7 Eats of Excellence in Iowa: A Restaurant Guide
This year, the Midwest states have pretty much filled up my travel itinerary, lucky me. My first and only visit to Iowa knocked my socks off with the incredible foods and restaurants that I tried. I had no idea the Midwest was so darned tasty!
Restaurants ranged from hotel options to classic diners, upscale bistros to grill your own steaks, and some in between. I experienced seven eats of excellence in Iowa and I hope you will like them, too.
#1 The Lucky Pig, Ogden
Winner of the Iowa Pork Producers Association’s Best-Breaded Tenderloin award in 2014, The Lucky Pig has something to squeal about! The menu also includes burgers, salads, pizza, and wraps. Sandwiches come with a choice of side dish: cup of soup, coleslaw, garden salad, veggies, fries, onion rings, garlic mashed potatoes, chips, cottage cheese, or applesauce. Whew, that is a load of options!
My favorite appetizers include Jalapeno Poppers, Cheddar Cheese Nuggets, and Tenderloin Sliders. Those with a big appetite should try to conquer Porky’s Revenge, a humongous breaded pork tenderloin sandwich with pulled pork, four strips of bacon, bbq sauce, and melted cheese.
#2 Vivian’s Diner & Drinks, Des Moines
Vivian’s Diner & Drinks is an upscale eatery in downtown Des Moines serving dishes made from local ingredients, seasonal cocktails, and midwest craft beers. The elegant atmosphere of this restaurant pairs perfectly with its phenomenal food, all located inside of a historic building.
What’s good? I guess “everything” would be too vague, so opt for the Crispy Brussel Sprouts (garlic truffle aioli) to start with. Next, share the House Salad (charred Iowa sweet corn, edamame, bacon) with a friend, and indulge in either the Lobster Mac and Cheese or Beef Stroganoff for dinner. Holy smokes, you’re gonna love this place!
#3 David’s Milwaukee Diner, Perry ** this restaurant is now called Harvey’s at Hotel Pattee as of 2019
I don’t know about you, but hotel restaurants don’t normally blow my mind. That was before I stayed at the Hotel Pattee and tasted the incredible dishes at David’s Milwaukee Diner, the best eats I had (breakfast and dinner) on my trip to Iowa. Fashioned in railroad decor and serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, every dish at David’s Milwaukee Diner was fantastic! Choose from one of six classic fresh salads or the Sampler Platter appetizer. The platter packs in onion rings, Brussel sprouts, toasted ravioli, and cheese curds.
Decadent dinner choices are the Irish Salmon (their best seller), Filet Mignon Deburgo (an Iowa specialty garlic and herb sauce), and the Beef Short Rib Roast. Oh, heavenly day… the food at David’s Milwaukee Diner will knock your socks off!
#4 The Bakery Unlimited, Winterset
On my travels, I occasionally stumble upon an adorable “mom and pop” shop that makes really good food, a real neighborhood hidden gem. Enter the old-fashioned The Bakery Unlimited, started in 1984. This bakery serves up the best scratch-made apple fritters (red delicious apples are from Winterset!), perfect donuts, tasty muffins, and bagels that could compete with any that I’ve had in the world!
Drop by this friendly establishment for coffee, juice, or canned sodas to go with your incredibly reasonably priced pastries. The Bakery Unlimited also has cookies and homemade bread; delight your family by taking some to go.
#5 Northside Cafe, Winterset
Another tasty dining spot on my eats of excellence in Iowa list is the Northside Cafe. It is located in a 100-year-old building with vintage decor and 13 feet ceilings. You may recognize the restaurant’s counter seating area from the award-winning Bridges of Madison County movie, starring Clint Eastwood, where Robert Kincaid stops in for coffee. Choose your favorite comfort food dishes prepared with an Iowa twist at Northside Cafe such as meatloaf (mashed potatoes/gravy and green beans), Prime Rib, Loaded Mac & Cheese, and unique sandwiches.
My pick was The Duke (fitting since John Wayne was born in Winterset), a pork tenderloin sandwich with sliced sauteed mushrooms then covered in gravy. Desserts are plentiful at Northside Cafe with the fruit crisps and pies ranking supreme.
#6 Rube’s Steakhouse, Waukee
Opened in 1973, Rube’s Steakhouse allows guests to grill their own quality foods in a family-friendly setting. A huge indoor open-hearth grill is where guests prepare their food after selecting premium hand-cut steaks, most from local farms within 150-miles of the restaurant. Instruction is provided but basically you to slap your meat on the grill, season it, and watch your dinner cook in front of your very eyes. Some side items require cooking as well.
My favorite dishes at Rube’s Steakhouse included the juicy and flavorful bacon-wrapped beef filet, green beans, mac and cheese skillet, and creamy jalapeno corn. The corn is a must, bursting with spicy goodness! Rube’s awesome salad bar has all of the usual fixings plus unlimited baked or skillet potatoes, baked beans, and Texas toast. Try to save room for dessert as the choices are impressive!
#7 Nick’s Restaurant, Des Moines
If you are looking to try Iowa’s signature dish, the pork tenderloin, visit Nick’s Restaurant. This casual restaurant serves the most tender, light and crispy battered, succulent tenderloins of them all. Nick’s pork is uber fresh: pounded and portioned daily with no freezing or refrigeration necessary. They won the 2016 Iowa Pork Producers Association’s Best-Breaded Tenderloin award. One taste and you will concur!
Nick’s also proudly serves freshly brewed beer from some of the state’s most popular breweries and prepares incredible fresh salads. Pizzas are popular, too. The dish that made me swoon was the Grinder: grinder meat (from pork tenderloin) tossed with veggies and house-made red sauce, topped with provolone and stuffed in a soft and yummy Italian hoagie.
I’m Obviously an Iowa Fan!
I loved getting familiar with the state of Iowa almost as much as I love eating my way through it!
The Midwest is really on to something having all of these fantastic ingredients right in their backyard. “Fresh” takes on a new meaning in this location. Don’t just take my word for it, try these eats of excellence in Iowa eateries for yourself. I would love to know what you think of them!
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Thanks to the Iowa Tourism for hosting my familiarization trip where meals, hotel, and attraction charges were comped. As with all of our reviews, opinions and reviews are 100% mine and unbiased.
To learn more about Iowa Tourism, go to Travel Iowa website.