Central Iowans are lucky to have so many Italian restaurants sprinkled throughout the metro making their versions of cavatelli, gnocchi, chicken Parm, and saltimbocca. Diners can find pricey restaurants meant for a special occasion or inexpensive standbys that can become part of a weekly dinner routine.
Family establishments and newcomers alike make this list, along with a group of classics at the end. Pizza lovers and pasta fans alike can find everything from a light lunch to a multi-course meal at these restaurants that can satisfy your craving for carbs.
Here, a look at some of the essential Italian restaurants in the Des Moines area along with time-honored classics.
Enjoy views of the Pappajohn Sculpture Park when you dine at Allora Cafe, located on the ground floor of the Krause Gateway Center. Open for lunch, the seasonal menu includes panini, soups, salads and pasta made with Iowa ingredients sprinkled throughout. You can’t go wrong with the polenta and fresh pasta made in house.
Location: 1459 Grand Ave., Des Moines
Contact: 515-274-7787 or krausegatewaycenter.com/alloracafe
Hours: Open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Tucked inside an 1880 Victorian mansion in Sherman Hill is Tony Lemmo’s Aposto. You’ll find Southern Italian fare on the refined menu that changes with the seasons, along with an Italian-focused wine list. Lemmo’s cavatelli, a menu mainstay, is made with marinara, house Calabrian sausage, Romano and ground fennel. The dessert menu also changes throughout the year, but you’ll always find house-made ice cream and the chocolate torte as options.
Location: 644 18th St., Des Moines
Contact: 515-244-1353 or apostodm.com
Hour: Open Wednesday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to close
Bianchi’s Hilltop Restaurant
Bianchi’s Hilltop Restaurant boasts a trifecta of Des Moines Italian food staples: thin cut onion rings, grinders, and thin-crust pizza. The restaurant also serves an array of baked pastas and salad options. For an appetizer, try the Italian egg rolls, made with Graziano’s sausage and mozzarella in a spring roll wrapper, served with marinara sauce. The family-owned restaurant that opened in 1950 also offers daily specials.
Location: 2820 Hubbell Ave., Des Moines
Contact: 515-265-2746 or bianchishilltop.com
Hours: Open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 to 9:30 p.m., Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 to 10:30 p.m., and Saturday from 4 to 10:30 p.m.
Open since 2002 and led by chef partner George Formaro, Centro has a contemporary feel and New York Italian food. Try Formaro's twist on chicken saltimbocca, the Portobello fries or one of the rotating chef features that use seasonal ingredients. Visit on Mondays nights from 4 p.m. to close for half-priced pizza and Peroni beers. Centro also serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Formaro earned nominations for Best Chef Midwest from the James Beard Foundation in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and then for Outstanding Restaurateur in 2013 and 2014.
Location: 1003 Locust St., Des Moines
Contact: 515-248-1780 or centrodesmoines.com
Hours: Open Mondays through Thursdays from 4 to 9 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
A Des Moines staple since 1963, this Beaverdale gem is rooted in tradition. The family-run restaurant specializes in chicken Parmesan, the signature dish. Escargot and bruschetta with Boursin are popular appetizers. On Mondays and weekends, Christopher's offers a prime rib special. Sit in the dining room or eat in the lounge for a more casual experience.
Location: 2816 Beaver Ave., Des Moines
Contact: 515-274-3694 or christophersdsm.com
Hours: Open Monday through Saturday. The lounge opens at 4 p.m., the kitchen and dining room open at 5 p.m.
Cosi Cucina has been welcoming diners since opening in West Des Moines in 1993. The signature dish, the Ziti Cucina, blends Graziano’s Italian sausage and sundried tomatoes in a tomato cream sauce with penne pasta. Add meatballs and Diana sauce (the house red sauce) and it becomes the house pasta special. Enjoy happy hour from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, and Sundays from 4 to 9 p.m.
Location: 1975 NW 86th St., West Des Moines
Contact: 515-278-8148 or cosicucina.com
Hours: Open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and Sunday from 4 to 9 p.m.
This upscale East Village restaurant features a four-course prix fixe dinner that is perfect for special occasions. Diners choose the first three courses and the fourth course is sample of desserts. For lunch, the menu includes salads, sandwiches and pasta. The salads are especially popular and many customers choose to add a salmon filet.
At dinner, some of the simplest items such as the cracked pepper and olive oil spaghetti and sage gnocchi are the most popular dishes from James Beard Foundation semifinalist for Best Chef Midwest in 2009 through 2012 Steve Logsdon.
Location: 420 E. Locust St., Des Moines
Contact: 515-243-1115 or luccadsm.com
Hours: Lunch hours are Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., dinner hours are Thursday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to close.
Marino’s Italian Restaurant
This casual restaurant has been located in various locations in the metro since 1997 and found a home in Johnston for the past six years. The large menu offers a variety of baked pastas; the cavatelli with sausage is a popular choice. There are three varieties of rollatini — lasagna, eggplant, and chicken — that evoke memories of Gino’s, the north-side dining staple that closed in 2015. The Italian sandwiches are all baked to order in fresh dough with marinara and mozzarella.
Location: 5775 Merle Hay Road, Johnston
Contact: 515-255-3931 or marinosdsm.com
Hours: Open Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m.
Portofino’s Italian Restaurant & Pizza
Opened in Ankeny in 2020, Portofino’s has an extensive menu and offers daily lunch and dinner specials and a soup of the day. If you want to try lots of dishes, order the pasta combo that includes lasagna, manicotti, cannelloni, ziti and tortellini all baked with marinara and mozzarella. Another popular menu option is the seafood combo with mussels, calamari, scallops and shrimp in a fresh marinara sauce served over linguine.
Location: 711 S. Ankeny Blvd., Ankeny
Contact: 515-630-0182 or portofinositalianandpizza.com
Hours: Open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Unassuming from the outside, this cozy restaurant is perfect for date nights. Owner Simon Goheen and his staff are known for creating a positive, welcoming ambiance. It’s not uncommon for there to be a wait, but Goheen has a space to hang out until your table is ready. For a starter, try the mushroom crostini and for an entrée, order the steak de burgo or the chicken Florentine.
Location: 5800 Franklin Ave., Des Moines
Contact: 515-255-3725 or simonsdsm.com
Hours: Open Monday through Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m.
Classic Italian restaurants in Des Moines not to be forgotten
Baratta’s at 2320 S. Union St., Des Moines. Get lunch, dinner or try a family carry-out meal from this south side Italian staple.
Chuck’s Restaurant at 3610 Sixth Ave., Des Moines. Known for its thin-crust pizza in the Highland Park/Oak Park neighborhood, Chuck’s has been serving customers since 1956. It is open for dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays.
Latin King at 2200 Hubbell Ave., Des Moines. The restaurant founded in 1947 and now run by Whitney VinZant specializes in chicken spiedini.
Noah’s Ark at 2400 Ingersoll Ave., Des Moines. This Des Moines favorite from the Lacona family opened in 1946 and specializes in Calabrese-style lasagna and veal alla mozzarella.
Tumea & Sons Restaurant & Lounge at 1501 SE First St., Des Moines. The pasta diablo is a popular dish at this family-owned restaurant that opened in 1998.
Heather Torpy is a freelance writer based in Des Moines.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Best Italian restaurants near Des Moines to try