Iowa Restaurant and Dining Guide

Ah, Iowa - the state that's more than just cornfields and hog farms! This Midwestern gem packs a flavorful punch that many underestimate. Right from the shadow of its golden domed capitol in Des Moines, stretching towards the rolling Mississippi on the East, and reaching up to the chilly Minnesota border, Iowa's got a platter of culinary offerings that will have your taste buds dancing the polka. A hot spot of Midwestern hospitality, the state offers mouth-watering dishes that'll give you a reason to stay just a bit longer and explore the cities that brew this gastronomic magic. From breaded pork tenderloins that are larger than the bun they're served on, to the state's own invention of the taco pizza, you're about to be knee-deep in a world of flavor. So roll up your sleeves, and let's take a delicious detour down Iowa’s culinary lane!

The Culinary Capital: Des Moines

Ever heard of the phrase, "As goes Des Moines, so goes Iowa"? Me neither, but it fits the bill when we're talking about the Hawkeye State's food scene. Iowa's capital city, Des Moines, is an epicurean haven that blends heartland classics with cosmopolitan flair.

First on the list is Smitty's Tenderloin Shop, a haven for pork lovers. The breaded pork tenderloin is a beautiful testament to the local culinary tradition. Biting into one is a revelation: crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and transcendent all around. If you like it spicy, the chili cheese tenderloin is a mouth-watering option. Oh, and their Beefburger? Simply delectable! Then there's Chicago Speakeasy, a place that practically oozes charm and history. Their Steak De Burgo? A symphony of flavors with butter, fresh basil, and garlic lavished over succulent beef medallions. And the Bar-B-Que Pork Ribs are a carnivorous dream; tender ribs smothered in tantalizing sauce, they're a ticket to hog heaven.

Not forgetting 7 Stone Pizzeria in West Des Moines, which tosses traditional pizza-making rules out of the window and replaces them with audacious creativity. Their taco pizza combines comfort food staples in a surprising way. Or go for the Vodka Pie pizza; it's a creamy, savory dream that lures you back for more. Oh, and there’s Jesse's Embers, a relic from the city's once-booming supper club scene. Grab the shrimp cocktail for starters, follow it up with the grilled pork tenderloin sandwich, and finish with their London Broil, a decadent offering of sliced top sirloin served on toasted bread.

And once your food tour is complete, soak up some culture and history by taking a leisurely stroll through the Des Moines Water Works Park or browse contemporary art at the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park. Or if you fancy something indoors, why not explore the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden or visit the bustling Des Moines Downtown Farmers' Market?

A Taste of Heritage: Iowa City

Moving eastward, we venture into Iowa City, a charming, bustling locale brimming with both culture and comfort food. If the phrase "literary city" makes you think of boring food, let Iowa City prove you wrong!

The city's vibrant culinary scene is a testament to its history and the diverse influences that have shaped it. Let's begin our gastronomic tour at Shakespeare's Pub and Grill, a cozy joint where you can sample a Bbq Chicken Flatbread. Grilled chicken slathered in BBQ sauce, accented by red onion and a three cheese blend – it's a sonnet in every bite! And if you're in the mood for a little heat, try their Buffalo Chicken Wrap, a perfect harmony of chicken strips tossed in a fiery buffalo sauce and paired with crisp lettuce, tomato, and cheese.

Next stop? Iowa Chop House, a champion of locally sourced, artisanal food. Their Four Cheese Macaroni is like a warm hug, with smoky gouda, creamy cheddar, and cream cheese, topped with crispy bacon and onion haystack. If you're after a lighter fare, their Granny Salad is a delightful ensemble of Granny Smith apples, walnuts, mixed greens, goat cheese, all dressed in a wild berry vinaigrette. You can't leave town without stopping by BlackStone for their Smoked Sirloin or the Buffalo Chicken Flatbread. And while you're at it, don't miss The Airliner's Pork Tenderloin – a deliciously breaded Iowa tenderloin served on a ciabatta roll.

To stretch your legs after the food indulgence, visit the Englert Theatre, or take a peaceful walk in Hickory Hill Park. If history is your thing, make a pit stop at the Old Capitol Museum to get a taste of Iowa's political history.

A Flavorful Excursion: Dubuque

Dubuque, nestled along the mighty Mississippi, marries history with a modern, yet classic Midwest food culture. This rivertown offers an array of unique dining experiences and attractions.

Pepper Sprout Midwest Cuisine is a must-visit spot with a menu that changes with the seasons, ensuring fresh and vibrant flavors. Try their Grilled Duroc Pork Tenderloin, cooked to perfection and accompanied by a homemade blueberry barbeque sauce. Bison Osso Buco, slow-roasted to tender perfection in a Cajun roasted onion demi sauce, is another winning pick. A trip to Brazen Open Kitchen will make you understand why their Halibut, Shrimp & Grits, and Soppressata & Calabrian Chili are popular picks. Caroline's Restaurant, on the other hand, brings together Blue Cornmeal Idaho Rainbow Trout, Bacon-Wrapped Iowa Pork Tenderloin, and Cherrywood Smoked Duck Breast in an unforgettable culinary symphony.

After a day filled with culinary delights, wind down by visiting the Crystal Lake Cave or the Mines of Spain Recreation Area. Or immerse yourself in the aquatic world at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium.

Down-Home Comfort: Sioux City

Winding our way west, we land in Sioux City, a city known for its vibrant mix of cultures. The city's food scene offers a unique blend of comfort food, signature dishes, and a healthy sprinkling of adventurous fare.

Start at Billy Boy Drive-Thru, a local institution. Their Pork Tenderloin Sandwich is an exemplar of the Iowa classic, while the Loose Meat Sandwich will have you falling in love with its simple, savory goodness. Craving more? Swing by the Tastee Inn & Out. The Super T Sandwich packs their legendary Tastee meat into a bun with pickle and mustard, offering a meaty experience that's truly a cut above. Meanwhile, the Original Tastee Sandwich is a love letter to pure 100% ground beef, temptingly seasoned and served crumbled on a bakery-fresh bun.

SoHo Kitchen & Bar should be next on your list. Here, comfort food gets a gourmet twist, with dishes like Jambalaya Grill and Chicken Pot Pie making waves. Don’t forget to try the Blackened Chicken & Cajun Pasta - the homemade creamy Cajun Alfredo sauce is a knockout! Want to spice up your journey? Visit Diamond Thai Cuisine for their Lemon Steamed Fish and Ginger Salmon, both of which will transport you to the streets of Bangkok.

End your day by exploring the rich local history at the Sioux City Public Museum, or visit the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center to retrace the steps of the famous explorers.

Culinary Creativity: Cedar Rapids

Heading back east, we pull into Cedar Rapids, the city of five seasons. A hub of innovation, it’s no surprise that their food scene is teeming with creativity.

The Blind Pig serves burgers that will make you swoon. Try the A-1 Steakhouse Burger, topped with smoked bacon, bleu cheese crumbles, onion tanglers and Sriracha aioli, or if you dare, take on the Diablo Burger, loaded with jalapenos, ghost pepper cheese and sriracha mayo. Looking for a unique pizza experience? Bop's Pizza has you covered. Try the Crab Rangoon pizza or the Taco Pizza, both are like parties for your tastebuds. Cap off your gastronomic adventure with a slice of Rhubarb or Dutch Apple pie from Kathy's Pies & Bakery. If you're a traditionalist, their Pumpkin Pie is a classic that never disappoints.

After your meal, explore the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, stroll through the beautiful Palisades-Kepler State Park, or reconnect with nature at the Indian Creek Nature Center.

Epicurean Adventures: Davenport

Our culinary odyssey concludes in Davenport, a riverside city that masterfully blends the old and the new, a trait reflected in their dining scene.

Begin at Duck City Bistro, where classic American cuisine meets innovative culinary techniques. Try the Filet Melissa, a succulent filet mignon adorned with a creamy Brie cheese sauce, served with candied corkscrew bacon and steamed asparagus. Craving comfort food? Head over to Machine Shed Restaurant Davenport. Their Roasted Stuffed Iowa Chop, a winner in the National Pork recipe contest, is a must-try. Another standout is The Shed's World Famous Baked Potato Soup, a creamy, comforting chowder loaded with tender potatoes. Fancy some seafood? Thunder Bay Grille Davenport offers a sublime Salmon Fresca and a Bison Smoked Meatloaf that will have you coming back for seconds.

Before you leave Davenport, make sure to visit The Putnam Museum and Science Center, take a walk across the Davenport Skybridge, and visit the Freight House Farmers Market for some local delicacies.

Savoring Iowa's Delicious Diversity

Iowa’s culinary landscape is a beautifully woven tapestry of traditions, flavors, and innovation. The state offers a variety of epicurean delights that are as diverse as the cities they hail from. Whether it's the classic Pork Tenderloin Sandwich in Des Moines, the eclectic flatbreads of Iowa City, the gourmet comfort food of Sioux City, the innovative burgers of Cedar Rapids, or the delectable Filet Melissa of Davenport, there is something for every palate.

These culinary gems, combined with the state’s vibrant culture and unique attractions, make Iowa a must-visit destination for all those eager to discover America’s heartland through its food. As we bid adieu to our Iowa adventure, we hope this guide sparks your desire to explore and savor the cornucopia of flavors that the Hawkeye State has to offer. Happy eating and safe travels!

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Cedar Rapids

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