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Eating in and around Iowa City

d
Davido Jul 6, 2002 10:30 PM

I will be traveling from Chicago to Iowa City next week - perhaps for the 1st of many trips - orientation for my teen-ager's enrollment at U. of Iowa. I would appreciate dining tips for breakfast, lunch, dinner and any anecdotal info you wish to share. Being from Chicago, I am experienced in ethnic dining and probably would be disappointed by gimmicky pseudo-ethnic dining. On the other hand, I have no trouble digging into a big country breakfast or any other classic American cuisine if well prepared/high quality. Thanks, in advance, for any suggestions.

  1. k
    kristyperson Feb 20, 2010 02:40 PM

    I quite like the Bluebird for breakfast (they make their own sausage and smoke their own bacon, it's lovely) but I think their lunches and dinners are a little over-priced and not quite as amazing.

    Bandito's is a Mexican place just opened across the street and it's rather good as well (though the rice and beans that come with every mean are awfully bland). I recommend the guacamole and the carntias tacos.

    For good Mexican takeout, the tacos at El Paso cannot be beaten, it's the Mexican restaurant/grocery attached to the VFW hall.

    1 Reply
    1. re: kristyperson
      c
      ctscorp Feb 21, 2010 08:02 PM

      In the interest of accuracy: While Bluebird's breakfast is good, and their burgers are as well, they definitely don't smoke their own bacon.

    2. d
      DoctorAB Feb 6, 2010 11:06 AM

      Mexican, in West Liberty: El Patiohttp://local.yahoo.com/info-16662487-el-patio-restaurant-west-liberty

      Chinese/Japanese/Korean: Aoeshe
      http://aoeshe.com/

      A fine dining experience (in Cedar Rapids):
      http://www.danielarthurs.net/

      A nice little deli:
      http://www.cottagebakerycafe.com/

      Good luck!

      1. h
        Hakon Aug 4, 2007 08:43 PM

        For lunch, or a snack and a cup of coffee, I would suggest Leaf Kitchens, on the corner of Kirkwood and S. Gilbert St. Great atmosphere, Sephus Yoder pies and cinnamon roles and Masae's cooking! I go a couple of times a week when I'm in town.

        1. Devotay Jul 31, 2007 08:56 AM

          Pizza: Pagliai's is most popular, but for good deep dish and amazing calzones, it's Sam's on Gilbert St.

          Mexican: I've said it before and I'l say it again - La Reyna - On Keokuk St west of KMart

          Sushi - Oyama near Sycamore mall

          BBQ - 2 choices, Jimmy Jacks or the Pit. Ribs at JJ, pulled pork at the Pit. Pit has amazing o-rings too

          Higher-end - try Motley Cow, currently across the street from John's Grocery (west on Market St), but soon to move across from my place on Linn.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Devotay
            b
            Bobfrmia Jul 31, 2007 05:07 PM

            I had to run over to IC last night for a morning appt. Pretty fired up to grab some taco's at La Reyna. Map quested ahead of time from my motel.
            Got there about 7:30 last night. Was happy to find them open. I ordered a chicken taco, steak taco, and pork taco, to go, from the friendly and helpful lady at the front counter. I asked for the hottest sauce they had available.
            1.75 a taco is hard to beat. If you get them. I did not. Got back to the hotel and had only the chicken and steak, although I was charged for three.
            OK, it happens. I'm still better off than if I had to go to Taco Bell, right?
            Maybe.
            The tortillas, 3 for the steak, 2 for the chicken, were fantastic. The steak was not. Some of it dry to the texture of jerky, major disappointment.
            The chicken, while moist, lacked any flavor other than from the cilantro and onions.
            Do they not use spices?
            The sauce was some bright green stuff with little or no heat, but at least added some moisture to the steak.
            Sorry, I know this place draws cheers from all the Hounds over there. I trust all your judgements enough to try them again. Let's just say that even the best have bad days. Maybe Monday night just isn't a good time.
            The tray of Carnitas on the counter looked like it would have been incredible, several hours earlier.
            It actually kinda fit the theme of the trip. Got whipped on the way out of town at Prairie Meadows, got crappy news from the doctor (nothing life threatening), got whipped again at Riverside Casino, And because I'm a glutten for punishment, stopped on the way back into town for another Prairie Meadows ass whoppin.
            I did salvage some of the day by jumping off I 80 at 2nd ave to Hit Smokey D's again for more burnt ends. This is my 4th time, and I'm liking them more each time. Had the sandwich the first time, now I just order a pound, take em home and keep any other living thing away for awhile.

            1. re: Bobfrmia
              e
              Elizabeth Hallinan Aug 19, 2007 11:09 PM

              Replied to another post about La Reyna, agree with you completely. What's with this situation??? My husband and I are from San Diego, LOVE good Mexican food, and thought this place was AWFUL after having gone with very high expectations. We have eaten at Los Cabos on a strong recommendation from a Mexican friend, but liked it mostly for the cheap Margaritas, maybe?

              1. re: Bobfrmia
                m
                monou Sep 18, 2007 05:32 PM

                I absolutely LOVED La Reyna when it was just a couple weeks old. But I went back in July, and either they were having an off day or the food quality has gone down since it's been busier. Yes, it's cheap, but the chicken I had was on the stringy/dry side, and it seems like the atmosphere had gone down. The worst part was, there was none of the world-famous (and delicious!) pico de gallo on the table! Instead I got the watery salsa. Grrr. Just having the pico de gallo would have made my trip. I hope it's because they didn't find any perfect avocados that morning.

              2. re: Devotay
                o
                obtuser Nov 27, 2007 01:49 PM

                Best Deep dish in town (in the midwest as far as I'm concerned)is only half in town, and half in Coralville; The Wig and Pen.

              3. j
                Jane Jul 11, 2002 04:30 AM

                >> I have no trouble digging into a big country breakfast

                Drive over to the Amana Colonies to the town of Amana for a huge country family-style breakfast at Colony Inn.

                Big bowl of fresh fruit
                Platter of ultra-fresh sunny-side up eggs
                Platter of Amana bacon and sausage
                Plate-sized buttermilk pancake
                Big bowl of hash browns

                Terrific.

                Some still like lunches and dinners at other Amana restaurants such as The Ronnenburg and The Ox-Yoke Inn. To me, however, they now pale in comparison to what they once were. Seems they're catering more to the bus tour crowds now and the food is pre-fab instead of the top quality homemade treats I enjoyed there from the early 1950s until quality started deteriorating about seven years ago.

                It's been about two years since I've been to IC but I sure enjoyed a neat bar and grill downtown right next to Prairie Lights Bookstore. They did some terrific non-traditional items and the gorgeous bar and mirror are worth the admiration. Can't recall the name of it offhand -- not sure if it's still there or not, but hope it is!

                11 Replies
                1. re: Jane
                  i
                  iowagirl Jul 11, 2002 11:46 AM

                  The name of that bar is Mickey's and it definitely is still there. It's one of five restaurants owned by one man. One of the others, called the Bread Garden, on nearby Clinton Street, has 5-7 freshly made soups(cream of mushroom and tuscan tomato are two of my favorites) daily, served with several LARGE slices of freshly baked bread in a couple of varieties. I especially like the one baked with green and black olives, but the rye is also very good. They also have wonderful made-to order sandwiches, salads and a decent selection of freshly made pastries and other sweets. A favorite for lunch and light dinner.

                  1. re: iowagirl
                    j
                    Jane Jul 11, 2002 08:37 PM

                    Thanks, Iowagirl! Yes, Mickey's, that's it! I really enjoy spending time in the bookstore then going to that booth in the front window of Mickey's to people-watch and peruse my bookstore purchases! :)

                    I knew the owner had other establishments but couldn't for the life of me remember them. Doesn't he have some restaurants in Des Moines, too? Good people in that Mickey's, and good food!

                    Last time I was in IC, I really missed the ice cream shop. I loved going up to the second floor to sit by a window there.

                    1. re: Jane
                      d
                      Davido Jul 12, 2002 10:00 PM

                      Thanks a million for the suggestions. I just got back from Iowa City. My 1st trip - orientation day for my son, who we'll be taking there (for good!) in a month. I did manage to get to the New Pioneer Co-op, which I loved - college town co-ops are so great, I actually prefer them to Whole Foods and other elite grocers here in the Chicago area. New Pioneer had a great collection of cheeses, meats from the Amana colonies, a nice deli, and lotsa organic and veggie stuff. I tried to get my son to go to Red Avocado but he's still in the "how about Taco Bell?" phase, and considers fried potatoes to be the staff of life (maybe they are?). On my son's recommendation we also ate at a friendly place with not so great Mexican food - they served most dishes w. mashed potatoes w. a pepper cream sauce that were actually pretty tasty, though the place was kinda grungy - Gringos? The university put on an incredibly lame dinner w. paper plates...chicken breast, green beans, rice, etc.

                      I also must admit that I went to John's Grocery. I don't exactly know what the role of this store is in Iowa City (although I did see a perky, almost cartoon-like mini-skirted babe buy a fifth of vodka in the middle of the afternoon there - is that a hint?), but they have a great collection of beers on hand, and I bought quite a few hard to find brews there. They are very friendly, too.

                      Anyway...

                      I'm hoping to make many trips to IC - 'cause it'll mean he's actually progressing towards a degree(!) - and I look forward to trying all your recommendations.

                      Thanks.

                      Davido

                      1. re: Davido
                        j
                        Jane Jul 13, 2002 08:55 AM

                        Well, now you've got a start, Davido!

                        If you are going sometime and spending a few days in IC, you might enjoy staying at De Heimat Bed & Breakfast in Homestead (one of the Amana Colonies). It's just a charming place and very nice people. I skip the continental "breakfast" in favor of a real coronary breakfast at Colony Inn. My favorite room is #13 on the second floor, southwest corner. It's perfect for one, but they have lovely larger rooms, too.

                        Just a suggestion, if you're going in for a sports event or Parents' Weekend, make your room reservations early! I've heard of folks who had to drive quite a distance from their lodging on those weekends.

                        Oh, and in case you didn't already do it on this trip, you'll soon learn to take an ice chest with you to haul home the FABULOUS Amana bacon and sausage. Personally, I've found it to be fresher when I buy it at the Amana Meat Shop in Amana instead of at other businesses outside of Amana. And don't miss the Amana wine tasting rooms. Their wine used to be that grandpa-kind of wine but they've really brought up the quality and it's quite good.

                        1. re: Jane
                          w
                          whitney Jul 17, 2002 04:36 PM

                          Oh, this is making me miss IC! Seven years ago, when we still lived there, The Sanctuary served some tasty chicken salad. Some people would call me crazy, but I loved the manicotti at The Brown Bottle. Once in a while The Mill would serve something interesting as a "special." I remember some weird macaroni and cheese thing with tons of rosemary. Good but strange. You really go to The Mill for open mic night entertainment, not food, on Mondays.

                          Ditto the breakfasts in Amana, and the pizza at Paglia's!

                          And if you want an interesting grocery shop experience, go to The Stringtown Grocery just off of Hwy 1 between Kalona and IC. (Just up the road from the Cheese Factory.)

                          1. re: whitney
                            Mangojane Nov 27, 2007 08:27 PM

                            My mom used to live in Iowa City, and when I went down to interview for grad school she INSISTED that I visit the Brown Bottle. I didn't get a chance to go, but it gets a high recommendation from a former Iowan.

                            1. re: Mangojane
                              w
                              weijus Nov 28, 2007 09:45 AM

                              I second that, and if you go you must get the Tiramisu which is spectacular.

                        2. re: Davido
                          i
                          iowagirl Jul 15, 2002 03:30 PM

                          Hi Davido! So glad you made it to John's Grocery - it's our little mecca of good beer and wine, and is a veritable institution here. In fact, when my dad was in high school, it's where HE went to buy beer (they called it "Dirty John's then)! If you make it back there, make sure to chat with Wally the wine guy! He knows his stuff, and always has great recommendations.

                          Not much in the way of great Mexican food here, but two more "authentic" options are El Ranchero on Hwy 6 and Riverside Dr - good, cheap fajitas - and La Casa on Gilbert Ct.

                          Also - if you do come back and need a good breakfast (or lunch) spot, the Hamburg Inn is wonderful. A huge selection of omelets, great pancakes, homemade pies, good, greasy burgers and tuna melts and a true Iowa City vibe. It is a bit grungy, but the food is definitely worth it. They also serve a cheap dinner on Sunday nights, when the dorms aren't serving. Usually something like homemade fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, veggie and roll for $4.95. The Hamburg in is right by most of the east side dorms (Burge, Currier, Daum, Stanley) on Linn St.

                          And on the corner of Linn and Bloomington St is the famed Pagliai's pizza - some of the best thin crust pizza I have ever eaten. Was a weekly visit while I was in college, and still my favorite pizza here in town.

                          Good luck, and feel free to keep asking! :) Glad to brag up my little Iowa town when I get the chance.

                        3. re: Jane
                          i
                          iowagirl Jul 15, 2002 03:17 PM

                          No problem, Jane! We miss the Great Midwestern Ice Cream Company too - nothing like their fresh blackberry ice cream on a muggy Iowa day!

                          And Mondanaro (owner of Mickey's et al), DOES own at least one restaurant in Des Moines, Mondo's, which is very similar to the Mondo's here in Iowa City. Pretty decent bar-type food, with a great chicken tortilla soup.

                      2. re: Jane
                        s
                        spellweaver16 Aug 1, 2007 12:58 PM

                        Oh, I definiteyl agree that the Ox-Yoke isn't anything special anymore. It was mediocre-to-bad when I ate there.

                        1. re: spellweaver16
                          c
                          cali2ia Aug 2, 2007 11:07 AM

                          I would say that my recent experience there was mediocre-to-good, though my wife loved it. (Actually, she has not asked that we return, which says something.) I hear great things about the Colony Inn from a Californian relative that comes to Iowa once a year, but that might be more tradition than taste. I tried to join her there this summer, but it was closed (Sunday evening), so we went to the Ronnenburg. THAT was a huge letdown. The sauerbraten sounded so good, but the result was a slightly acidic, dry boiled beef.

                      3. a
                        Anne Jul 8, 2002 08:15 AM

                        The Red Avocado! The Red Avocado! It's on E. Washington in Iowa City. Track it down. They serve fun and delicious organic vegetarian dishes, often showcasing whatever herbs or veggies looked good in their garden that day (according to what my server's told me). If it's not too humid, you should sit out on the patio, which has green vines growing across the open ceiling.

                        I think everything I've had there has been really good. Go for whatever's on special. Oh, they make fantastic juice drinks, too, and they have a not-bad wine selection. Definitely one of the most interesting restaurants in IC.

                        It's just across the street and down from the New Pioneer Co-op, another place worth checking out for a quick and awesome deli lunch. Or you could pick up a baguette and some cheese and fruit and a bottle of wine at the co-op and walk down Washington to the park and have a nice little picnic.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Anne
                          w
                          weijus Aug 2, 2007 12:35 PM

                          I wholeheartedly agree with this. I found out about Red Avacado from this board, took my girlfriend (now fiancee) there while visiting her in grad school once and we went back almost every week since then. The Banana Bolt was my favorite drink, by the way. Also they have very good spinach salad (drizzled with toasted sesame seeds), tofu scramble (hearty and "eggy" tasting, sans eggs), and yummy desserts.

                        2. t
                          Thom in Omaha Jul 7, 2002 10:19 PM

                          In Iowa City itself, I have heard good things about the Linn St. Cafe. Several wine-lover that I know rave about the place. In Cedar Rapids (20+ miles up the road), there's a brewpub called the Cedar Brewing Company. Pretty good beers. There's also one or two brewpubs in Iowa City, but I haven't been to them.

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