In 2021, the Des Moines metro became home to a collection of restaurants and bars that diversified and enriched the dining scene.
New must-try stops vary in more than just cuisine: some come from well-established names in the industry; others are new faces. Many used the character of the old buildings in which they reside to create a one-of-a-kind experience. And some are trying things Des Moines has never seen before this year.
As we look back on the year, here are some of the biggest bar and restaurant openings that excited our palates, pushed our tastes and had us coming back for more.
5585 Mills Civic Pkwy. #110, West Des Moines; 515-223-2302
Pulling from classic Italian flavors, Anna Dolce Ristorante creates eye-catching modern Italian American dishes in the West Glen Town Center. The restaurant opened in April as a partnership between two hospitality groups: Dark Side of the Spoon — which operates The Breakfast Club, Shotgun Betty's, Wellman's Pub, and 1908 Draught House, among others — and Frank’s Divine Pie, which runs Gusto Pizza Co., Juniper Moon and El Guapo’s Tequila + Tacos.
Great for family nights and dates alike, Anna Dolce’s menu honors classics such as spaghetti and meatballs and osso buco but has plenty of fresh finds and signature cocktails. Let a limoncello mule transport you to the Amalfi Coast, and don’t skip delightful appetizers including mussels steamed in a white wine cream and mushrooms stuffed with ricotta and fennel sausage.
2511 Cottage Grove Ave., Des Moines; 515-689-7466
After years of serving out of a side window attached to the live music venue Gas Lamp, Alex Carter found a permanent home for his quirky ice cream operation Black Cat. The storefront and adjacent patio near Drake University give Carter space to make ice cream in larger quantities and in-store rather than from his home.
One holdover from the original location is a well-loved chalkboard with the day's flavors. Holiday options include Gas Station Gift — potato chip ice cream with hunks of powdered sugar doughnuts, M&M's, Little Debbie Christmas Cakes and Rice Krispies Treats — and The Krampus, a bright red cherry and roasted marshmallow ice cream loaded with red-velvet-chocolate-covered dried cherries.
With ever-rotating flavors and plenty of seasonal creations, it's an easy place to justify repeat trips or stock up on take-home pints.
6150 Merle Hay Road, Johnston; 515-859-6257
Charlotte's Kitchen co-owners Michael Hanstad and Robert Doan transformed their chicken sandwich food truck into a permanent drive-thru and then dine-in restaurant in Johnston in August. The young business owners and their team toss up some of the crispiest chicken in town, dressed with a number of different topping combos including Nashville hot and crab Rangoon. They keep things fresh with weekly sandwich and milkshake specials.
Hanstad named Charlotte's Kitchen for his own grandmother, who influenced his love of cooking growing up. To immortalize the nearly universal love of grandmothers, Hanstad started a Grandma Wall of Fame, where customers can submit photos and stories of their grandmothers to live on the Charlotte's Kitchen wall forever.
717 Locust St., Des Moines; 515-369-2296
Des Moines’ most daring cocktail lounge opened in the spring tucked inside the R+T Building, which also houses its sister bar, Hello, Marjorie. Good News, Darling takes a darker and more experimental approach to mixology and mood setting with a food-inspired cocktail menu. The 26-seat, barely lit lounge is snug and mysterious, and the bartenders use eccentric glassware from bird-shaped vessels to intricate goblets to Mason jars.
“Leave worries here, healing concoctions await,” beckons the cocktail list with creations like Tomato — a gin drink as clear as water with aquavit, jalapeño, dill and a cherry tomato — and Peacock, a rum-based concoction that uses local coffee from Daisy Chain, mango, and a hint of cayenne mixed with the thickness of Greek yogurt.
Good News, Darling hosts regular omakase-style themed drink pop-ups and is a great place to find something unexpected.
2316 University Ave., Des Moines; 515-630-1077
Gursha brought Ethiopian food to Iowa this year in a fast-casual dining setting. Situated in the busy Drake neighborhood, the family-owned-and-operated Ethiopian grill's menu is split into veggie and meat entrees with options to mix and match dishes.
Scoop up servings of missir wot — a red lentil dish flavored with onions, ginger and a warming Ethiopian spice blend called berbere — with spongey injera bread or try a collard greens and spiced beef combo called gomen and ziggini. Whatever you do, don't leave without a freshly made mango smoothie.
2716 Ingersoll Ave., Des Moines; 515-330-6876
Lachele's narrow diner with salmon pink walls and an exposed grill area seem as if they were pulled straight out of a 1950s diner, but the restaurant's fresh take on smash burgers and other diner fare is wholly of this era.
The classic Lachele — a flattened beef patty with crunchy burnt edges on an sesame seed-loaded bun — is a pretty perfect burger, but the head-scratchingly bizarre specials such as a smash burger stacked with Easy Cheese, chopped chives, Dijon mustard, mayo and Old Bay-dusted pickles keep curious customers coming back for more.
The New Northwestern Cocktail & Wine Bar
321 E. Walnut St., Des Moines; 515-410-1423
Once lodging for railway workers and passengers, the historic Northwestern Hotel's original hotel bar transformed into The New Northwestern Cocktail & Wine Bar in the fall. The swanky bar carries on the railroad theme with the building's history on display in photos, maps and gin-focused signature cocktails. Gin flights come with a variety of garnishes and tonics, and small bites come served from an exposed kitchen in the building's lobby.
4041 Urbandale Ave., Des Moines; 515-274-1293
The latest from Jason Simon, owner of Eatery A and Alba, Parlor is Des Moines' premier Detroit-style-pizza- focused restaurant. Each 2 ½-pound pie sits an inch tall with cheese blanketing every surface — no naked crusts here. It's a great spot to play some shuffleboard and grab a cold beer or sip a cocktail over a square of pizza during happy hour daily from 2 to 5 p.m. with half-priced sangria and draught beer.
1000 Walnut St., Des Moines; 515-957-2400
After an extensive renovation that began in 2018, the historic Hotel Fort Des Moines opened Proudfoot & Bird, a fine-dining restaurant named after the hotel's original architects, in October. The menu focuses on locally sourced produce, humanely raised meats and poultry and handmade pastas for dishes such as the spiced duck breast with sweet potato and pomegranate and mild shishito peppers dressed simply in lemon and sea salt.
Across the hall is the new Hobnob Coffee & Wine Bar, which opened in December. The wine side is set to open next year, but the coffeeshop is up and running in partnership with Des Moines-based Horizon Line Coffee.
6587 University Ave., Windsor Heights; 515-277-7907
What started as a joint effort by restaurant owners Simon Goheen of Simon's and Joe Tripp of Harbinger evolved into a solo project for Tripp and his team in Windsor Heights. The brunch and dinner menus draw inspiration from Tripp's Jewish heritage, and Tripp's wife and business partner Alexandra Tripp creates the over-the-top treats on the R+C dessert cart. And each visit comes complete with complimentary hand-cut potato chips and a super airy party dip.
110 SW Fifth St., Des Moines
Neighborhood patio bar Secret Admirer sprung up over the summer near the Court Avenue District and became an essential stop for farmers market attendees and summer sun lovers. The simple and refreshing cocktail menu breaks down drinks by alcohol content, with options for non-alcoholic drinks and lower ABV options. All are deliciously crisp and made with the freshest possible ingredients.
During the summer, order from the garage window and enjoy an excellent view of Des Moines with a house-made spritz or a boozy snow cone. In the winter, cuddle into a corner and sip a hot buttered rum or tequila-spiked cocoa.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Des Moines best new restaurants and bars that opened in 2021