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Nov 14, 2007 10:57 AM

Des Moines brunch and party time?

A big group of us (12) are coming down to Des Moines to party for a weekend in January. We have an annual trip from Minneapolis each year. Last year we went to Noah's Ark, Centro, Machine Shed and a Mongolian place. Any other fun suggestions? We had the hardest time finding brunch in the city. Where should we check out?

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  1. Welcome! Lot's of new stuff you might want to check out while you are here, some of which depends on your budget. Let's start on the lower price, but no sacrifice of quality. First, you need to experience breakfast at the Waveland on University. Long time "spoon" but a great start to the day. Also, it just went smokeless so you don't have to taste that with your food. Make sure you try the hashbrowns.

    About a mile from there back towards downtown is Uncle Wendell's B'Bque near 28th St. on Ingersoll Ave. Again a counter joint but what else would you want.

    Sure there is brunch in Des Moines. An Sunday you might want to try the Star Bar on Ingersoll, or stop by for a burger and brew at lunch, or in the evening for one of the specials.

    We now have an East Village near the state capitol, where the Piano Bar has a good lunch at a reasonable price. In the evenings there are dueling pianos which can make for a loud environment, which is enjoyed by some.

    On the higher end are two new places, Azalea and Dos Rios. The latter is a new take on Hispanic food which has just recently opened. They are currently fighting the break in mode, but it should settle down by mid January (all the press will be gone as the caucuses will be finished). Dos Rios, however, is not afraid of their prices. Azalea is one of the nicest rooms in the city, good service and excellent take on local foods find their way to the menu. If there is a splurge night, this would be my choice at the present time.

    For Des Moines' best Vietnamese, try A Dong located just Northwest of downtown in the historic Sherman Hill district. Nothing fancy, but my son swears by the pho. Thai, try Thai Flavors at E. 14th and University. If you want heat you kind find it there. The Tom Ka Kai is a favorite of mine. Make sure they understand that you can take the heat as they tend to go the mild side unless you speak your mind.

    Let us know how your trip goes with a report on your experiences.

    7 Replies
    1. re: DrWine

      Thank you so much, I am going to check on Azalea, and with a group of 12 I have to make pre-reservations for everything. We bought, "Des Moines: The Greatest City in the World" shirts at a trendy shop and it is true! We are SOLD!

      1. re: chadradchad

        When I lived there 12 years ago, we would got to AK O'Connors in Valley Junction in West Des Moines. They have antique shops, boutiques, and some other neat cafe places. AK's was an large pub/bar that had breakfast, lunch and dinner. I seem to remember great sandwiches.

        1. re: stellamystar

          AK's is no longer there. They still have one location in the Beaverdale area which is northwest Des Moines. I have not been for several years so can't speak to the experience.

          1. re: DrWine

            Oh :( That's sad. Well, so much for that.
            Is the "Tavern" still there in valley junction? I think they had good pizza as I remember

            1. re: stellamystar

              Tavern is still there with the same, in a good way, thin crust pies. Like many successful places, however, they diluted their appeal when they opened a second place in Clive several years ago. That place has all the character, charm and feel of any other suburban restaurant chain. Somehow the food does not taste like the original. Best to go back to the old joint.

          2. re: stellamystar

            Always check ahead to see if businesses are still there if you go to Valley Junction. It seems to be a pretty revolving door neighborhood when it comes to some spots. I miss the used book store so much.

          3. re: chadradchad

            You might ask them due to the size of your party if they would seat you on the mezzanine. Although it is up 1/2 floor, it is still open to the main dining room. BTW, music on their web site makes a visit there enjoyable,

        2. Azelea is a nice room and uses good quality ingredients. I have yet to try Dos Rios but have heard good things.

          For brunch i'd try Joseph's Steakhouse out in West DesMoines. It's a bit pricey but the spread is great. Granite City out further west is also good for a chain place. Their Bacon is fantastic.

          For party time I'm a big fan of the bars downtown. Royal Mile, Hessen House, and El Bait shop are favorites. Try the Lift on 4th for a smoke free alternative.

          38 Replies
          1. re: Captcha

            So many suggestions! I am coming from New York City for the trip.and I am already getting overwhelmed! Is the Latin King any good?

            1. re: chadradchad

              The Latin King, an east side old Italian eatery, run by a younger Des Moines Italian family. An Italian place your parents where your parents would feel at home. Bobby Tursi and his wife., Amy, acquired the King about 25 years ago. Although they added an addition and updated, they have remained with takes on the menu that have been there for years. If you liked Noahs, I have no doubt you will like the Latin King. Their traditional item is the Chicken Spiedini, an item that I have never seen anywhere else. Also a unique Des Moines preparation is the Steak duBurgo, and Tursi's competes with all of the duBurgos served in the city. Their website,, will give you a feel for the place.

                1. re: chadradchad


                  Fill us in on your trip, please.

                  1. re: jwagner

                    The trip is not until the first weekend in Jan. I will report back!

                    1. re: chadradchad

                      We are a group of 15. I have made some choices, do you think these places will be able to handle such a large party:

                      Dos Rios (dinner Friday)
                      Art Museum cafe (lunch on saturday)
                      Lucca (dinner on Saturday)
                      Star Bar (brunch on Sunday)

                      I can call and make reservations (or warn) of our large party.

                      You guys are wonderful, more solid answers than the NYC chowhounds!

                      1. re: chadradchad

                        1. Dos Rios is cavernous. No problem there.
                        2. Lucca may have room for 15 in the back (near the bathrooms), but the restaurant is much more suited to groups of 4 or less. I would call ahead to confirm.
                        3. Star Bar can easily cobble together tables to seat 15. If brunch is about chow, I would vote La Mie - with the recent expansion they may be able to accommodate 15. If brunch is more about hangover recovery, stick with Star Bar.

                        If your group likes to party, and you need 2am drunk pizza, make sure to stop at Big Tomato.

                        1. re: double_Windsor

                          I think a group of your size would like Hessen Haus for an authentic German experience. The wild boar sausage as an appetizer is fantastic.

                          1. re: jwagnerdsm

                            Thanks everyone! I have been calling around and have only secured one reservation at La Mie for Sunday. The city is packed! Is Tursi's Latin King worth the hype? or Trostel's Dish any fun?

                            1. re: chadradchad

                              I love Tursi's, particularly the Chicken Spidini and the gnochi. Trostels is good but very expensive, I think. Are you coming down for caucus weekend? What else is going on that the city would be packed?

                              1. re: jwagnerdsm

                                We are coming next weekend. We have our spots. Tursi's, Flying Mango and La Mie

                                1. re: chadradchad

                                  We just had sandwiches from Flying Mango tonight. Cajun chicken with goat cheese and thick sliced bacon. Very good. Also, andoullie sausage with peppers and onions, very spicy and good.
                                  I haven't been to Latin King in years. Last time there was for a Christmas party. They brought out pans of food family style. While not something I would think to order if I went there, the Fried Chicken was absolutely the best I've ever had. Ever.

                                  1. re: Bobfrmia

                                    Sorry it took my years to get back! But we had a wonderful time in Des Moines. The Flying Mango was a hit, the group loved it. Two ladies even drove back to bring some of the Brisket home...good work!
                                    Latin King was good for what is was...not the best Italian that I have ever had but such good service.

                                    I have gone to dinner in many states and Iowa has the best service!

                                    We went to La Mie for brunch on Sunday and it was a runaway hit. It is great to see Des Moines doing artsy brunch.

                                    Thanks again, I'll be back next year!

                                    1. re: chadradchad

                                      Hey Des Moines Friends-

                                      We are preparing for annual trip to Des Mones post New Years Eve. This year 19 of us are driving down from Minneapolis and I am in charge of making reservations. Anything new and noteworthy to visit this year?

                                      Again we are a large group looking for great eats and nothing too expensive.


                                        1. re: chadradchad

                                          I've been meaning to get to this place, just haven't made it yet. Check out the sandwiches. They seem like they'd be fun.


                                          1. re: chadradchad

                                            Did you like your previous visit to Centro? The same owners opened a new casual French place in the Hotel Fort Des Moines (downtown) called Django, it's worth a visit.
                                            I've heard that The Radish in Grimes has a good Sunday brunch. Grimes is a close suburb and the restaurant is easy to find. We haven't tried the brunch but have had great dinners there.
                                            If you are looking for a very "Iowa" experience for a meat and potatoes dinner, The Big Steer in Altoona is pretty much awesome. Over the top decor down to the giant steer in front of the place, but the steaks have to be the best in the area. Reasonably priced as well, especially considering the portions.

                                            1. re: chadradchad

                                              Bob and Chad: I've been to Jethro's on several occasions. The "Q" is fine by Des Moines standards. Chad, Jethro's is next to Drake University and staffed by students from Drake. It is a cross between a sports bar (screens all around) and restaurant and very informal.

                                              On to Django with full disclosure. I think that it is among my top five favorites in Des Moines these days. It is in the Fort Des Moines hotel but is a great space. The service is as good as there is in the city. Food, likewise. The menu is "rustic" French with some surprises. I have been on three occasions. First time the manager suggested the braised ribs which were outstanding. On the last visit I had a strip steak and it was at the top of any beef I've tasted and I'm a lifelong native Iowan and beefeater.

                                              Now the disclosure, the current manager grew up in my neighborhood and we have remained friends with him. He was the former manager of Centro which was mentioned here last year. You will always find him on the floor which results in their fine service.

                                              Last thing about Django. They have a private room that could accommodate your nineteen friends. I have also dined there with a large group, 30+, and neither the food nor the service suffered in any way.

                                              Finally, you might consider Alba. Just dined there last week for the umpteenth time and they are hitting their peak. I know that they could also accommodate your group with some notice. Please report again this year on your selections.

                                              PS: The food critic in the Des Moines Register has reviewed all three of these spots within the last six months. You might want to check out the paper's web site for these reviews. Have fun!

                                              1. re: DrWine

                                                I would just note that the Registers reviewer, AKA the Datebook Diner, has never met BBQ she didn't like. On the other hand, I've rarely had any worthy of the expense. A cuisine that anything less than a top pitmaster, can easily lose a competition to backyard experience.
                                                Again, I need to get over there and try it for myself.
                                                As for Django, I'm hoping to get over there for a Sazerac soon. I hear they have a love of Absinthe.

                                                1. re: Bobfrmia

                                                  Made with Templeton I would hope! And Chad make sure while in Iowa try Templeton. Even a gin guy like me loves this rye.

                                                  1. re: DrWine

                                                    Thank you so much! We made reservations to Django on Saturday evening, and then to the Art Center for lunch on Saturday (it is a tradition!) This is our third year coming from Minneapolis. Still trying to find a a place for Friday..we don't like driving too far away from downtown (a caravan with 5 cars) We enjoyed Noah's Ark (for the kitsch sake, not so into the food) on our previous visit. We are looking something that would make both vegetarians and non-vegetarians smile when we come in on Friday evening.

                                                    Thank you so much!

                                                    1. re: chadradchad

                                                      I would go back to DrWine's rec from last year of A Dong. I like it, others love it. Many vegetarian choices.
                                                      You could stay Downtown with either Court Ave Brewery, or Raccoon River brewery. Both very solid, and each have a couple of vegetarian options.

                                                      1. re: chadradchad


                                                        I recently tried a new lunch spot in Downtown which might serve the vegetarian issue on Friday night. It is only open for lunch except on Friday nights when they also include music. Nice location, and the owner is recently from Lucca's also in the city center. Lunch veggie items were excellent. It might be a solution to your request. Enjoy!


                                                        1. re: chadradchad

                                                          You should try B&B Grocery if you want to have great deli sandwiches. This place is one of Des Moines last surviving neighborhood grocery stores. It's really a unique place.

                                                          1. re: chadradchad

                                                            Wow, do you guys have your own publicity agent?


                                                            Sounds like you have a fun group and we would welcome all, even Minnesotans, back! How was The Steer? Haven't been there in years.

                                                            1. re: DrWine

                                                              While a little embarassed to live in a city where 20 tourist coming to town gets front page of the paper coverage, I guess it's all good. I would just ask that if given the press op again, why not sneak in a plug for Chowhound.
                                                              We could use more participation in Des Moines, and the Register has ignored my request for a mention.
                                                              Glad you all had a good time. Will we be on the schedule next year? If so, maybe I can arrange for a delivery of some Surly Furious.

                                                              1. re: Bobfrmia

                                                                Yah, the article was quite a hoot! We never made it to the Steer due to the snowstorm. We ended up walking to Centro. Which was good for us at the time. We arrived at 10 PM and were all hungry and grumpy. Django was excellent we had the private room, which sort of away from the crowds. But the food was great and served our needs. The Art Center was fabulous, the food was great this trip.

                                                                It was great having a reporter stop on by. I am excited to see the actual paper copy since we do not get it here in Minneapolis. I mentioned chowhound, but not everything gets in the paper.

                                                                A rep from the state fair has contacted us and would like us all to come back to visit...we are getting known in Iowa!

                                                                Everyone was so nice and hospitable. We are telling everyone to come on down!

                                                                1. re: chadradchad

                                                                  Hey Bob,

                                                                  We are coming back next weekend! I am still trying to dash around to put together our eating list. Is Noah's Ark still open? Although the food was not stellar, we loved the old school ambiance.

                                                                  This year we got smaller (20 last year, 11 this year.) We aren't looking to spend a small fortune on meals, but looking for somewhere we haven't been before.

                                                                  Is El Bait Shop good for food? Or the Hessen House? We like fun/party locations. I have always wanted to go to Lucca, but it seems too much for a large group when everyone is not a foodie or wants to spend too much. Let me know if there anything we should do.


                                                                  1. re: chadradchad

                                                                    Noah's is still open. Can't speak to the food at El Bait Shop. They changed the entire menu a few months ago, and I've not had anything. Nice beer selection though. Hessen House is a party place, or so I'm told. Something about boots of beer. Never been, but as to the food, I've had people tell me it's great, and others tell me it's inedible crap.
                                                                    Have you been to Star Bar? It seems like a place that might work for you,
                                                                    They do serve brunch.
                                                                    There are a few new places Downtown, but again, I don't know much about them.
                                                                    I like both the brewpubs downtown. Court Ave and Raccoon River. Have you tried either of them? Have em set you up in the bar. They both do a decent IPA. It's not Surly, but nothing is.

                                                                    1. re: Bobfrmia

                                                                      Thanks! Sounds great for brunch.

                                                                      Is Dos Rios any good for dinner? I think we may go to Fongs Pizza on Friday when we get in late..

                                                                      1. re: chadradchad

                                                                        Dos Rios made the Register's Top Ten List. Here is a link.


                                                                        If you have lunch time you might try the Tasty Taco on E. Grand. As the Register report states:

                                                                        "Tasty Tacos is one of those places that resonates — almost to a strange level — with central Iowans. The restaurants’ signature puffy fried taco shells have achieved a near cult-like status among area diners. Same goes for the homemade hot sauce. It’s the only fast-like food option to crack our top 10, and for many people in town is the first answer to the daily question: “So, what should we do for lunch?”


                                                                        Will we see another article in the paper this year? Have a great time!

                                                                        1. re: chadradchad

                                                                          Go to Dos Rios only for the tacos, guacamole, and the drinks - they have a great bar, but it's too bad the weather is so bad so you can't take advantage of the patio. Don't skip Fong's. Scratch what I said earlier about ending a night at Hessen Haus, and end it here. Grab a whole pizza or choose from one of three slices, and make sure to order one of their tiki drinks. These aren't your typical, weak, boring drinks - the Funky Monkey is my favorite - share it with others or attempt to drink it on your own.

                                                                        2. re: Bobfrmia

                                                                          Food at Bait Shop has dropped off a bit. They don't smoke their meat anymore, I believe, which was a big part of their draw. Hessen Haus has pretty good German style food, although it's not my style (try their Bavarian nachos) and is definitely a place to get rowdy. A great place to start or end a night, and don't pass up the boot. They're about 20 bucks, but worth it. Star Bar is great for dinner/drinks, but is more of a dark, subdued professional crowd. Swing by Court Ave Brew Co, like Bob mentioned, for a root down (shot of their in house made root beer and jager).

                                                                        3. re: chadradchad

                                                                          I would certainly try Jethro's. Although it's a ways away from downtown (it's actually in the Drake University area), it's about the perfect place for a group to go enjoy some great food (wings, ribs and mac and cheese are my go-to items) and beer in a very casual, sports bar environment.

                                                                          Alba has gotten stellar reviews (I see Dr. Wine mentioned them last year), but isn't a place to get rowdy.

                                                                          I also agree with Dr. Wine about Tasty Tacos. If you've never eaten there, do it. And only order the original flour tacos for your first visit, and make sure to be very generous with your usage of the hot sauce. I live in Kansas City now, and get serious Tasty Tacos cravings on a regular basis.

                                                                          And even if it means you have to pack in an extra meal, eat at Miyabi 9 - Miyabi is a genius with fish.

                                                                          1. re: jhojati

                                                                            Whoa...thanks! I am overwhelmed..We have reservations at Dos Rios, and Fong Pizza was going to be our main meal on Friday...maybe we will do Hessen House on Saturday instead for dinner. Alba looks good, but I could not find a menu anywhere online. Can anyone track one down? I think we are going to do StarBar for Sunday Brunch.

                                                                            1. re: chadradchad

                                                                              Can't find a menu for Alba. I can tell you our local paper's reviewer named them restaurant of the year. Here is a link to that article.
                                                                              They were also named BOY by our alternative paper Cityview.
                                                                              Here is a link to that review.

                                                                              1. re: Bobfrmia

                                                                                Called the restaurant, and they just posted the menu yesterday on their new web page. Canceled Dos Rios and going there instead!

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