The 10 Best Restaurants in Des Moines
No crowd-sourcing here. I've been covering the Des Moines dining scene since 1997, first as the Des Moines Register's restaurant reviewer (1997 to 2012), and currently as the lead restaurant writer for dsm Magazine. These are my personal top-10 choices for dining out in Des Moines, and insights based on multiple visits to each restaurant.
For this list, I've focused on fine-dining or polished-casual venues. Indeed, we have some great hole-in-the-wall restaurants and casual bar-and-grills, but that's another topic for another time.
At Alba, vintage wooden doors suspended from the ceiling and the sparkle from the curved bank of windows lend an animated setting to the highly energetic cuisine of executive chef Joe Tripp. A farm-to-fork leader in town, Tripp often crosses deep, complex flavors with sparklingly bright, garden-plucked touches. Also count on Tripp to introduce us to new-to-our-scene flavors, ingredients and concepts; he travels far afield (recently returning from Vietnam, for example) to inspire his cooking, introducing us to the likes of Saki Lees Ice Cream and Crispy Pig’s Ears.
Related: Read a full review of Alba.
When Baru 66 opened in 2010, naysayers said it wouldn't last: Des Moines, they felt, just wasn't ready for gastronomy. Six years later, David Baruthio continues to raise the bar on the dining scene, fussing and finessing until his creations live up to his pedigree and ambition: Classically trained, globe-trotting Baruthio has cooked all over the world, from a Michelin-starred restaurant in Belgium to a five-star hotel in Mongolia, with stops in Beverly Hills, Canada, and the U.K. along the way.
We're lucky to have him.
You can't go wrong with Centro's hefty Italian-American mainstays, such as Mamma's Meatballs (listed as an appetizer, though best as an entrée), Chicken Francese and the Pork Chop Milanese. But if you're looking for precision and artistry, you're also in luck. Pay attention to the specials sheet, which is where Chef Derek Eidson puts his freshest plays forward. I've done particularly well with scallops and monkfish here.
Related: Read a full review of Centro.
When it opened 3 years ago, Eatery A brought grand-scale ambition to the casual dining scene. Owner Jason Simon (who also owns Alba) started by tricking out the space with dash, verve and an Iowa barn’s worth of gleaming reclaimed wood. Inside, Executive chef Nic Gonwa’s lively menu focuses on wood-fired pizzas and a dynamic array of appetizers, salads and entrees with a Mediterranean focus.
Related: Read a full review of Eatery A.
Step into 801 Chop House's polished entryway, and the luxurious smell of beef and martinis sets the tone. With etched glass, leather booths, and gleaming wood underneath the soaring ceilings, the dining room exudes Edwardian grandeur, and the servers possess poise and polish—yes, you can trust them to finesse your big-time clients
Fortunately, the opulence of the meat measures up to the well-heeled setting. Although a fresh sheet of seafood specials arrives with the menu, 801’s true glory resides in its extravagant cuts of U.S.D.A. Prime steaks, from the velvety filet to the richly marbled rib-eyes. Side dishes are equally extravagant. It all measures up to one of the most lavish meals in town.
2815 Beaver Ave., Suite 101; 255-5787
Cuisine de tous les jours—that is, the casual yet life-enhancing everyday cooking of France—is the draw at this Le Jardin, a casual French neighborhood bistro. Chef-owner Tag Grandgeorge’s signature plates include rabbit meatloaf, lush pâtés and dinner-worthy omelets. Yet pay attention what’s new, too: Grandgeorge energizes the menu seasonally, with dishes like Black Garlic Alaskan Halibut, Harissa and Parmesan Crusted Chicken and Domaine Dupage Short Ribs (braised in a French country ale sauce).
Related: Read a full review of Le Jardin.
If your kind of Italian food is more about risotto and gnocchi than spaghetti and meatballs, then Lucca is your spot. Lucca also gets my vote for the No. 1 spot in town to go when you have something new and fun to wear. Handsome in an exposed-brick, minimalist-urban kind of way, the restaurant attracts a dashing clientele. The New Italian menu deftly pulls off food that can best be described as “refined-rustic”—it’s never fussy yet rarely ordinary, either. Photo credit.
Proof's Chef-owner Sean Wilson plates Mediterranean-inspired food in thoughtful and progressive ways. Some creations, such as the beet salad with a balsamic marshmallow, take an ambitious leap into the realm of molecular gastronomy, while other dishes speak to the simple-yet-life-enhancing side of Mediterranean cuisine. Enjoy it all in a chic-and-sleek atmosphere, with views of downtown Des Moines sparkling outside the vast storefront windows.
Related: Read a full review of Proof.
Splash Seafood Bar and Grill endures as the city’s premier fine-dining spot for seafood, and you’d be forgiven if you always stick to the fish and shellfish (which generally arrive expertly cooked and glistening with the sea’s sparkle); however, red-meat-lovers will find a limited selection of steaks and chops. For a more casual bite, swing by the raw bar and nibble your way through oysters and appetizers.
Don't miss the Chilean Sea Bass Meunière, Alaskan king crab, raw oysters, oysters Rockefeller, and the Sriracha-Butter Scallops (pictured above).
And note that there's never a corkage fee here.
Table 128's chef/owner Lynn Pritchard’s cuisine combines down-to-earth Midwestern sensibilities (Pritchard was raised on an Illinois farm) with the precision and refinement of a classically trained chef (he trained at Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park). Meanwhile, his wife and business partner Sarah Pritchard runs the front-of-the house with both graciousness and an eagle eye, and also and oversees an energetic wine program. Be sure to try barman Blake Brown’s captivating cocktails.