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May 15, 2012 06:06 AM

Des Moines Recommendations?

Looking for unique places to eat in Des Moines for the weekend. Something we can't get in a big city.

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  1. Can't imagine what you couldn't get in a big city, but this is pretty unique.

    I should note that they are connected to the best beer bar in the Midwest. You can get your beer there, and take it over to the High Life.
    Also, Grazianos Italian sausage is legendary in Iowa. They have to ship it to customers in every state.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Bobfrmia

      Maybe I should have said uniquely Des Moines? I live in Minneapolis and travel to Chicago a bit. I'll probably get a Maid Rite, but maybe along the lines of good truckstop food on the outskirts of town? Family run diners that serve their own special menu item?

      I see high life serves liver and onions. That was the first meal my wife made for me. Glad to see there are people out there who appreciate it still. :)

      1. re: kuan

        I don't know. Are tater tots with jalapenos wrapped in bacon pretty common?
        Unique to Des Moines, as I mentioned, Graziano's Italian sausage is Des Moines. Many places serve a version, but the best are normally found at dive bars. The breaded pork tenderloin sandwich is also not common outside of Iowa, Indiana, and a few close neighbors
        There is a dive bar ,Kelly's little Nipper, on East 17th and Grand, just East of downtown that used to serve a good version of both these sandwiches. They changed owners a year or so ago, and I have not been since. They claimed that would not change things, so it may be what you are looking for. I would go for lunch, as the evening crowd used to be a little, uhh, well, I would go for lunch.
        Pretty unique to Des Moines is steak de burgo. I would recommend Sam and Gabes, or Chefs Kitchen. A little more upscale, but still casual. There are many variations of this dish, and you will see it on the menu at most good places that serve steak. It is basically a beef tenderloin in a garlic butter reduction. Some do olive oil and Italian seasoning, etc.
        As for the Maid Rite, enjoy. I'll be interested in your take on it. I'm gonna guess

        1. re: Bobfrmia

          Grazianos Brother's Italian Sausage is definitely worth a taste. I drive 10lbs to my parents in another state every time I visit. The spicy doesn't contain garlic. My dad's allergic, so I asked before I gave him some.

          My favorite pork tenderloin sandwich is at Cactus Bob's in Johnston. I'm sure everyone has their favorite version, so take that with a grain of salt.

          This is kind of a wild goose chase, but I thought I'd share. I grew up in an area where Latins were the majority. One thing I couldn't find in central Iowa for a long time was a good pupusa. On a whim last summer, I stopped at a food truck for one and was impressed. It was parked at a gas station about a block south of double dragon market on 2nd Ave. It was on the east side of the road. I have no idea if they're open or not as I don't go to DSM as much as I used to. I've had a few in Minneapolis, and these were better. If you're not familiar, get revuelta, and queson con loroco.

          As far as small diners go, I haven't been blown away here. My great aunt is the cook at the bar in the small town I grew up in out in the middle of nowhere, so the bar might be set too high for me. I have liked the food in the bars in the small towns around DSM. Sorry I can't give you a specific place, but I usually just swing by one if I'm driving though and want a little taste of home. It's not in DSM, but my favorite in the area is the Grove Cafe. Larry is awesome. I've tried a lot of diner type places, but the Grove and The High Life are my two favorites.

          I did think of one place that's really unique to DSM.
          I'm partial to the cevapi, goulash, and the Bosnian gyro. I love the tahrana soup, but the lady friend doesn't. My grandma is Czech, and it's the only restaurant I've ever been to that serves a salad like she always makes from her garden in the summer. They call it the Bosnian mix salad. The cabbage salad is also exactly how she makes her coleslaw.

          1. re: ajb05854

            >>One thing I couldn't find in central Iowa for a long time was a good pupusa.

            If you're ever around the Quad Cities on the Mississippi River you should try Izalco in Muscatine, which is a Salvadoran place. They've got good pupusas. The Mexican side of the entree menu is ok, but the Salvadoran side is great. Be prepared though, the place is pretty divey.

            For that matter, nearly any Latin restaurant in Muscatine is good. There is a VERY large latino community there, and the Latin restaurants are generally all good. My favorites in town are Izalco and El Olmito (which is in the back of a grocery store).

            1. re: vitus979

              thanks for the tip, vitus! i've never disagreed with your assessments yet, and i miss good pupusas! did not know there were any to be had near here.

            2. re: ajb05854

              I've never had them, but I've read that the pupusa stamd at the DM farmer's market is awesome.

            3. re: Bobfrmia

              I second Steak DeBurgo at Sam & Gabes. Make a reservation if you can though. Always good, always busy.

        2. Des Moines has a pretty solid Farmer's Market on Saturday [downtown]. As far as unique, what big city will you be comparing Des Moines to this weekend.

          1 Reply
          1. re: hawkeyeui93

            Ahh yes, the farmers market. I need to remember that in post regarding Des Moines.
            Saturday morning from around 7:00 AM until 12:00 PM, around 20 to 40 thousand people will fill the Court Ave and surrounding area for the farmers market. If you aren't into farmers markets, or enormous crowds, avoid the area until late afternoon. The crowds tend to linger for hours at all the places in the area, High life being one of many.
            It is a great event, and fantastic for the city and local establishments, but not something you want to run into expecting a quiet lunch.

          2. As far as unique to Des Moines and/or Iowa, try any dish made with Graziano's sausage or a pork tenderloin sandwich. The best pork tenderloin sandwich used to be at Millie's, but it is long gone. The next closest one is at Smitty's [1401 Army Post Road]. I'm a big fan of George Formaro's restaurants Centro and Django, both of which are downtown, For an interesting Des Moines take on fast food tacos, it is Tasty Tacos [original flour tacos with homemade hot sauce] for me! There are four or five locations in the Des Moines area.

            1007 Locust Street, Des Moines, IA 50309

            Django Restaurant
            210 10th Street, Des Moines, IA 50309

            P,S, Although I have yet to try it, there is a Italian-Mexican Fusion restaurant that I plan to try soon [I live 30 miles north of Des Moines in Ames, IA]:

            1 Reply
            1. re: hawkeyeui93

              >>there is a Italian-Mexican Fusion restaurant

              The pizzas and pastas are great at El Chisme. Very different from Great Plains where you live though.

            2. I'm replying to myself but replying to all of you. Well, I didn't get a chance to go out and eat because dinner was "planned" for us already. So thank you all for suggestions. Des Moines would be quite nice to explore by bicycle. Maybe next time I'll come down on my own terms.

              I did however find a taco truck parked int the Asian Grocer parking lot at 1623 6th Avenue. They serve tortas and other great stuff too but I just got a few tacos. Pretty good, $1.50 per taco. Had the tongue, beef, and chorizo. It came with some green sauce and each taco was accompanied with a grilled green onion. Tons of onion and cilantro. Just the way I like it.

              1 Reply
              1. re: kuan

                Sorry you didn't get out more, but many thanks for the reply.

              2. As a "next time" recommendation, here is a newspaper article about two popular pork tenderloin sandwich shops in and near Des Moines: