Even in the main cities of Iowa food inevitably seems to revolve around classic American dishes prepared the traditional way. Meat, farm fresh vegetables, and that old favorite the potato should be expected in most restaurants. Steak houses are a specialty, and although you may be hard-pressed to find Pan-Asian fusion cuisine, the comfort food in Iowa is extremely tasty. Iowan nightlife is also quintessentially Midwestern, with most bars casual low-key neighborhood spots where beer trumps martinis. Live music is the main source of entertainment.
Bars and Pubbing in Iowa
The only places in Iowa where you are likely to find a happening nightlife scene are in the bigger cities or college towns. Des Moines is the state’s largest city and home to arguably the best range of bars, clubs and after dark entertainment. The Court District is a good area for fun at Raccoon River Brewing (200 10th Street, Des Moines) for locally-made beer or the High Life Lounge (200 SW 2nd Street, Des Moines) with its 105 beers on tap.
The rest of Iowa’s cities are even more low-key. Cedar Rapids has a few bars downtown like The Vault (208 2nd Ave SE, Cedar Rapids), with its large martini menu and piano lounge. Ames, home to Iowa State University and Iowa City, location of the University of Iowa both have decent nightlife, especially on the weekend with a good mix of sports bars, student hangouts, and well-established watering holes like The Airliner (22 S. Clinton Street, Iowa City).
Dubuque is another Iowa city with a fairly diverse bar scene. The Lift (180 Main Street, Dubuque) has an Irish theme and live music, while The District (1700 Central Ave, Dubuque) actually has a dress code on weekends where a DJ spins for the huge dance floor. All bars stop serving alcohol at 2:00 a.m. and close shortly after.
Dining and Cuisine in Iowa
The folks of Iowa regard their state as the Breadbasket of the World, and the menus reflect this in the pervasiveness of dishes like pork chops, corn on the cob, biscuits, and countless casseroles. This is classic Midwestern cuisine, filling and very good value. There will always be a fast food chain or two if you don’t want to have a leisurely meal in a local restaurant.
In Des Moines you can treat yourself to a four-star Midwest meal at Trostel’s Greenbriar (5810 Merle Hay Road, Johnston) or a steak at the 801 Chophouse, (801 Grande Ave, Des Moines) one of the city’s top eateries. There is also a solid Latino population in Iowa, so don’t be afraid to duck into a local Mexican restaurant like Panchero’s (32 S. Clinton Street, Iowa City) for a spicy treat.
Iowa is also known for its barbecue, so seek out Woody’s Smoke Shack (2511 Cottage Grove Ave, Des Moines) or Breitbach’s Country Dining (563 Balltown Road, Sherrill), Iowa’s oldest restaurant dating to 1852 and still going strong. Even at the nicest restaurant in town you will likely be pleasantly surprised when the bill comes because eating out is a real deal.