The Best Food and Drink in Iowa for 2018 from The Best Food and Drink in Iowa for 2018 Gallery
The Best Food and Drink in Iowa for 2018 Gallery
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The Best Food and Drink in Iowa for 2018
Located in the heart of the Midwest, Iowa residents love all the classic comfort foods America has to offer. Craving corned beef? You can find it in Iowa. Cornbread? That’s there, too. We promise that they also eat foods that don’t have corn in the name. Total coincidence. We’ve rounded up the best of the state’s eats as part of our first annual guide to the best food and drink in every state.
Though, they do love their corn. People from Iowa really hate quinoa, and some say it’s because the state is the number one producer of corn nationwide. But just because their economy is kept afloat on corn’s kernels doesn’t mean that it’s all they eat.
In fact, Iowa has stirred up a surprising amount of food-related controversy for being such a sparsely populated state. They recently got involved in a heated debate over Pop Tarts and mustard and beat out Wisconsin in the ranking of the country’s cheesiest states. They’ve also been home to more than one alarmingly political local restaurant.
But despite all that drama, they still manage to put on an internationally-acclaimed state fair with some absolutely wild state fair foods. You won’t find many health foods within Iowa’s borders — but you will find farm-fresh dishes and creative comfort classics.
Over the course of the past year we’ve honored everything from its best hot dogs and farmers markets to its best dive bar and craft brewery in our comprehensive and wide-ranging lists and rankings, compiled through extensive research and with input from a wide network of site contributors, bloggers, journalists, and chefs. We’ve compiled these into individual slideshows celebrating .the best food and drink in every state.
Facebook/el Bait Shop
Best Bar: El Bait Shop, Des Moines
It’s all about craft beer here at El Bait Shop, a rustic bar populated with taxidermy, beer signs, and bicycles. The bar also doubles as Des Moines’ “unofficial bicycle headquarters,” given its proximity to a number of bike trails in downtown Des Moines. With more than 185 beers on tap and 100 by the bottle, this is a beer-lover’s paradise. Try the Root Down shot, made with locally produced Millstream Root Beer and Jägermeister, and enjoy the fish tacos and bacon-wrapped tater tots while chatting with beloved bartender Joe Tolpingrud.
Goliath Brewing Co.
Best Beer: Kentucky Brunch Brand Stout
Kentucky Brunch Brand Stout may be hard to track down, but when you find a bottle of this Toppling Goliath Brewing Company brew, hold it tight. Seriously. Riots have broken out over this stuff. And one taste of this smooth maple syrup- and coffee-flavored stout, and you’ll know why it’s the best beer in the world.
George the Chili King / Facebook
Best Chili: George the Chili King Drive Inn, Des Moines
At George the Chili King, a Des Moines standby since 1952, you’ll still find George himself, now well over 80 years old, behind the counter spooning up his signature chili all day long. His insanely rich chili starts with a whole pot of melted beef fat, to which ground beef and a proprietary seasoning mix is added. The end result tops hot dogs and burgers, and is available by the bowl, pint, and quart. After one spoonful, you’ll understand why they sell it by the quart!
Photo by Yu-Ren L. via Yelp
Best Chinese Restaurant: Le’s Chinese Bar-B-Que, Des Moines
With ducks, pork, and chicken hanging in the window, it’s hard to resist sampling the roasted meat at Le’s, and thankfully it’s also for sale by the pound to-go. But grab a seat and sample some of their dishes — including house special fried rice (loaded with roasted pork), roast duck soup, and char sir chicken wings — and you’ll also be rewarded. This place is the real deal.
Best Cupcake: That One Cupcake Place, Hiawatha
That One Cupcake Place is anything but an ordinary cupcakery. Since it opened, it has created more than 112 flavors to add to the equally diverse and delicious menu, from stuffed French toast (maple cinnamon cake with a cream cheese filling and maple buttercream) and That Unicorn (vanilla cake with rainbow vanilla buttercream) to even more adventurous creations like the bubblegum cupcake, a bubblegum-flavored cake with bubblegum-flavored buttercream. To learn Things You Didn’t Know About Maple Syrup, click here.
Best Dive Bar: Deadwood Tavern, Iowa City
Photo by Daniel L. via Yelp
Best Doughnut: Topped Donuts, Ankeny
The innovator behind the fantastically crazy doughnuts sold at Topped Donuts is the incredibly talented 20-something Lindsey Reed. Every day, the doughnuts are made from scratch, and five different flavors are featured on the daily menu. Flavors range from red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting, to peanut butter and jelly, to banana split: We want to try them all.
Courtesy of Des Moines’ Downtown Farmers’ Market
Best Farmers Market: Downtown Farmers Market, Des Moines
From 7 a.m. to noon, this farmers market, spans nine city blocks and hosts nearly 300 vendors selling everything from fruits and vegetables to meat, dairy, bread, sweets, and even artisanal food and craftwork. The market also helps out the community by encouraging vendors to donate some of their fresh food to local homeless shelters in the area.
Best French Fries: Django, Des Moines
There’s a whole lot to love about the fries at Django. They’re cut to just the right thickness to be super-crisp on the outside but soft and fluffy on the inside, and an expert fry in duck fat leaves them all but greaseless. And to top it all off, the multiple dipping sauces they’re served with — including béarnaise, curry ketchup, and harissa aïoli — elevate them to new heights.
Photo by Tony G. via Yelp
Best Grocery Store: Hy-Vee, Multiple locations
Yelp/ Clem M.
Best Inexpensive Steakhouse: The Big Steer, Altoona
Picture in your mind your idea of a restaurant called The Big Steer in Altoona, Iowa, and we bet you’ll come pretty close to what this place actually is, starting with a giant painted cow advertising its Sunday brunch and dinner specials and a sign in the front window hawking “Iowa’s Finest Prime Rib.” The interior is charmingly dated, but you don’t come here for the décor; you come here for the Iowa beef. That prime rib is, in fact, paradigm-changing, and very well might be Iowa’s best. The homemade bread is legendary, the steaks are spectacular (order yours “Deburgo,” in a butter-garlic sauce that’s a regional specialty), and the Iowa pork is also worth sampling. It’s also downright affordable: A 12-ounce top sirloin costs $23.95; a 10-ounce New York strip costs the same; a 16-ounce slab of prime rib costs $27.95; and their two most expensive steaks, a 20-ounce porterhouse and a 16-ounce bone-in rib-eye, cost just $30.95.
Best Italian Restaurant: Baroncini, Iowa City
Chef Gianluca Baroncini spent time cooking at some of Verona, Italy’s finest Italian restaurants (including the two-Michelin-starred Il Desco) before opening this Iowa City favorite. He’s committed to turning out spot-on interpretations of Italian classics made with fresh, seasonal, local ingredients, and the star of his menu is his fresh house-made agnolotti filled with a mixture of local beef and Parmigiano-Reggiano, tossed with a traditional brown butter and sage sauce.
Best Mexican Restaurant: Tacos Mariana’s, Des Moines
Run by a Mexico native named Mariana, this tiny taquería is serving some seriously legit tacos to thankful locals. Though Mariana’s offerings run the gamut from al pastor to chicken, chorizo, and tongue, you can’t go wrong with perfectly seasoned and grilled carne asada, topped with onions and cilantro and served with sliced radishes and lime. And make sure you try her rice and beans, made with slow-cooked heirloom mayocoba beans.
Most Expensive Restaurant: 801 Chophouse, Des Moines
Des Moines’ premier steakhouse serves only USDA Prime beef, so diners should expect to pay for the quality. Steaks start at $43 for a single cut prime rib, and top out at the $69 24-ounce porterhouse. While you’re shelling out, you might as well drop $19 on pancetta-roasted scallops and $10 on a foie gras torchon steak topper while you’re at it.
Yelp/ Angela R.
Best Pasta Dish: Agnolotti di Carne at Baroncini, Iowa City
Chef Gianluca Baroncini spent time cooking at some of Verona, Italy’s finest Italian restaurants (including the two Michelin-starred Il Desco) before opening this Iowa City favorite. He’s committed to turning out spot-on interpretations of Italian classics made with fresh, seasonal, local ingredients, and the star of his menu is his fresh housemade agnolotti filled with a mixture of local beef and Parmigiano-Reggiano, tossed with a traditional brown butter and sage sauce.
Yelp/ Andrea T.
Best Pizza: Gusto Pizza Co., Des Moines
You can practically envision the folks behind Gusto Pizza Co., friends Josh Holderness, Joe McConville and Tony Lemmo, sitting down over a few beers before opening their fresh and imaginative Des Moines pizza shop in 2011, and coming up with their menu as an hours-long snort-inducing punfest. “Thai Kwon Dough” with peanut sauce and chicken? “Seoul Food” pizza with Korean-style marinated skirt steak and Sriracha mayo? “Vincent Van Goat” with goat cheese and fried sweet peppers? “Fromage-A-Trois”? Very fun. But don’t mistake the levity for anything less than a serious approach to some delicious pizzas featuring some crispy-chewy thin crusts.
Photo by Rachel R. via Yelp
Best Sandwich: Loose Meat at Taylor’s Maid-Rite, Marshalltown
An Iowa staple that’s a true Midwestern regional specialty, the “loose meat” sandwich (also called a tavern sandwich) can be thought of as a sloppy Joe without the sauce: crumbled seasoned ground beef on a bun, topped with mustard, pickles, and chopped onions. Even though you can find it in plenty of small local restaurants, the one to visit is Taylor’s Maid-Rite in Marshalltown. Going strong since 1928, it’s a truly historic institution; there are franchised locations all across the Midwest (just called Maid-Rite), but the original is the one to visit.
Yelp/ Dong B.
Best Soup: Bacon Iowa Corn Chowder at Vesta, Coralville
Facebook/The Big Steer
Best Steakhouse: The Big Steer, Altoona
Picture in your mind your idea of a restaurant called The Big Steer in Altoona, Iowa, and we bet you’ll come pretty close to what this place actually is, starting with a giant painted cow advertising its Sunday brunch and dinner specials and sign in the front window hawking “Iowa’s Finest Prime Rib.” The interior is charmingly dated, but you don’t come here for the décor; you come here for the Iowa beef. That prime rib is, in fact, paradigm-changing, and very well might be Iowa’s best. The homemade bread is legendary, the steaks are spectacular (order yours “Deburgo,” in a butter-garlic sauce that’s a regional specialty), and the Iowa pork is also worth sampling. For more states, check out our ultimate guide to the best food and drink in every state for 2018.