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Sep 6, 2004 08:53 PM

Iowa City

  • m

I'm about to have several trips to visit the University of Iowa. What are the best independent restaurants there? I like ecclectic, especially rustic mediterranean, but am interested in just about anything as long as its genuine and not "heat & eat" of the back of a truck.

Local Ingredients?
Near the Campus?
Late night?
No TVs?

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  1. I don't get to Iowa City very often anymore, but I'll offer my input. There was also a post about a month ago about Cedar Rapids and Iowa City that you may want to search for.
    For Pizza, Pagliai's is an instituition in Iowa City. For tapas, Devotay is well regarded (and the owner sometimes posts here-hopefully he'll see this and add his input). Local ingredients, try Linn Street Cafe or Lincoln Cafe (in Mount Vernon). Those are 2 of the better restaurants in the whole state. Near the campus, Dirty John's grocery for a sandwich. Hopefully, some of the others can fill in the rest of the details for you.

    Dave R

    Dave R

    10 Replies
    1. re: Dave R

      I can't speak first hand, but I do have a friend in Iowa City that is married to a chef.
      She also spoke highly of Devotay ( 117 N. Linn St)
      Linn St. Cafe (121 N Linn)
      Sushi Popo for what was voted as best sushi in Iowa.(725 Mormon Trek Blvd)
      Red Avacado for vegetarian. (521 E Washington)
      Hamburg Inn for breaksfast. 214 N. Linn.
      I know a girl in college there, so I'll try to get you a run down on Pizza. Remember if you are there this week to pick up your Beat Iowa State button. It will get you a discount at many local eateries.

      1. re: Bobfrmia
        Brian Schwartz

        I'm a native Chicagoan and had lived in Iowa City for 4 years and can tell you that restaraunts aren't one of the best parts of Iowa City (for that matter the entire Iowa!). Nonetheless, I reccomend Big Mike's sub shop - real good subs, crisp, etc. Sub Shop is another good Iowa place. Also Hamburg Inn is a dirty little diner, not bad for late night chow. Red Lobster and Olive Garden are always good for franchises. STAY AWAY from Paglia's pizza, it's fair at best, I guess coming from Chicago I'm spoiled with pizza, but still could never find anything great about Paglia's pizza.

        1. re: Brian Schwartz

          Paglias Pizza is the best pizza around. It beats out most competition from accross the country. If you're in Iowa City it's a must.

          1. re: Mike
            Milwaukee Ben

            i'll second that emotion on pagliai's pizza--it's excellent. one of my all-time favorite pizzas. quirky because it used to be beer-free (pre-1983), then they got lowenbrau on tap. lowenbrau?? anyway, get the palace special and a pitcher of whatever strange brand brew they're serving now (andecker perhaps? olympia?).

            1. re: Milwaukee Ben

              It's been a few months since anyone posted here about Iowa City, so who knows, maybe I'll start the broth simmering again. The two best restaurants in Iowa City are Taste on Melrose and Takanami. The two partners, one the chef and the other the baker, who own Taste formerly worked for local restaurateur Jim Mondanaro before they came to their senses and went into business for themselves. The menu is something that any Midwesterner would relish, but a foodie would find it to be creative AND well-executed. Service is very good: knowledgeable, friendly, smart & efficient. The chef at Takanami used to work at Charlie Trotter's and is very imaginative. Takanami is Asian-American fusion with a full menu and a sushi bar. I have taken guests from major metropolitan centers there and they've been impressed.

              There's a little place called The Motley Cow which has about ten tables. It's raggedy-looking but the chef, who went to school at the UI, apprenticed in SF and came back. The entrees change every few days depending on what ingredients look good. They always have a nice selection of cheeses. Breads and desserts are really good.

              Linn Street Cafe has improved over the past few years since they made their menu a little more casual and lowered the prices. Devotay has flashes of brilliance and you'll pay dearly for the privilege. Atlas World Grill does a good job. 126 (named for its address) has its good days.

              I see from the posts previous that The Lincoln Cafe gets the compliments it deserves. See for some reviews.

              1. re: Curnovsky

                Just FYI on your information so that its accurate, Eric is a good friend of mine and he makes great food but he never worked at Charlie Trotters. :) You should check out Formosa for some decadent sushi and the asian fondue (shabu shabu) is outstanding too. Service there has always been superb. Its on the first floor of the sweet new Hotel Vetro downtown.

                1. re: Curnovsky

                  I vote Devotay over Motley Cow every time. Beyond the food, the service at Devotay is unmatched in Iowa City.

                  Motley Cow Cafe
                  160 N Linn St, Iowa City, IA 52245

                  117 N Linn St, Iowa City, IA 52245

                  1. re: lost78

                    "The service at Devotay is unmatched in Iowa City"
                    I beg to differ. Devotay is the ONLY restaurant in Iowa City I've actually walked out of because of poor service, and I've done it twice. Both times we were seated and then no one ever came to our table--not even a hurried "I'm sorry, I'll be with you in a minute." First time we waited 15 mins, second time 10 mins before walking out. The place isn't that big, it's not like they couldn't see us. In my opinion, that's unforgiveable.

                    117 N Linn St, Iowa City, IA 52245

            2. re: Brian Schwartz

              My husband Greg and I have always loved Paglia's pizza...we live in Chicago and yet we come out to Iowa City at least once every 3 mos for our addiction to it's wonderful taste and great crust. And as for Iowa-it has some of the best cooks in the WORLD.

            3. re: Bobfrmia

              From an Iowa student.
              Thai Spice on gilbert.
              Old Chicago Pizza for deep dish pizza and really cheap beer.

          2. For Thai, I like Thai Flavors (I believe that's the name), corner of Gilbert and Burlington. Next door is Parthenon, which I haven't tried. My friend who lived in Thailand for several years took me to Thai Flavors, and the owners are actually Thai. I've also heard good things about Thai Spice, further down on Gilbert, but haven't been there.

            Hamburg Inn, down the block from Paglia's, is good for burgers and shakes.

            1. Hi

              I have been in and out of there recently several times and have many trips to come over the next year. I've hit a few good spots, based on comments and ideas here (thanks everyone!).

              We went to Linn Street Cafe first night, and then Devotay the next night. Had the duck entree at both, and I found the food better at Linn St overall. The duck at Devotay was too saucy, while at Linn St it was roasted well and the sides were more well suited. The bacon wrapped dates at Devotay rocked, though, and the service was great with a good breadth of wine choices. Either choice I think is good and the best food in town, so far, for me.

              Toward Corralville (I stay at the Hampton there), we've tried both Chinese places on 1st Ave at 2nd St and they're okay. Want to try the Vientamese place but haven't yet. The Vine, on 2nd, is good but pretty loud. The Beefstro in the hotel is dicey, though I like the grilled caesar salad. I've not been to the Power Co in a while but it was good. A little cheesey but a nice place to take clients.

              Colleagues mentioned some hole-in-the-wall place around the corner from the Sheraton, Italian I take it, that I'll be trying next trip too.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Patrick

                That little place around the corner from the Sheraton downtown is The Mill Restaurant. They have excellent Italian food, great antipasto I love the baked lasagna and incredible garlic bread. But more about the Mill. It has or used to have the greatest entertainment for miles around. Sometimes ecclectic sometimes just wild and wacky. Sometimes they will have singers or bands. I used to love going there when I was a student but haven't been there for a while. I remember the good old days of "Duck's Breath Mystery Theater" and its offshoots with Dr. Science and other bust- a-gut funny stuff. Always worth the trip. Susan in Cedar Rapids

              2. Pizza in Iowa City is a nonstarter as is Thai. Lots of mediocre stuff. For Tapas Devotay is fantastic. As mentioned Linn St is excellent (and next door to Devotay) with the best wine list in town. The best cooking in town is at Takanami, fusion with excellent sushi. Lincoln Cafe in Mt. Vernon is very much worth the 20 mile drive north of town. Other good bets are Motley Cow and Taste on Melrose, but they can be uneven. These are all within a mile of campus, none have TVs, are independently owned, and most use local ingredients.

                David, in Iowa City

                10 Replies
                1. re: David M

                  I see this thread is ancient, but I just gotta say -- is The Sanctuary no longer there? Used to be such fab pizza (at least to a lowly undergrad in the 70's!). Will continue my reminiscence with fond memories of the Sheep's Head Cafe (perhaps mainly b/c an old beau worked there), The Brown Bottle (for a big date), and some cool sub place - can't remember the name - Someone's Sub... ahhhhhh, those were the days...

                  The Brown Bottle
                  1624 5th Avenue, Moline, IL 61265

                  Brown Bottle
                  401 E Mill St, Plymouth, WI 53073

                  1. re: chinitav

                    Bushnell's Turtle, named after the first submarine.

                    1. re: puzzler

                      Oh thank you, puzzler! That was driving me crazy -- I kept thinking "Nemo's" and knew it was wrong. Is it still there?

                      1. re: chinitav

                        Sorry to report it's been closed for a while.

                      2. re: puzzler

                        I used to love going there. They had the best sandwiches and soup for lunch. I remember having some of the best bean soup of my entire life there. Truly memorable. Where did those folks go? I miss them. Susan in Cedar Rapids

                      3. re: chinitav

                        Sheepshead Cafe. Now there is a blast from the past. LONG GONE - 20 years or so - but what a wonderful funky place it was. Used to love going there for burgers and an occasional scotch

                        1. re: mander

                          Sheep's Head took over the building that Grace and Rubie's used to be in. What wonderful times those were. Petitioning the City Council for an alcohol permit for an all girl's restaurant. Afterall it was 1973 and it hadn't been done, to have an all girl's soup shop/ private organization. It even drew an article or two from big magazines. Some sneaky bastard creeping around the garbage cans for whatever was on the menu for the day. I was on the board of Directors up until it went under. But great food! Absolutely delish! 1973-1975 or so. Those were the days!

                          1. re: RubyBluebird

                            Ruby-- You might be interested to know that not everything re the Sheep's Head Cafe has perished...

                      4. re: David M

                        The Sanctuary has excellent pizza ....

                        1. re: David M

                          David: I disagree ... Try the pizza at The Sanctuary Pub. I recommend the Pizza Fontina. This bar also has an excellent beer list.

                        2. Hamburg Inn's been mentioned several times already -- it's been a local favorite for years.

                          IC is NOT known for pizza, with most pizza joints catering to the non-discriminating and in-need-of-cheap-eats student. Trust me, as an alum -- pizza would not be something I seek out on repeat visits to campus!

                          Since the campus district -- specifically on the Old Capitol side -- seems to have been left out of most responses, here are a few adds:

                          1) Panchero's -- 32 S. Clinton St. with another location on Riverside, has its HQ in Coralville, got its start in Iowa City. Fits both the late nights and cheap eats categories. Recommend avoiding it on Thurs / Fri / Sat nights after 10pm (unless you plan to observe inebriated hungry students). But they serve up decent on-the-go Mexican fare -- queso quesadilla and soft corn tortillas abound. If you don't plan on eating for 24 hours following your meal, they'll make you a giant burrito. Further digging provided the URL below -- apparently they're making homemade tortillas now -- why couldn't they have started about 5 years earlier? ;) Sadly, it appears they no longer serve tortas... how depressing...

                          2) The Cottage Bakery & Cafe -- 14 S Linn St., just off Iowa Ave. Great local coffeehouse and sandwich shop, making & selling loaves of homemade bread. Those alone could make a great meal. Their lemon poppyseed bread sells out daily. Generally frequented by the grad student / faculty set. Open for breakfast and lunch, they have a great selection of fresh fillings / cheeses to make a sandwich to suit your tastes.

                          And, while not a food recommendation, no visit to Iowa City is complete without stopping at Prairie Lights Books. It's regarded as one of the finest independent bookshops in the nation.


                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Mags

                            Am scanning the entire board for Twin Cities listings, but came across a past thread about Iowa City that reminded me of some additional options.

                            Again, in the Old Capitol area, a local not-to-miss is Micky's for a Conglomeration... (cholesterol city, but tasty)