Vegetarian/Vegan Dining in Des Moines, Iowa
Vegetarian and vegan dining options in the Des Moines metropolitan area have greatly expanded in the past few years and now include several choices for those looking for fresh, organic, or just plain delicious food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Surrounded by farms in every direction, Des Moines is a casual city where the restaurant scene is best described as easy-going and informal so whether you’re looking for a coffee bar, cafe, fast food, or a white table clothed restaurant, Des Moines offers a wide variety of choices. Within these establishments, the emphasis is on fresh, delicious wholesome food – much of it local – so consider any of the following (in no particular order):
Name: Fresh Cafe and Market (“Fresh”)
Type: Vegetarian and Vegan
Address: 12493 University Avenue, Clive, Iowa (inside the YMCA Healthy Living Center: open to the public with no membership required)
Phone Number: 515-440-4700
Hours: Monday-Thursday 6:00 am -6:00 pm; Friday 6:00 am – 2:00 pm; Saturday 8:00 am – 2:00 pm
Prices: Inexpensive with most entrees less than $10. Wheatgrass shots are $3.
For nearly ten years, Fresh Cafe and Market (“Fresh“) operated out of the first floor of an office building in West Des Moines – not a place where most people would expect to find an abundant supply of healthy foods and the cafe’s signature green: wheatgrass – one of the many locally grown products used at the cafe to make fresh juice.
Truly a destination spot, Fresh outgrew this location and recently opened at a new location in Des Moines (although technically, the address is in Clive) where you can belly up to one of the best juice bars in the midwest or enjoy the soup, salad, vegetarian and vegan options.
Choose among dozens of juices and smoothies and an all vegan menu that includes quinoa salad, raw vegan tacos, berry bowls, veggie wraps, veggie burgers with an assortment of toppings, soups, salads, and an assortment of homemade vegan desserts (try the decadent super chocolatey black bean brownies – you’ll want seconds).
Name: Ritual Cafe
Type: Vegetarian and Vegan
Address: 1301 Locus Street, Suite D, Des Moines
Hours: Monday – Saturday from 7:00 am – 7:00 pm
Prices: Inexpensive with most lunch and dinner entrees $10 or less
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served with all items vegetarian or vegan including breakfast and lunch burritos, Quiche, hot oatmeal with various toppings, salads, and delicious grilled focaccia “sandwiches” (Tomato and Basil, Grilled Vegetable Mozzarella, Grilled Hummus, Spicy 4 Cheese, and more), and paninis (Hemp Pesto). Speciality desserts from local bakeries are also available to satisfy a sweet tooth.
Located in downtown Des Moines, Ritual Cafe is a cultural hub for those who want to enjoy great coffee, great food, and great vibe. The walls are filled with eye candy: the decorated with the work of local artists. So, drop in and become a Habitual Ritual.”
Type: A New Wave Hip “Chipotle” with Vegetarian and Vegan Options
Address: 407 East 5th Street, Des Moines
Phone Number: 515-556-0571
Hours: Mondays: 11:00 a, – 3:00 pm, Tuesday – Thursday: 11:00 am – 10:00 pm, Friday – Saturday: 11:00 am – 3:00 am; and Sunday: 11:00 am – 3:00 pm
Prices: Inexpensive; Tacos $3 each or 2 for $5; Burritos $8
Pronounced “Tac0-po-ka-leaps,” Tacocalypse is a hole-in-the-wall taco joint run by a bunch of guys that look like the musicians in “That Little ol’ Band from Texas” (ZZ Top) except the guys from Tacopocalypse specialize in food rather than music.
This local fast food place has many traditional aspects (as in homemade tortillas) but the tacos are cutting edge with a modern twist (think Asian Fusion as in homemade crunchy slaw topped tacos or Lemongrass, Wasabi, and Sesame flavored fillings).
The menu offers a wide variety of pork, chicken, and beef options but there are seven vegan/vegetarian options for lunch or dinner: tacos filled with Seitan Andouille, Korean Tofu, Vegan Chorizo (pictured below with Tofu Scramble), or Poblano Potatoes, or Burritos filled with Seitan Andouille Poblano Potato with Smoky Tomato Sauce, Tofu Ranch, or Red Curry.
The menu also includes quesadillas, chips, and nachos with homemade guacamole, queso, and salsa. Specials change daily and often include soup and salad options. Dessert is “limited” to homemade ice cream, the flavor of which changes often so you have to ask – and a Bacon Parfait for non-vegetarians.
Located in the hip East Village of Des Moines, Tacopocalypse is the place to go to please everyone in the family when it’s “Taco Night.”
Type: Traditional Dining with Vegetarian and Vegan Options; Adjacent take-out counter for fresh breads, soups, salads, and sandwiches during lunch hours only Monday – Friday.
Address: 1003 Locus Street, Des Moines, Iowa
Hours: Lunch: Monday-Friday 11:00 am-2:00 pm; Saturday 11:00 am-3:00 pm; Sunday 10:00 am-3:00 pm; Dinner: Monday-Thursday 5:00 pm-10:00 pm; Friday-Saturday 5:00 pm-11:00 pm, Sunday 4:30 pm-9:30 pm.. During lunch hours, there is a take-out counter is open until 2:00 pm.
Prices: Moderate, Appetizers: $6-$10; Pizzas $13 – $24; Veggie Burgers ($10), Pastas ($18),
Open since 2002, Centro (pronounced chen-tro) is located in downtown Des Moines in a restored Masonic Temple. An Italian-inspired eatery where the pasta and pizza dough are made fresh daily, Centro offers a wide variety of choices for both vegetarians and vegans, as well as those who don’t subscribe to any particular diet.
Other dining options include soups, six types of vegetarian and vegan salads, and George’s famous Veggie Burger: a wood grilled veggie burger with pepperjack cheese, roasted corn relish, avocado, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and chipotle dressing on a toasted ciabatta bun. Vegans can order the veggie burger without the cheese and dressing. Savor the delicious and crunchy pickle (made in-house) served with the burger.
There is also a wide selection of side vegetables including sautéed broccolini, spinach, or green beans, mashed potatoes, and wood grilled asparagus.
Entrees also include pasta dishes (Tofu Gnocchi tossed with sautéed mushrooms, red onion, tomato, spinach, garlic, basil, shallots and olive oil. and Handmade Ricotta Gnocchi), and coal-fired pizzas (a small has 6 slices and a large has 8 slices) that can be ordered off the menu or choose a Create-Your-Own, where the toppings can be chosen from a wide selection of both traditional and non-traditional items.
For dessert, choose among Gelato, Italian Ice, a Flourless Chocolate Torte, New York Style Cheesecake, Créme Brulée, or George’s Marshmallow Sundae.
Name: Cafe di Scala
Type: Traditional Dining with Vegetarian and Vegan Options
Address: 644 18th Street, Des Moines, Iowa
Hours: Thursday-Saturday: 5:00 pm-10:00 pm; A Beatles Brunch (on the first Sunday of each month) where dishes are named after the Beatles songs (with the music piped in the background) make for a fun and delicious way to enjoy brunch from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm – reservations required as seating is limited. See the website for other special events that include the celebration of regional wines. Seating is in the dining rooms and the bar on the first floor or outside on the terrace. Ask for a table in the dining room by a window for a beautiful view of the homes in the neighborhood.
Prices: Moderate to Expensive with most menu items between $9 – $35
Cafe di Scala is unique to Des Moines in many ways. Offering traditional Italian cuisine with a menu that changes seasonally, Cafe di Scala operates out of a Victorian house built in 1880 in the Sherman Hills neighborhood of Des Moines. Embracing tradition with fresh and local, Cafe di Scala is very well-known for hand crafted pastas and simplicity in their dishes. The pasta is made with eggs and a great choice for vegetarians. There is also a rice pasta for vegans (although you have to ask because the vegan option is not listed on the menu).
The menu is set up as a series of courses: Antipasti, Zuppa, Primi, Secondi, Insalata, and Dolce. Vegetarians and vegans can skip the Secondi and instead choose among the other courses. Offerings include Torte del Polenta (tomato and zucchini ragu over baked polenta cakes), Crostini (ciabatta, basil pesto, red onion, marinated tomatoes, and Asiago), Pizza Frita (fried pizza crust with seasonal ingredients), Pasta Primavera, and Cappellacci (roasted tomato and goat cheese stuffed pasta, pine nuts, arugula, and vegetable broth), but the menu changes frequently.
On a recent visit the Pizza Frita was featured with meat but after requesting a vegan version, a 7-inch pizza arrived topped with tomato sauce and roasted vegetables including zucchini, carrots, red onions, and cherry tomatoes. To describe in one word: fabulous. While the menu featured four pasta dishes with cheese, the server suggested a pasta dish with seasonal vegetables in a light tomato sauce, which was delicious.
Salads include three choices (Arugula, Finnochio, and the Casa), while the desserts include the traditional (Tiramisu and Pana Cotta) along with Lou Ann’s Torte (coconut wedding cake) and Cioccolato (a cannoli basket with Nutella marscapone mousse and port cherries).
Enjoy dining indoors or outdoors during spring, summer, and fall and when the weather permits.
Type: Traditional with vegetarian and vegan options
Address: 303 East 5th Street, Des Moines (in the East Village)
Hours: Monday-Friday: 11:00 am-10:00 pm; Saturday: 12:00 pm – Closing. Closed Sunday
Prices: Appetizers: $7-$13; Entrees: $20-$48; Desserts: $8-$13
Restaurants that emphasize farm-to-table fare should be abundant in Iowa but are in reality few. In Des Moines, HOQ (named for owners Suman and Cynthia Hoque) is the place to go for farm-to-table dining where 90% of the ingredients come from the local farming community. Even the house liquors come from Iowa.
The menu changes often reflecting the seasonality of ingredients but always includes vegetarian and vegan options. Lunch may include a soup, Beet and Quinoa Salad, Tomato and Tabbouleh Salad, a Green Salad, a Vegetarian Wrap (filled with organic lentil falafel, basmati rice, and homemade yogurt sauce in homemade naan served with root fries, quiche, or a Wild Rice Burger with aioli, and organic vegetables on a homemade bun served with root fries.
Dinner may include soup, Empanadas made with organic tempeh, local potatoes, organic sweet potatoes, and chimichurri, a Quinoa Salad, a Watercress Salad, or a main entrée of fried sweet potatoes, organic carrots, and onions. Dessert usually includes five choices including assorted cheeses, apple or strawberry rhubarb crisp, an ice cream sampler, Chocolate Beast Cake, and a Seasonal Chef’s Choice.
Name: Table 128 Bistro
Type: Traditional “American” with Vegetarian and Vegan options
Address: 12695 University Avenue, Suite 140, Clive (in a shopping center)
Hours: Monday-Friday: 11:00 am-10:00 pm; Saturday: 4:00 pm-10:00 pm
Prices: Appetizers: $5-$13; Entrees: $12-$28
Located just west of the Des Moines area in a shopping center in Clive (a suburb of Des Moines), Table 128 Bistro has been serving up a variety of “American” style dishes since they opened in 2013. The menu changes seasonally while certain time-honored traditions remain: stocks, sauces, desserts, ice creams, and rolls are all crafted in-house.
Table 128 Bistro serves lunch and dinner with many vegetarian and vegan options including a cheese plate, Rosemary and Parmesan Fries, Angry Donuts (a 5-cheese fritter), Watercress Salad, and a Kale and Couscous Salad (sans the Salmon).
Main courses include a vegetarian entrée with grilled eggplant, brown rice couscous, scallions, and baby carrots in a carrot and vanilla broth, a moist and delicious Sweet Pea and Chipotle Veggie Burger (served with caramelized onions, arugula, and aioli but can be ordered without the aioli), and seasonal desserts including fresh fruit tarts.
Name: Gusto Pizza Co.
Type: Traditional Casual Pizza Place (Dine in or carry out)
Address: 1905 Ingersoll Avenue, Des Moines with 2 other locations in the greater Des Moines area
Hours: Monday-Thursday: 11:00 pm-10:00 pm; Friday-Saturday: 11:00 am-11:00 pm; Sunday: 11:00 am-9:00 pm
Prices: Pizzas ranging from $10-$19.
The list wouldn’t be complete without a traditional pizza place, especially one that offers a made from scratch pizza with vegetarian and vegan options.
For vegetarians, there is the Mona Lisa (with rosemary olive oil, garlic, cremini mushrooms, Roma tomatoes, kalamata olives, romano and fresh ricotta), the Francesco (with alfredo, Roma tomatoes, artichokes, cremini mushrooms, spinach, garlic, mozzarella, romano, and Gusto pizza seasoning), the Aphrodite (with roasted red pepper pesto, red onions, balsamic reduction, fresh basil and goat cheese),
Fromage-A-Trois (with red sauce, garlic, red pepper sauce, mozzarella, provolone, romano, and fresh basil), the Soprano (basil pesto, breaded eggplant, roasted red peppers, Roma tomatoes, red onion, Asiago and mozzarella), and the Continental (rosemary olive oil, fresh spinach, butternut squash, red onion, goat cheese, and cayenne infused maple syrup) are other options.
Vegetarians and Vegans can also Create Your Own Pizza in two sizes (10 inches or 14 inches) with tomato sauce, mozzarella or vegan cheese, 11 Select Toppings ($0.25-$0.50 each), 12 vegan or 16 vegetarian Choice Toppings ($0.75-$1.50 each), and 3 vegan Prime Toppings (breaded eggplant, vegan mozzarella, and artichokes) for $1.50-$3 each.
Name: Gateway Cafe and Market
Type: Casual Traditional Fare with vegetarian and vegan options
Address: 2002 Woodland Avenue, Des Moines, Iowa (about 3 miles from the Des Moines Airport – perfect place to stop after a flight) to grab a bite to eat and do some grocery shopping next door at the market.
Hours: 7:00 am – 10:00 pm everyday
Prices: Inexpensive with most dishes between $3-$10.
Gateway Cafe and Market is a little gem of a place where you can both eat a meal – breakfast, lunch, or dinner – and do the grocery shopping next door. Open since 2007, Gateway Market is the place to go for locally grown produce (the strawberries are magnificent), freshly baked artisan breads and pastries, a vast selection of wines, olive oils, vinegars, pasta, flowers, groceries, and chef crafted meals to go. The olive bar is phenomenal with both red and green Cerignola olives available daily.
Often compared to Whole Foods Markets, Gateway Market differentiates itself with a product line that includes many locally grown and made, national, and international food items not available at other stores. Check out the pasta made with black beans or red lentils and the vegan mushroom gravy in the grocery aisles.
Choose among a variety of vegetarian and vegan options including Tofu Scramble, a Black Bean Burger, a Veggie Burger, a Seitan Gyro, Tofu Bahn Mi (barbecued tofu), hummus, Veggie Ramen, Pad Thai, Cantonese Stir Fry, a Falafel Plate, a Mediterranean Wrap, soups, salads, guacamole, and a host of side dishes including quinoa salad, beets, seasonal vegetables, caprese tomatoes, and fruit salad.