydes fine diner des moines
Clyde's Fine Diner. Jason Donnelly

Downtown and East Village

Find an array of bars, breweries and eateries in neighborhoods scattered around downtown—especially the lively East Village by the Capitol.

At Clyde's Fine Diner in the East Village, slide onto a turquoise bar seat for upgraded diner food. Two dishes we'll never pass on? The Caesar Sprouts (Caesar salad-inspired Brussels) and the Hot Bird with fried chicken in Sichuan sauce, kimchi creamed collards and scallion hush puppies. Nearby, 503 Cocktail Lab experiments with libations using ingredients like oolong tea, mole bitters and kaffir lime.

Across the Des Moines River in central downtown, moody Hello, Marjorie occupies the former Des Moines Register building and mixes aptly named drinks like the Editor's Note. While there, put your name on the list for Good News, Darling, the attached speakeasy where each seating begins with tea from East Village standby Gong Fu Tea.

lua brewing patio
Lua Brewing. Jason Donnelly

Just northwest of downtown, Sherman Hill is the city's oldest residential neighborhood, lined with gingerbread mansions. Aposto, a romantic restaurant in an 1880 Victorian, offers elevated Italian dishes—some inspired by the owner's family recipes. The house-made ice cream flavor changes weekly and is seldom repeated. Nearby, hopheads can choose between boutiquey Lua Brewing or Big Grove Brewing, a new hangout with firepits, games and above-par pub grub.

Ingersoll and Beyond

Find international cuisine—both inventive and authentic—and hidden gems when you venture outside of downtown.

A couple of miles west of downtown, Ingersoll Avenue is Des Moines' Eat Street, stacked with pizza, burgers, sushi, ceviche, bulgogi, coffee and a cheese bar. Snag a coveted reservation at Harbinger, where chef Joe Tripp puts the focus on vegetables in travel-inspired small plates, like ginger-roasted beets, fried okra with lavender aioli and tender Vietnamese meatballs. Or dine under paper parasols at Lucky Lotus, a counter-service joint serving Southeast Asian street food—Nam Khao (crispy rice salad), spicy curries and bing bing (scallion pancake) wraps are staples. End the night with a frozen negroni in the back garden at The Bartender's Handshake or satisfy a sweet tooth at Crème, where you can have a cocktail with your cupcake (and pick up Japanese milk bread for the road). Farther afield, St. Kilda Collective is the West Des Moines outpost of a favorite downtown spot. The Australian cafe is open all day, or come for brunch and try the fluffy crumpets. Other suburban secrets: Mingalabar for Burmese cuisine and Monarca gourmet paletas for inventive Mexican ice pops. (Get 'em dipped.)

Weekly Dinners and Pop-Ups

Make like an in-the-know local and follow businesses on Instagram to find out where you can snag a dazzling meal or an elusive sourdough doughnut.

Consider yourself lucky if you manage to procure a ticket to Dogpatch Urban Gardens'seasonal Farmstand to Fork Dinners, alfresco Sunday feasts prepared by leading local chefs. Another hot seat is one around Katie Van Dyke's chef's table at the Iowa Culinary Institute in Ankeny. The intimate 10-course meals max out at 12 people, but her Wednesday wine dinners host a larger group. You don't need a reservation to catch a bakery pop-up by Pie Bird Pies, Bread by Chelsa B or Domestic Bones. Just arrive early, since lines get long, and goods—especially Pie Bird and Chelsa B's doughnut collabs—sell out. Or hop over to Bellhop tiki barin the East Village on Sunday mornings for Korean Fluffy Egg Sandwiches. EggKing also slings Korean egg sandwiches on Texas toast that have earned a cult following—check social to see where they will be next.

two women at downtown farmers market
Downtown Farmers' Market. Karla Conrad

Play and Stay: Des Moines

Get to know some of the farmers supplying Des Moines' restaurants at the Downtown Farmers' Market, held each Saturday spring through fall. (Market stalls also serve street food—waiting for a giant Salvadoran pupusa is a rite of passage.)

In the East Village, browse boutiques and stock your kitchen in the process, with cool seasonings from AllSpice Culinarium or cooking gear from Kitchen Collage. While in the neighborhood, tour the gold-domed Capitol or stop into RAYGUN for a punny Midwestern tee and a Daisy Chain Coffee latte.

Nearby at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, giant lily pads float in a pond, purple alliums stand tall, and tropical plants thrive in a geodesic dome. The on-site restaurant, Trellis Cafe, is a delicious surprise.

Across the river, the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates honors a prestigious award given to those who have increased the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world—think the Nobel Prize of food. (Housed in a Carnegie library, it's surrounded by tulips each May.)

Farther west, just beyond the Ingersoll eateries, the free Des Moines Art Center occupies a spectacular three-wing building, designed by I.M. Pei, Richard Meier and Eliel Saarinen. Slip out back to stroll in the rose garden or hike in Greenwood Park.

surety hotel room
Surety Hotel. Jason Thomas Crocker

Convenient to the farmers market, the Surety Hotel breathes midcentury modern elegance into a 1913 Beaux-Arts building. Spacious rooms tout original hardwood floors, built-ins and large windows. It has a stylish restaurant, Mulberry Street Tavern, with a courtyard that hosts live music on summer nights (complete with adult slushies).

The newly renovated Hotel Fort Des Moines feels big-city sleek with dramatic chandeliers in a large lobby and an outstanding fine-dining restaurant named for the historic building's architects—Proudfoot and Bird.

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