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Nebraska & Iowa - close to Interstate 80

My son and I are driving coast-to-coast on Interstate 80, leaving San Francisco on Sunday May 18. We are looking for good places to eat in Nebraska and Iowa, close to Interstate 80. Thanks!

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  1. Hi Hugh - Iowa City is right off of I-80 and has lots of good eating options. Is there anything in particular you're looking for?

    Good diner type food at the Hamburg Inn (an Iowa City institution - my dad used to grab a burger here after his paper route when he was young) and Lou Henri (LH has odd hours, so be sure to call before you go).

    Thin crust pizza at Pagliai's, also an Iowa City institution.

    Great homemade soups, sandwiches and salads at the Bread Garden on the pedestrian mall in downtown IC. You can also get good sandwiches, cheeses, bread and other fun snacks to go at the New Pioneer Coop.

    Wonderful, local vegetarian fare at the Red Avocado

    The Motley Cow is wonderful for dinner - great, creative pizza and a limited selection of entree's, lovingly prepared by a chef who values quality and local, seasonal ingredients.

    Devotay is nice spot to stop for wine and small plates - Chef Kurt is also very much into local, seasonal ingredients.

    Hope that's a start - let me know if you'd like any additional info on these or other spots near Iowa City!

    Sounds like a great road trip (save for the gas prices, of course)


    2 Replies
    1. re: iowagirl

      I second the Hamburg. The Bread Garden has good food, but the new location has as much aesthetic appeal as an airport departure lounge.

      1. re: sigerson57

        I totally agree about the new Bread Garden - we were there for dinner on Friday night and it was awful! All the salads and hot entrees had been sitting out and were crusty and congealed and it took about 15 minutes for the sandwich guys to make my stepdaughter a plain roast beef and provolone sandwich. I miss the old Bread Garden!!

    2. Iowa try Darrell's in Hamlin or Larsen's in Elkhorn for pork tenderloins.

      3 Replies
      1. re: iowan

        All -
        We couldn't decide which place to go for tenderloin, so we tried four of them in Iowa for lunch in one day (splitting a sandwich in each). Our ratings:
        #1 Larsen's Pub in Elk Horn,
        #2 The Red Barn in Exira
        #3 Darrell's Place in Hamlin
        #4 Country View Cafe in Kimballton
        All were excellent, and very difficult to rank; what a great sandwich!

        1. re: Hugh DeMann

          You, my friend, are a true chowhound.
          Glad you enjoyed them, thanks for letting us know.

          1. re: Hugh DeMann

            Amazing. You are my new hero. I ate at the Country View a couple of weeks ago and loved it. Larsen's and Darrell's, of course, win props from the Iowa Pork Produers on a consistent basis. The Red Barn's second place ranking surprises me a bit, but only because they don't get as much buzz as some other places. Congrats on your Chowhoundiness?!?!?!?

        2. This is a topic that seems to come up a little bit, so you might do a quick search for I-80.

          Some of my past recommendations:

          North Platte, NE -- check out Roger's Fine Foods. It's on South Jeffers as you're driving into town from I-80. Excellent homemade pies, hot beef sandwiches, homemade biscuits and rolls, and all other manner of diner foods. Also super-groovy vinyl banquettes that were probably very classy in 1962.

          Cozad, NE -- Green Apple Cafe, one of those Main Street diners that small towns always have in the movies but seldom have in real life. Hot beef, chili, broasted chicken. And NOT TO MISS pies and apple dumplings.

          Grand Island, NE - Wave Pizza is a surf-themed pizza place downtown. Sounds suspicious, but really pretty good pizza baked in a wood oven.

          West Des Moines, IA -- If you're looking for something a little healthier after eating a couple of tenderloin sandwiches, when you're driving through Des Moines, there's a soup and sandwich place called Palmer's Deli. Very good salads, soups, and sandwiches. It's right off I-80 in West Des Moines (a Des Moines suburb) at 4949 Westown Pkwy. A little greenery is good between grease courses ;)

          Also -- Iowa and Nebraska have a lot of excellent Mexican and Central American restaurants. Lots of meat packing plants have changed the demographics considerably in this area. If you drive off of I-80 into a town's downtown area and see a lot of pickup trucks with Michoacan and Coahuila stickers in the window, stop and eat.

          1 Reply
          1. re: heatherkay

            I would like to second "Palmer's Deli". Reasonable prices and lots of salad and sandwich choices. It is always popular with my clients.

          2. I'm doing almost the same trip and would like tips on tenderloins, loose meats or other regional specialties close to the freeway. Good breakfast recs would be great also. Thanks.

            4 Replies
            1. re: foodfan

              I would say that truck stop breakfasts are usually pretty darn good and usually served 24 hours a day. You'll find them all along the interstate, just pick one that looks good to you.

              1. re: foodfan

                foodfan--If you are really interested in loose meats I recommend the Marshalltown Maid-Rite. It was the second one to open, in 1928 and does not adhere to the new Maid-Rite franchise nonsense. They still grind their own meat on site and it is always fresh. They serve nothing but Maid-Rites, malts and pie. No french fries to be found and ketchup only available upon request but watch out for dirty looks from the locals if you choose to do so. It's 45 miles off 80 northeast of DSM, but you could take a straight shot from there to Cedar Rapids and down to Iowa City back on 80.

                That is the undisputed king of loose meats in Iowa. Tenderloins--man, they are everywhere and they are good.

                1. re: foodfan

                  When are you leaving? Maybe we can meet for a meal.

                  1. re: Hugh DeMann

                    Sorry, late check back ~ we aren't leaving until mid June.

                2. You'll find plenty of recommendations for your route, including a link to the lengthy topic on Iowa City, in this previous discussion:

                  Cross Country, I-80 - www.chowhound.com/topics/490480

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    West of Des Moines about 70 miles is an area affectionately know (by me) as the Pork Tenderloin Axis. In a 40 mile radius you'll find a variety of Pork Tenderloin options, but it will require a 15 minute sidetrip.

                    I think your best bet is Elk Horn, home of the Danish Immigrant Museum. Larson's, on main street, is a bar and grill but their tenderloin was just named the state's best by the Iowa Pork Producers Association. You might want to stop at the museum and the old mill if you want to stretch your legs. Both sites are worthwhile.

                    Just last week I was up the road in Kimballton (about six miles north, I would guesstimate) and had a fabulous tenderloin at the Countryview Drive Inn. In Kimballton, you might catch a glimpse of the Little Mermaid statue, which is a replica of the statue in Amsterdam. The Countryview also offers a Hilltopper which is a pork tenderloin with a cheeseburger on top.)

                    Most people think that Darrel's in Hamlin offers what might be the best tenderloin in the state and it's not too far from Elk Horn. The Red Barn in Exira and the Farmer's Kitchen in Atlantic are also good options. Be warned that many of these places cater to a lunchtime crowd and so you need to call ahead or take your choices. The Farmers Kitchen also has terrific hot beef sandwiches and some fine homemade pies.

                    Hope that helps.

                    1. re: jwagnerdsm

                      The waitress at Darrel's place is who recommended Michaels in Beaverdale. She said it's the same loin, only bigger. I've had both, and would have to agree. It's also more money, but if you don't want a 10 mile trip North of I-80, Michaels is about 5 miles from the Merle Hay exit in Des Moines.
                      J, did you try the Hilltopper? I'm going to have to spend more time in your Axis.
                      As for the loose meat sandwiches, they get a lot of love around here, but I don't really get it. My mom used to brown a pound of ground beef, stir in some chili, and I thought it better than anything from Maid Rite.
                      However, taste is subjective.

                      1. re: Bobfrmia

                        I agree maid rites are more interesting cultural food than actually being something you would drive out of the way for. Tenderloins on the other hand...
                        I am sure good examples of both can be found right off the interstate...

                  2. FYI... Guaca Maya in Omaha is just off the I-80... I highly recommend the Cornish Game Hen a la Diabla (I am a Bay Area poster so we may have somewhat congrous palettes).... and I am very interested in someone else's opinion:


                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                      > Guaca Maya in Omaha is just off the I-80...

                      It's just off I-80. We don't use the word "the" before highway designations in most of the country. ;)

                      1. re: nsxtasy

                        I know... I love L.A. and others can just deal with it =)

                    2. I do not have any specific places, but agree it is essential you have a fried pork tenderloin AND a loose meat sandwich when you go through Iowa. Tenderloins may be available in the other "I" states on the 80 corridor, esp Indiana.

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: lyn


                        I didn't try a hilltopper. I regretted it about ten miles west of Kimballton and then was grateful that I didn't about 25 miles west, as my stomach churled from overeating.

                        I did try the Jethro at Jethro's here in Des Moines the other night and regretted it for many reasons. As you might know, the Jethro is a hand-breaded tenderloin topped with pulled pork, pit ham and four slices of thick-cut bacon plus some cheese. The pulled pork was dry. The ham and bacon were OK. I can't judge the pork tenderloin because there was just too much going on. Now it all seems a bit sacrilegious.

                        I guess I have to agree with your assessment of maid-rites versus Mom's old sandwiches. There are other loose meats that I like a lot more, but the Maid Rite is an icon that needs to be sampled and will likely be enjoyed.

                        1. re: jwagnerdsm

                          I read about the Jethro in last weeks CityView. It immediately went on my must try list. I'm going to rethink it now. Four kinds of pork in one sounded good, but if your killing the loin, you've lost my interest.
                          Have you been to the Valley Junction farmers market?
                          There is a stand called The Smokehouse. I think they have a restaurant in Dallas Center, or thereabouts, anyway, they told me if I tried the ribs, they would be the best ribs I ever had. So I did, and they were. I was quite surprised. Nice and meaty, smokey, and a wonderful dry rub.
                          Still needed a little tug to free the meat from the bone, amazing because they had been wrapped in foil. I've never been big into ribs, mainly because I've rarely had any with enough meat to make it worth the money, or hassle, but I will be going back for more of these.

                          1. re: Bobfrmia

                            The Jethro attracted quite a bit of attention when it was delivered to me; I felt like I was at one of those "eat it and its free" promotions at a Texas steakhouse. I am a barbecue fan, too, and have never found anything in Des Moines that sets me on fire. I hate to say it, but Famous Dave's, too me, is as good as it gets around here. I had a few ribs at Gateway Market yesterday. I liked the sauce and the meat was very tender but there was no smoky flavor.

                            I will try Jethro's again but will get something a bit more conventional.

                            My next "must try" is the new French restaurant at Hotel Fort Des Moines, which sounds very good.

                            1. re: jwagnerdsm

                              Have you tried the brisket at Battle's in Ames? If you ask, you can get the moist part that is so juicy, tender, and full of flavor. I have yet to find a better brisket sandwich in KC.

                              1. re: pollymerase

                                You know, I haven't been to Battle's in a few years and should give it another try. I wish I could just go down the street for some good 'Q.

                                1. re: jwagnerdsm

                                  Have you ever stopped by Findley's on Indianola just south of downtown? Little butcher chop that serves bbq for lunch only, and always has the smoker going. Great specials at the meat counter, but also great food. Could eat a gallon of the beans. I think there's as much meat in there as beans.

                                  1. re: jamiski

                                    Never been there but founds fantastic

                                    1. re: jamiski

                                      I think I've been by it. Is it on the other side of street, and just before you get to La Pena (coming from downtown)?
                                      If it is, they've never been open when I've driven by. It's usually Saturday when I make a La Pena run.

                                      1. re: Bobfrmia

                                        Hmm, I thought they were open for lunch on Saturday but I could be mistaken. But I am usually by there during the week so who knows. The owner is incredibly nice. And when we've bought whole beef tenderloins and ribeyes he's cut them up for no extra charge, which is a godsend considering my butchering skills.

                        2. Off of I-80, exit 225 are the Amana Colonies which not only offer good homestyle cooking, but a glimpse into the past. It's a small German area and the food is served family style - one of my favorites is the fried chicken. No chains - all local. There are a few restaurants there - I've had great meals at both the Colony Inn and also the Ox Yoke Inn. A Nice modern amenity at the Ox Yoke - free wireless. It's been a few years since I've been to the Amana's, but it's always been really good and fun.


                          Have an awesome trip!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: bworp

                            My experience at the Ox Yoke wasn't terribly great. My mom ordered the hot beef sandwich and rather than tell her they were out of mashed potatoes, they substituted plain boiled potatoes and slapped the gravy on them without asking if she had a preference. I can't even remember what I had, so it was a generally forgettable experience. I would try a different restaurant in Amana, or just keep on rolling to Iowa City.

                          2. In Des Moines(actually Urbandale, a suburb) just south of I-80(1/2 mile) off the 86th St. exit is Torocco, northern Italian (Piedmontese) food owned by Andrew Meek, owner of acclaimed Sage and a James Beard nominee. Very good hand-made pastas and other assorted north-west Italian dishes. A fair little wine list(no corkage on Wednesdays) and a nice patio for al fresco dining during the summer. Not overly expensive either. Well recommended.

                            1. Forgot to mention, take a pass on the Maid Rites. Tried one when I moved to D.M. 8 years ago. Ground something(?) on a plain white bun. No seasoning, no tomato sauce no flavor whatsoever. A sloppy Joe without the sloppy. Save the calories for real food.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Iowaboy3

                                That's blasphemy! You call yourself Iowaboy, yet disparage the state sandwich? (just messing with you!) ;)

                                But Maid Rites, loosemeats, taverns, whatever you want to call them, are quite possibly unique to Iowa. I was born and raised in NW Iowa (where we call them taverns, even on the school lunch menu) and I refuse to eat anything called a sloppy joe. If it has tomato or any type of sauce on it, I won't touch it. Simple, cheap to make, and so tasty.

                                1. re: Iowaboy3

                                  This is crazy talk! As an Iowa-born Texan, I can tell you that our fuel-oil infused barbecue doesn't hold a candle to a delicious, steaming, mouth-watering bun full of unadulterated, gently seasoned good ole' Iowa Angus. Mustard, onion and pickle are essential, and they're probably leaving the salt out for you West coast types. A bit of black pepper is option. You must give this sandwhich another try. The secret to Maid-Rite is that you have to make it right yourself!