Neighborhood Guide: Des Moines

Guest Contributor

by Guest Contributor on May 10, 2012

The idea of leaving New York usually gets overwhelmingly difficult the longer one stays—but luckily, Amy Palanjian made a big move that paid off. Amy, a food editor at Better Homes and Gardens and the author of So Pretty! Crochet, is about to have her first baby in June, but she made time to share the best of her adopted city—Des Moines—with Good. Food. Stories.


When I moved to Des Moines from Harlem about three years ago, I knew that I wanted to be in a neighborhood with a lot to offer. I was feeling ready for a change—but that didn’t extend to losing the convenience of city life that I was used to. I picked an apartment in the East Village, located on the east side of downtown between the gold-topped Capitol Building and the the river, because it was close to work, had independent boutiques, and a handful of fantastic restaurants.

Des Moines Capitol Building
Since that time, I’ve moved across town with my husband into a house with a big yard and garden. Our priorities changed, but I still find myself in the East Village about once a week. It’s where I go to get my hair cut, get massages, visit my shop-owner friends, and get the best sushi in town. Here are a few of my favorite places:

Lucca

This exposed-brick Italian restaurant doesn’t do a great job of explaining its food on the menu (the descriptions are simply a word or two) but the waiters are well versed and the food is reliably delicious. Lucca (420 E. Locust St., 515-243-1115) was where I had one of my first meals after coming to town and it’s never disappointed since. Their homemade pasta is divine and their lunches—panini, salads, soups, pastas—are extremely affordable.

Gong Fu Tea

I go back and forth between being a coffee and tea person, but whenever I am in the mood for specialty teas, a light snack, or a gift for a tea-lover, I head to Gong Fu (414 E. Sixth St., 515-288-3388). There is usually a line and the precision of measuring and weighing the teas to order can take some time, but that just adds to the overall effect of relaxation.

Gong Fu Tea, Des Moines

Alba

We love going to Alba (524 E. Sixth St., 515-244-0261) when we’re in the mood for a special dinner or we have something to celebrate. The food is usually in season and somewhat local and while we’ve had our share of aloof waiters, it’s always worth it. I love their sauteed vegetable side (which features whichever veggies are in season), their steak and fish dishes, and my husband loves their pork dishes. This is also a great place to go for an excellent lunch—I’ve had some really stellar “working” lunches here, especially in the warmer weather when sitting outside is where you want to be.

City Bakery

City Bakery (407 E. Fifth St., 515-243-0044) is in a location that has turned over a few times recently, but we’re all hoping that this iteration stays around. I’ve heard that the owner is related to the owner of the very popular La Mie Bakery, which is located across town and has the city’s best breakfast (and pastries and bread and macarons) in my opinion. Which means that you can have your baked goods at City Bakery, along with a great salad or slice (or two) of pizza.

City Bakery, Des Moines
A few places I wouldn’t miss on a weekend wander through the neighborhood would also include:

  • Ephemera (505 E. Locust St.), for cards, gifts, and general chatty banter with the sweet shop owners;
  • All Spice (400 E. Locust St.), for specialty olive oils, spices, and endless gift-giving possibilities;
  • Eden (418 E. Sixth St.), for Kiehl’s products and any other higher end beauty product you could want;
  • Seed (500 E. Grand St.), for all of your gardening needs;
  • East Village Spa (315 E. Fifth St.), for the best prenatal (and regular) massages in town;
  • and Raygun (400 E. Locust St.), for witty, snarky, and generally pro-Des Moines tee shirts.

Ephemera, Des Moines
P.S. The place that actually convinced me that I could live in Des Moines was Proof (1301 Locust St., 515-244-0655), which is still to this day one of my favorite restaurants. It’s not located in the East Village, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it. It has, hands down, the best lunch in town. Get the vegetable falafel. It won’t be what you’re expecting, but it’s completely delicious.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Amber | Bluebonnets & Brownies May 10, 2012 at 10:47 am

Well damn. Now I’m regretting my choice not to make the trip out to Iowa for my college graduation (from Ashford University in Clinton). Thanks for the fab guide, Amy!

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Shaina May 10, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Yum. I’m rarely in Des Moines, but the next time we make the trip down, I’ve bookmarked this so I know where to go.

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WINO May 10, 2012 at 5:39 pm

Well, who would have thunk it. Des Moines, Iowa is actually a nice place to visit. Thanks for the info. Any good wine stores???

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Nick Lucs December 13, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Great write up. I LOVE City Bakery for lunch. One of my favorite spots in East Village, besides the Olympic Flame, and Zombie Burger.

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