A Vegan Guide to Des Moines

The Iowa capital is one example of how Middle America is getting hip to the sustainable future of food and fashion.


Iowa might seem like an unlikely place for a vegan hotspot, but an array of eateries, shopping, and activities in Des Moines is changing perceptions. Known as a city that has a river running through it, Des Moines’ major industries are insurance and finance. What many do not know is the vibrancy of this city and the creative quirkiness that has spread throughout the past 15 years. Des Moines is particularly fun to visit during the summer months, as locals enjoy the outdoors after being inside for winter. Explore the best of Des Moines with our guide to one of the underrated gems of the Midwest.
Where to Dine
Part of the reason Des Moines is so vegan-friendly is the plethora of dining options. For instance, Krunkwich Ramen House features many plant-based dishes, including vegan ramen noodles, tater tots with secret spices, and vegan Burnt Ends, which is crispy seitan with smoked onions and barbecue sauce topped with slaw and pickled cucumbers. Also, with a name such as “Tacopacalypse,” you know menu items like tacos with tofu or vegan chorizo and a seitan andouille poblano potato burrito with smoky tomato sauce are going to be crazy-good. Furthermore, A Dong is the local go-to spot for veggie spring rolls, curried tofu and vegetables, and an array of stir-fry options that can be made with tofu. While those looking for Indian food can find Alu Mattar (green peas and potatoes) and Alu Palak (spinach and potatoes) at Indian Star. Finally, if an eclectic mix of zombie art, mannequins, and veggie burgers sound like a fun time, visit Zombie Burger for a scary good time.
What to Do
In addition to great vegan eats, Des Moines also boasts a growing music scene punctuated by the 80/35 Music Festival (referring to the highways I-80 and I-35) in July. This annual event has hosted an impressive list of acts including Weezer, Flaming Lips, and Modest Mouse (the 2017 lineup will be announced April 4). If you’re looking for a side of food with your shopping, head to Valley Junction, where, for a few weekends each summer, the entire shopping district is blocked off to cars so people can walk and enjoy live music and local vendors. And if you’re in the area, you might as well grab a bite at Café Su, home to vegan options such as vegetable tempura blossom, vegetable array, vegetable curry turnovers, edamame, and veggie hot and sour soup. Just outside of Des Moines in Marengo is Iowa Farm Sanctuary, a small operation that rescues and cares for wayward farmed animals. Opened in 2015, the sanctuary is home to Carl the cow, Monkey the pig, and Matty the sheep (and many more furry friends). Tours are available of the property, while an array of on-site and online fundraisers help provide care for the rescued animals.
Where to Shop
Organic Bamboo Clothing in West Des Moines offers a wide array of vegan clothing for men, women, and children, as well as bamboo sheets and towels for the home. For those heading to downtown Des Moines, check out the historic East Village, an area featuring modern boutiques such as Wanderlust (a women’s boutique that sells cruelty-free items such as seasonally appropriate faux fur flip-flops) and Velvet Coat, where you’ll find an array of women’s clothing, accessories, and shoes that match your cruelty-free lifestyle. The East Village is also where you’ll find Preservation, a vintage and modern store that’s home to an on-site photography studio where shoppers can document their chic couture.
Deanna Dylan Scott is the author of One Vegan Mama.

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