What are the best Des Moines food experiences?

Answers from Our Experts (1)

Michael Ream

Since it’s in the agricultural heartland of the United States, people in Des Moines actually have a long list of local foods they’re proud to share with visitors. Here are the local foods you should taste in Des Moines:
1. Pork tenderloin sandwich. Not what you might think, this quintessential Iowa sandwich is a huge disc of pork loin that is pounded thin, breaded and deep-fried before being served up on a bun, usually with pickle, onion and mustard. The fried colossus spills over the edges of the bun, and you may not want to try to tackle the whole thing the first time you order one. Small-town restaurants and taverns throughout Iowa claim to have the best tenderloin, but Des Moines offers a trio of no-frills tenderloin joints of its own: Smitty’s, not far from the Des Moines Airport, Mr. Bibb’s, on the north side of town, which also has delicious chocolate malts to wash down the pork, and B&B Grocery, a neighborhood deli which turns out a full slate of sandwiches in addition to the tenderloin.
2. State fair food. Yes, you really can get just about anything fried and served on a stick at the Iowa State Fair:  recent offerings have included pork chops, tiramisu, pickles, Popsicles and everything else imaginable. Old standbys like corn-on-the-cob, turkey drumsticks and cotton candy crowd the midway as well, as do plenty of deep fried items like candy bars, Twinkies, and other artery-busting delights — even deep-fried butter
3. Family-style Italian. Des Moines actually had its own “Little Italy,” located across the Raccoon River from downtown and settled over a hundred years ago by Italian immigrants, whose legacy lives on in restaurants like Tumea & Sons, where you can find classics like veal parmigiana and cannoli (The city’s other renowned old-school Italian restaurant is Tursi’s Latin King, located on the east side of town, near the state fairgrounds.) Des Moines also has an annual Italian-American Heritage Festival, which takes place downtown every July.
4. Maytag Blue cheese. This creamy blue cheese is part of America’s gourmet cheese heritage and it’s made nearby in Newton. The son of the famous appliance company started a dairy he named Maytag Dairy Farm and developed his cheese in cooperation with Iowa State University back in the 1940s. An artisanal cheese made exclusively with milk from local cows, it’s complexly flavored and creamy with a pleasant blue cheese twang. Try a piece at the Cheese Shop, or head out to the dairy for a tasting tour.
5. Dutch letters. There aren’t many places outside of Holland to try these Dutch pastries, but Des Moines is one of them. In case you aren’t familiar with them, Dutch letters are S-shaped pastries made of flaky, buttery dough filled with almond paste. The town of Pella is a great place to taste them fresh from the oven, but bakeries like Strudl Haus in Des Moines or Dutch Oven in Ames make them too.

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