EXPLORE: Classic Eats

By Cyote Williams

Each of these restaurants has been operating in central Iowa for at least 30 years, and many of them much longer. Their flavors have been satisfying generations of Des Moines metro mouths.

2900 University Ave., West Des Moines
It’s a little hard to believe that there’s an incredible selection or delicious seafood in a landlocked state such as Iowa, but Waterfront has made that hard to believe feeling a reality for decades. What began as a pickup truck has expanded into one of the area’s best spots for a seafood experience. The market and restaurant combo sources the finest seafood from all over the world and brings it right to your plate.

2400 Ingersoll Ave., Des Moines
This classic Italian restaurant has been in business for more than 75 years. What simply began as a lunch counter caterer in the 1940s has bloomed into one of Des Moines’ most recognizable dining establishments. The homemade bread is to die for, and you can’t go wrong with any of their authentic Italian dishes for lunch, dinner, sit down or takeout.

205 Fifth St., West Des Moines
Located in Valley Junction, The Tavern has some of the best pizza that central Iowa has to offer. Many of the items you’ll find on the menu have been there since the restaurant’s inception. Their thin crust style pizza hits double-digits in terms of options, all just as good as the last to share with friends and family. Or enjoy all by yourself, we won’t judge.

2816 Beaver Ave., Des Moines
This staple business in the Beaverdale area recently celebrated its 50-year anniversary. Christopher’s opened in 1963 and is known for its delightful Italian-American cuisine, incredible customer service and a warm, inviting atmosphere — not to mention a tasteful dessert menu and wide range of cocktails. Christopher’s has something that can make any date night dinner a special one.

3610 Sixth Ave., Des Moines
Since 1956, Chuck’s Restaurant has been serving Des Moines faithful great tasting meals. The thin-crust pizza is baked in the storefront’s windows to let you in on the decades-old process. Chuck’s underwent a massive renovation in 2020 and came out on the other side with an updated look and the same great food.

2320 S. Union St., Des Moines
Barrata’s has been a southside Des Moines staple for more than five decades. It has since opened a location downtown. Barrata’s has some of the richest Italian flavors practically baked into their walls — especially of authentic dishes such as their lasagna al forno, steak deburgo and cannolis. The menu has had some American dishes added to the repertoire over the years, and they are done just as well as the dishes that garnered the restaurant its reputation.

5810 Merle Hay Road, Johnston
Trostel’s Greenbriar opened in 1987, which, at 37 years old, makes it one of the infants on this list, but there’s no denying the excellence in the dishes proudly served there. The restaurant is a great location for hosting a dinner party with family and plenty elegant enough to be the spot you choose for your anniversary dinner. An extensive wine list ensures customers will surely find something that pairs well with whichever dish they choose.

3700 S.W. Ninth St., Des Moines
This family-owned business has been proudly serving the southside of Des Moines since 1971. It nearly closed at one point, but the community rallied to keep it in business. The establishment serves favorites like coney dogs, tenderloins, cheeseburgers and specialty gyros. Don’t forget the other Coney Islands either, with downtown’s Ted’s or Ted’s West in West Des Moines.

1401 Army Post Road, Des Moines
Since 1952, Smitty has been telling all to try his famous tenderloin, and plenty have agreed, to their benefit. The thinly cut, ultra-tender and incredibly delicious sandwich is the restaurant’s staple and is a good reason why they’ve been in business for more than 70 years. Their onion rings are also just as fantastic, and they have malts for a sweet treat afterwards.

3301 Ingersoll Ave., Des Moines
The original Jesse’s Embers was established in 1963. The family-owned steak and seafood restaurant has developed a great relationship with its customer base over the years that keeps them coming back for more. The selection of steaks will have your mouth watering, and the seafood menu has all the best bits from salmon to bluefin tuna to beer battered lobster tails.

611 37th St., Des Moines
First opening in Valley Junction in the 1940s before eventually moving just off Ingersoll, El Patio claims to be Des Moines’ oldest Mexican Restaurant. Much like the name, it features a fantastic patio for a lovely outdoor dining experience. El Patio offers tasty margaritas, if you’re in the mood for one, and plenty of the best Mexican cuisine.