12 Unique Restaurants in Iowa: Savor Algerian, Nepalese, and American Classics

by Jen
Unique Restaurants in Iowa
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If you’re searching for unique restaurants in Iowa, you’re in the right place! Using our industry knowledge and local insights, this guide is here to spotlight 12 of Iowa’s best places to eat. Don’t miss these gems!

Iowa’s full of surprises, especially when it comes to eating out. I’ve had the chance to check out some places that are anything but ordinary. Each restaurant on this list has its own vibe, which makes every meal an experience.

I’ve found unique places to eat in Iowa that’ll make your taste buds dance. Imagine enjoying Ecuadorian stews, Nepalese dumplings, and American classics with a twist, right here in the Hawkeye State.

Join me as we dive into some of the coolest spots to grab a bite in Iowa. Trust me, you’re going to want to try these places. I promise, by the end, you’ll love these unique spots as much as I do!

The top restaurants to visit in Iowa right now

Unusual places to eat in IA

Ready to discover what Iowa has on its menu? We’ve got an array of hidden gems, from authentic global cuisines to classic American comforts. Join me as we explore the best places to eat in Iowa.

Craving traditional Algerian dishes or perhaps a taste of Nepal in the heart of the Midwest? Iowa surprises with its diverse dining scene. From the cozy Mi Patria Ecuadorian Restaurant to the innovative Brazen Open Kitchen, we’ve rounded up the most unique restaurants in IA.

1. Mi Patria Ecuadorian Restaurant

Kicking off our list of the coolest restaurants in Iowa, Mi Patria Ecuadorian Restaurant in West Des Moines is a spot you simply can’t skip. This place is a slice of Ecuador right in the heart of the Midwest. The moment you step inside, the aromas transport you to another world. It’s an authentic dining experience that’s hard to find elsewhere.

The empanadas here are out of this world. I’m talking crispy on the outside, packed with flavor on the inside, and just the right kind of comfort food to start your meal. But let me tell you, the magic doesn’t stop there. Every dish comes in portions that challenge even the heartiest appetite. You won’t leave hungry, that’s for sure!

And the drinks, oh the drinks! I tried the Blackberry Agua Fresca with Rum and a Mojito, and both were simply refreshing. Perfectly balanced, these cocktails complement the rich flavors of the food.

I highly recommend booking ahead, especially on weekends. It gets busy, and you’ll see why once you’ve tasted their dishes. Plus, West Des Moines has some cool spots to explore after your meal.

Believe me, Mi Patria is where you’ll want to bring friends or family for an unforgettable taste of Ecuador. You’ll be planning your next visit before you even leave!

Mi Patria Ecuadorian Restaurant is one of the unique restaurants in Iowa.
Mi Patria Ecuadorian Restaurant brings Ecuadorian authenticity to the heart of the Midwest.

2. Schera’s

If you ask me, one of Iowa’s hidden gems is Schera’s in Elkader. Here, traditional Algerian cuisine meets the scenic beauty of the Midwest. Picture this: sitting on a beautiful patio, the Turkey River flowing by, with the Stone Arch Bridge in the backdrop. It’s the perfect setting for a meal that’s as memorable for its views as it is for the food.

Now, let’s talk about what you’re here for—the food. Ever tried a camel burger? Or how about goat sausage? Schera’s offers these unique dishes that are sure to be a conversation starter. But if you’re in the mood for something a bit more familiar, they’ve got you covered with classics like shawarma and tagine. And you absolutely cannot leave without trying their homemade baklava for dessert!

For all you craft beer enthusiasts, Schera’s boasts the best selection in the area. Pairing one of these with your meal? Chef’s kiss. Trust me, it elevates the entire dining experience. It’s easily one of the best restaurants in Iowa.

A tip from me to you: time your visit so you can enjoy your meal on the patio. The view and ambiance add an extra layer of delight to the already fantastic food and drink. Schera’s is a spot you’ll want to brag about discovering.

Schera’s uniquely merges Algerian cuisine with Midwest charm, creating an unforgettable dining experience.
Schera’s uniquely merges Algerian cuisine with Midwest charm, creating an unforgettable dining experience.

3. Ox Yoke Inn

When you’re wandering through the Amana Colonies, a stop at Ox Yoke Inn is a must. This place is a staple, serving up hearty German food in a building that’s been standing since 1940. It’s like stepping back in time, but the flavors are timeless.

I absolutely love the schnitzel here. It’s crispy, tender, and just the way it should be. Last time, I branched out and tried the dumplings. Let me tell you, if you haven’t had these, you’re missing out. They’re the kind of comfort food that makes you feel right at home.

Without a doubt, Ox Yoke Inn is one of the most fun places to eat in Iowa when you’re exploring this unique part of the state. The traditional setting, combined with dishes that warm the soul, creates an unforgettable dining experience.

Make sure to reserve a table in advance, especially if you’re planning to visit during peak times. The Amana Colonies are a popular spot, and you’ll want to ensure you have a seat at the table. Plus, there’s plenty to see and do around the area, so you can walk off your meal while soaking in the local charm.

Ox Yoke Inn in the Amana Colonies offers timeless German cuisine in a historic setting since 1940.
Ox Yoke Inn in the Amana Colonies offers timeless German cuisine in a historic setting since 1940.

4. Breitbach’s Country Dining

Over in Sherrill, there’s a spot called Breitbach’s Country Dining that’s worth the drive. It sits in what I’d call the most beautiful part of Iowa, near Dubuque, where the scenery alone is worth the trip.

Breitbach’s holds the title of Iowa’s oldest restaurant, dating back to 1852. Walking in feels like stepping into a warm, family gathering that’s been going on for generations.

The pork tenderloin here will have you talking about it long after you’ve left. It’s perfectly crunchy and just the right kind of satisfying. And let’s talk about the coconut cream pie for a second. It’s so good, it’s in my top five desserts of all time.

Even though I picked from the menu, I eyed the buffet with a bit of envy. For about $19, you get an all-you-can-eat spread that looks like a feast. This affordability makes it one of Iowa’s best restaurants.

Dining at Breitbach’s is diving into a piece of Iowa’s heart, surrounded by some of the state’s best views. And if you’re in the area, swing by Dubuque too. It’s the cherry on top of a perfect day out.

Breitbach's offers Iowa's heart and stunning views, with Dubuque as the perfect addition to your day out.
Breitbach’s offers Iowa’s heart and stunning views, with Dubuque as the perfect addition to your day out.

5. Graziano Brothers

Graziano Brothers in Des Moines is different from your average grocery store. This place is a legend. Imagine walking into a shop and being hit with the aroma of authentic Italian groceries, the kind that’s hard to find anywhere else in Iowa. They’ve got everything from imported Italian goodies to a deli counter that’s the talk of the town.

The deli is where the magic happens. They serve up some of the best Italian meats you can get your hands on, not to mention their famous sausage. It’s a game-changer. And the sandwiches? You’ve got to try the triple-decker Reuben. It’s a masterpiece of flavors, stacked high and leaving you planning your next visit before you even finish your bite.

Graziano Brothers is a special piece of Des Moines that offers a taste of Italy at prices that won’t break the bank. It’s one of those unique places in Iowa to eat where every visit feels like you’re discovering something new, no matter how many times you’ve been.

A heads up: Their special sandwich of the day flies off the counter, so getting there early is a good idea. And while you’re in the area, there are plenty of fun things to do in Des Moines. A trip to Graziano Brothers is part of a perfect day out.

Graziano Brothers is a legendary Italian grocery store, famed for its authentic goods and renowned deli counter.
Graziano Brothers is a legendary Italian grocery store, famed for its authentic goods and renowned deli counter. | Image Source: https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/

6. Kathmandu Restaurant

Kathmandu Restaurant in Windsor Heights is like a hidden treasure for food lovers. This place dishes out Nepalese cuisine that’s both authentic and bursting with flavor. If you’re all about trying something new or you’re a fan of rich, aromatic dishes, this is your spot.

They’ve got a fantastic selection for vegetarians and vegans, but trust me, the goat biryani is something you can’t pass up. It’s hearty, flavorful, and just downright delicious.

But here’s the real deal: their lunch buffet on Fridays through Sundays. I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s some of the best food in Iowa. With around 5-6 varieties of main courses, both veg and non-veg, plus desserts and chai, it’s a feast that’ll keep you coming back. Everything is spot on, from the spices to the warmth of the dishes.

Kathmandu Restaurant is a quick drive from the center of Des Moines. Plus, Windsor Heights has its own charm. After filling up, I recommend taking a stroll and exploring its unique vibe.

Kathmandu Restaurant is one of the unique restaurants in Iowa.
Kathmandu Restaurant offers authentic Nepalese cuisine for adventurous food lovers.

7. Morg’s

If breakfast is what you’re after, Morg’s in Waterloo has you covered. Honestly, stop searching because this place hits the spot every single time. It’s an old-fashioned diner that gets everything right, from the vibe to the plates piled high with your morning favorites.

I went for the country omelet with cheesy hash brown. I also decided to add 2 eggs over easy with cheesy onion hash browns on the side, extra crispy, and couldn’t resist trying a pancake too. Everything was cooked to perfection. The portion sizes are generous, too. You’ll be fueled for the day, no question.

The pancake deserves a special mention. Fluffy, flavorful, and that warm maple syrup? Amazing. It’s the kind of breakfast that leaves you satisfied and thinking about your next visit before you’ve even left. If you’re looking for fun restaurants in Iowa, this is your spot.

Morg’s is the place to go when you want a hearty start to your day. It’s a staple in Waterloo for a reason. Trust me, you’ll want to make room for Morg’s on your itinerary!

Morg's in Waterloo is the go-to spot for perfect breakfast every time, with classic diner vibes and generous portions.
Morg’s in Waterloo is the go-to spot for the perfect breakfast every time, with classic diner vibes and generous portions.

8. Brazen Open Kitchen

Brazen Open Kitchen in Dubuque is the kind of place that instantly makes you feel like you’ve discovered the city’s best-kept secret. With its ever-changing seasonal menu, the vibe here is all about freshness and innovation. The open kitchen and exposed brick walls, paired with an awesome playlist, set the stage for a dining experience you’ll want to come back to.

Let’s talk about appetizers. The leek fondue and pork belly? Unreal. That fondue is so good, you’ll be tempted to lick the bowl (and honestly, who could blame you?). The pork belly is another level of delicious, melting in your mouth with the chicharrones adding just the right amount of crunch.

Now, a heads-up: don’t come here expecting traditional Southern fried chicken. Brazen’s got its own take on fried chicken that screams Midwestern comfort food. It’s juicy, it’s crunchy, and it’s downright satisfying. It’s a reminder that, yes, we’re definitely still in Iowa, but it’s Iowa like you’ve never tasted before.

Do yourself a favor and don’t skip dessert. Bring a friend, order two desserts, and if the Banana cake with its buttery caramel sauce is on the menu, dive in. I promise, you’ll be dreaming about it for days.

Brazen Open Kitchen is one of those unique Iowa restaurants where every dish comes with a side of “wow.” So, book ahead, bring your appetite, and after, take the time to explore Dubuque. It’s the perfect end to a perfect meal.

Brazen Open Kitchen in Dubuque offers a fresh, innovative dining experience in a vibrant atmosphere.
Brazen Open Kitchen in Dubuque offers a fresh, innovative dining experience in a vibrant atmosphere.

9. La Juanita

When you find yourself in Sioux City, a pit stop at La Juanita is non-negotiable. Trust me, this place serves up some of the best tacos in Iowa, and that’s saying something.

Their cow tongue tacos are a revelation, paired perfectly with a refreshing pineapple water. It’s an experience that’s both unique and delicious, proving that simple can be spectacular.

La Juanita is the real deal: fantastic food, unbeatable prices, and a vibe that’s all its own. Remember, it’s a cash-only spot, so come prepared. And don’t leave without trying a burrito; they’re just as incredible as the tacos.

A heads-up about the hot sauce—it’s spicy. Consider yourself warned, but also, don’t skip it. It’s part of the adventure.

This place is a gem in the Midwest for anyone looking for cheap eats in Iowa that don’t compromise on flavor. Grab a friend, order a bunch of tacos, and dive in.

When in Sioux City, a must-stop is La Juanita for some of Iowa's best tacos.
When in Sioux City, a must-stop is La Juanita for some of Iowa’s best tacos.

10. Machine Shed

Machine Shed in Urbandale is where farm-to-table isn’t just a trend. Here, it’s a way of life. Located right next to an attraction that celebrates farm life, it couldn’t be in a more perfect spot. Heads up, though—the line can stretch long on weekends, but trust me, it’s worth the wait.

The menu’s all about big, hearty American favorites. You won’t leave hungry, that’s for sure. Eggs, meats, and the desserts? Make sure you save some space. Now, the cinnamon rolls here are something else. Imagine your regular roll but way, way bigger. Like, four times bigger.

And if you’re waiting, check out the farm-themed gift shop. It’s a cool way to kill time and snag some quirky finds. Machine Shed nails the farm-to-table vibe without trying too hard. It’s just good food in a great place. For me, this makes it one of Iowa’s coolest restaurants.

Machine Shed epitomizes farm-to-table dining next to a farm life attraction, worth the potential weekend wait.
Machine Shed epitomizes farm-to-table dining next to a farm life attraction, worth the potential weekend wait.

11. The Black Angel

The Black Angel is this cozy spot in Iowa City that feels like a cross between a quaint library and the best indie playlist you’ve ever heard. The vibe here is relaxed and inviting.

Their menu might look concise, but that’s where its charm lies. It tells you each dish is crafted with care. I went for the Des Moines po boy—Italian sausage patties with a generous serving of thick-cut ham. It was a flavor bomb in the best possible way. And getting a Caesar salad on the side? Perfect balance.

For dessert, the bread pudding was a no-brainer. Trust me when I say I practically inhaled it. Just too good to share or eat slowly.

What really struck me was the value. Dining out can really hit the wallet hard, but here, two entrees and a dessert came to $42. It’s been ages since I’ve seen that kind of deal in Iowa City.

The Black Angel is a gem for anyone looking for unique places in Iowa to eat that won’t break the bank but still delivers on quality and vibe.

The Black Angel offers a cozy vibe and carefully crafted dishes, ensuring a flavor-packed experience.
The Black Angel offers a cozy vibe and carefully crafted dishes, ensuring a flavor-packed experience. | Image Source: https://dailyiowan.com/

12. The Great Plains Sauce & Dough Co.

The Great Plains Sauce and Dough Company is the crown jewel of Iowa pizza spots. Tucked on Main Street in downtown Ames, this place has been serving up slices since 1979. And let me tell you, their pizza is legendary. We’re talking top-tier, best-in-Iowa, could-go-toe-to-toe-with-any-pizza-in-the-U.S. kind of good.

They’ve got crust options for days, but the Denver Crust is a game changer. When I say it’s heavy, I mean it. A large cheese pizza felt like it was pushing 5lbs, no joke. The sizes here don’t mess around. A small is plenty for two, unless you’ve got a serious appetite.

And here’s the kicker: they drizzle honey on the crusts. It sounds simple, but it elevates the whole pizza experience to something magical. It’s that sweet touch that has made them famous and keeps everyone, including me, coming back for more.

Great Plains is a slice of Iowa pride, serving up comfort, creativity, and community on every plate. Definitely a cool restaurant in Iowa that deserves a spot on your must-visit list.

The Great Plains Sauce & Dough Co. is one of the unique restaurants in Iowa.
The Great Plains Sauce and Dough Company in downtown Ames has been serving legendary pizza since 1979.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the quirkiest restaurants in Iowa

Are you searching for more information about where to eat in Iowa? Here are some common questions (and answers) I get asked a lot about Iowa’s most unique restaurants.

What foods are famous in Iowa?

Corn and pork tenderloin sandwiches are two of the most famous foods in Iowa. Sweet corn in summer is unbeatable.

What is Iowa’s state dish?

Iowa’s state dish is the pork tenderloin sandwich. Imagine a piece of pork, pounded thin, breaded, and fried to perfection, then tucked into a bun. It’s simple, it’s delicious, and it screams Iowa.

Iowa's state dish: Pork tenderloin sandwich, a breaded and fried delicacy.
Iowa’s state dish: Pork tenderloin sandwich, a breaded and fried delicacy. | Image Source: https://www.iowafoodandfamily.com/

What is a fun fact about Iowa?

Iowa produces more corn than any other state in the US. We’re talking about a lot of corn, enough to make it the king of corn country.

Which city is best for food in Iowa?

If you ask me, Des Moines has the best food in Iowa, making it a melting pot of culinary creativity. It offers everything from farm-to-table experiences to international cuisines, ensuring a delightful stay in Iowa.

The top restaurants in Iowa for all types of travelers
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