Des Moines home to many must-visit ‘food gems’

Column by Tom Scearce

Tom Scearse-w2000-h2000Coming to college, I was worried.

I saw the shows and read the books that depicted the horrors of college cafeteria food.

Coming from Chicago, I was worried  there wouldn’t be many places to get great food off campus.

But once I got to campus, I was pleasantly surprised.

Not only was I surprised at how good the cafeteria food is, I also found that there are a ton of great eateries to get you off campus and provide you with a satisfying meal.

Des Moines has many “food gems” that will surely satisfy, no matter what kind of craving you have.

Here are my top picks for the best late night snack, dinner date, burger and Mexican food places.

Best Late Night Snack | Abelardo’s | 2510 Ingersoll Ave

Late-night study grinds with my roommates are what brought me to Abelardo’s.

I’ll be honest, when my roommate suggested we get burritos at 1:30 a.m., I was not swayed. Why would I want a burrito that early? But I decided to trust the true Iowan.

We pulled up to this small-looking shack that has a 24-hour drive thru, and it seemed very sketch.

Walking in, there were only a few people there enjoying a meal.

What I was surprised to learn is that Abelardo’s is actually a full Mexican restaurant. They just get a lot of business late at night.

In fact, they were ranked by CityView as the best place to chow down after 2 a.m. a few years back.

The breakfast burritos are what got me.

A delicious blend of potatoes, onions, peppers and hot sauce is what makes up my favorite: “The Arizona.”

However, you also can’t beat the traditional bacon-and-egg burrito. Burritos are a simple $6 with full dinner items going up from there.

I know a burrito may not sound the best when you’re cramming for economics at 2 a.m., but trust me, Abelardo’s will change your thinking.

Best Dinner Date | Centro | 1003 Locust St

Centro is truly a Des Moines food gem.

Situated in the heart of downtown, its calm and collected environment, quick service and array of options give it a classy, upscale feeling, making it perfect for that first date dinner.

Not too fancy, but still somewhat classy.

The menu has anything you could want on it: seafood, burgers, sandwiches, pasta, salads, pizza and much more.

I highly recommend the “Chicken & Prosciutto.”

Absolutely stupendous. Centro even offers a full bar.

With its classiness comes a more expensive price tag. Entrees can range anywhere from $5 to $30.

Centro’s lively, casual-yet-upscale atmosphere makes it perfect for almost any dining experience.

Just be sure to call in advance. Reservations can fill up quickly.

Best Burger | Zombie Burger + Drink Lab | 300 E. Grand Avenue

I had heard great stories of Zombie Burger on every tour I took as a prospective student. So in September when my friends wanted to get off campus, I was the first to suggest it.

The zombie theme is apparent right as you enter with two life-size zombie statues standing near the doorway and pictures across the walls of Des Moines citizens depicted as zombies in the midst of an apocalypse.

There are two sides to the restaurant: one is to-go and the other is sit down.

The menu boasts an extreme array of items. Appetizers include fried brussels sprouts, fried cheese curds, crispy fried pickles and zombie nachos.

The burgers are, obviously, the highlight of the menu.

If you eat enough of them, you surely will become a zombie. Burgers topped with mac and cheese, guacamole, peanut butter and banana and even grilled cheese sandwiches for the buns make up the menu.

If you’re in the mood for a challenge, try the “Walking Ched.” This behemoth of a burger boasts bacon, cheddar cheese, onions, mayo, mac and cheese and two deep fried macaroni and cheese croquettes as buns.

I’m honestly shocked that I’m here writing this article after taking on that challenge. If you’re up for dessert, top off your burger with a milkshake.

Depending on whether you get one, two or three patties on your burger, burgers can range from $4 to $12.

If you ever get so hungry you think you can eat anything, remember Zombie Burger and its motto: “Eat burgers, not brains.”

Best Mexican Food | Tacopocalypse | 621 Des Moines St

It was actually sheer luck that led me to experience the glory that is Tacopocalypse.

My friends and I were actually planning on going to Zombie Burger (see “Best Burger” category) one day, and once we got there we were greeted with a two-hour wait.

So we decided to continue walking, and we came across this restaurant that very well fit the definition of “hole-in-the-wall,” and I mean that in every possible positive way.

We ended up cancelling our reservation at Zombie Burger, and I can’t tell you how glad I am that we did.

Upon entering, you are greeted with a modest, “homey” feel with wooden floors and bare brick walls.

A dozen or so tables with chairs are scattered throughout. At the back is the order counter garnered with a chalkboard menu.

All of this combined with the relatively small space makes for a more casual, cozy dining experience.

The prices are definitely suitable for the college student budget, ranging from $3 for a taco to $8 for a rather large burrito.

I had the Bacon Chorizo Grilled Cheese and it was superb. I tried some of my friend’s “I can’t believe it’s not breakfast burrito,” and I already know I’m getting that the next time I’m there.

I could go on for hours on their Chorizo alone, but that’s an article for another day.

The next time you’re in the mood for a good burrito, pass on Chipotle and get over to Tacopocalypse.

Scearce is a first-year news-Internet major and can be reached at


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