We took a beautiful drive on Balltown Rd out of Dubuque to Breitbach's Country Dining-this was a couple of years ago. The food was pretty good. We had the buffet, I think it is usually better to order from the menu. It is the oldest restaurant in Iowa. The drive was spectacular! We drove west from there and drove through thr Amish community at dusk. The houses were lit with kerosene lights and the buggies had lanterns. The sportsman in Oelwein is pretty good, it may be one of the Italian places an earlier poster was talking about. They used to have a pasta buffet that was very good with home made sauces, but had discontined it last time we were there, but there was talk of bringing it back. My SIL is coming from Oelwein this week I will see what she has to add. Is Iowa City too far south? Lot's of posts on this board about some great places there.
We were in Oelwein and ate at the Sportmen and it was pretty good. My SIL said that it has gone through a period of not so good but was markedly improved. We had some really great home made rolls served with real butter. The steak we had was pretty good and we enjoyed all the little home made salads on the salad bar. The atmosphere is well ...very dated and lighting is not so great. Overall we enjoyed our dinner, but it might depend on who is doing the cooking.
ETA -- Whoops! I'm sending you to NorthWEST Iowa! Sorry!
Sioux City has a relatively large Vietnamese and Latin American population. You might be able to get some really excellent pho or chile rellenos if you ask around a little.
Places I've liked include:
The Daily Grind in downtown Sioux City -- excellent coffee
Tastee Inn and Out in Sioux City -- a drive-in only restaurant with very good loose-meat sandwiches and onion chips (rather than rings)
Bob's Drive-Inn in LeMars -- another great loose-meat sandwich with the advantage of being right across the street from the Blue-Bunny Ice Cream Factory attraction
The Dutch Bakery and Woudstra Meat Market in Orange City -- both in cute little downtown Orange City (think windmills), with dutch letters and sweet rolls (bakery) and some scary-good coldcuts and cheese (don't go on Sunday, everything is closed)
I haven't been back to NE Iowa for a very long time, so check on the continued existence of these, but:
1. Chosun Chinese in Decorah -- not for Chinese, but ask them to make some Korean food for you. If you ask in Korean, it's more likely to yield results.
2. Joensy's Tenderloins (Center Point) or St. Olaf Tenderloins (St. Olaf, near Elkader) -- you haven't been to NE Iowa until you've had a real tenderloin sandwich.
3. The Shanti (Gunder, also near Elkader) -- the Gunderburger is legendary.
4. Go to Dayton House for Norwegian sweets and sandwiches, as the other poster said... and while it's not exactly haute cuisine, I remember Happy Joe's taco pizza with fondness.
5. There are a couple of quite decent Italian restaurants in Oelwein -- one's on the south end of town headed toward Aurora or Independence, and one is in the city centre. I'm not sure why there aren't Italian restaurants in Decorah, but when I lived in West Union and Independence we used to go often. If you're from Brooklyn, they won't be up to your standards, but after five years of almost total withdrawal, they were like a gift from God.
6. The pizza at Old Mill Pizza Co. in Independence is very good, and the prepared salads from McElroy's Grocery in Winthrop are all very, very tasty. If you can, try to go to a Chicken-Q or a fish fry (not really season for the latter) in Buchanan County... they're really good and you can see Iowa neighbourliness at its finest.
7. If you make it into southeast Minnesota, you can get Spring Grove pop in Spring Grove, Lanesboro, Mabel or Caledonia. (They also sell it in Burr Oak and Decorah.) There are also often Amish women and children selling pies, blankets, preserves and pickles from buggies on the side of MN-44 from the Decorah turnoff to about Preston, with the highest concentrations between Canton and Harmony. Look carefully for signs if you're further south, there is another concentration of Amish near Fairbank, IA, who sell goods out of their houses -- but many of them are well off the beaten path, with only small signs to point the way. It's well worth it.
8. Finally, this isn't really "northeast" Iowa, but if you pass by the Amana Colonies, you really should stop in for German(-American) food. I remember the Ronneburg with especial nostalgia, but I hear it has changed hands. There are several places that serve this kind of food, and it is particular to the Amanas.
9. Jacob's Table in Postville I remember as being another oasis. The only kosher abattoir in the state, Rubashkin's ("Aaron's Best" comes from here) is in Postville, and thus it's an unlikely mix of standard Iowa farmer types and Lubavitchers. The restaurant is a flayshedik (meat only, no dairy) restaurant attached to the kosher grocery store. Their Israeli salad is wonderful. (Just don't mention that bloody book by Stephen Bloom about the "conflict" between the groups, and you'll be fine.)
re: Das Ubergeek
After a long drive and a craving for italian food...after visiting a Frank Lloyd Wright signature house... Cedar Rock...we drove to Oelwein on your recomendation...big mistake...ate at the Big Italian place south of town...Sportsman pub...is the name...I should have followed my instinct and not passed the front door...ended up with a Steak...meat again in Iowa...would have been better with a chain...more atmosphere if you can believe that.....Is there a decent salad in this state?..the salad bar at this place was under a heat lamp...oh my!
Here are a few of the place I like to dine out when I get the chance.
Decorah, IA - LaRana - a Mediteranean bistro, good variety of choices and lovely dining room. Also try the Dayton House Cafe--the hours can sometimes be limited, but they have traditional Norwegian food as well a contempory offerings. The Cafe is adjacent to the Vesterhiem Museum of Norwegian Heritage. Also the Winneshiek Hotel Dining Room is pretty upscale and interesting. Defintely a special occasion type of place. Another choice is Sabor Latino II, a Mexican owned and operated cantina. They have an outside dining room. Sabor Latino I is located in Postville, IA and has a Mexican grocery attached. Moving on to Postville, you can also find Jabob's Table a Kosher deli.
Saving the best for last is Twisted Chicken in McGregor, Iowa. Kim Hayes is the owner/chef. The menu is set each day featuring the freshest, local food she can get her hands on. Here is one place that a reservation is a must.
Enjoy some of these places and report back to us Midwest hounds.