Travel 2 minutes 25 September 2018

Where Chefs Go: Des Moines, Iowa

Chicago chef Carrie Nahabedian likes to visit the capital city in August for the annual Iowa State Fair.

Carrie Nahabedian​ grew up in a second-generation Armenian home in Chicago's northern suburbs, working in the kitchens​ ​of the Ritz​-Carlton.​ Many years later, she became the executive​ ​chef at the ​Four​ ​Seasons​ ​Hotels​ ​in​ ​Chicago,​ ​Santa Barbara​ ​and​ ​Los​ ​Angeles.


In 2000, she and her cousin Michael Nahabedian opened NAHA, a Mediterranean restaurant in Chicago’s River North which received one Michelin star every year since 2011 before closing its doors this March. In 2009, the family duo opened Brindille—French for “twig”—which features refined Parisian bistro fare. The versatile and locally-admired chef is now working on a new restaurant to debut in Chicago, with details still in the making.

When she’s not receiving awards from the mayor of Chicago or starting a new restaurant, Nahabedian loves to go spend time in Des Moines, Iowa. “It’s a five-hour road trip, but Des Moines is quite all-American and wholesome. There is a reason Ladies’ Home Journal and Better Homes & Gardens call [it] their home base.”

Start with a coffee at Zanzibar’s Coffee Adventure, the capital city’s “first and best coffee shop,” where, she says, “you can always find a cast of regulars” while smelling freshly-roasted beans. Next, head to breakfast at la mie, a bakery by flour duo Joe and Christina Logsdon, who opened the small handmade production in 2003.

View this post on Instagram

Starting this week on a high note

A post shared by la mie bakery (@lamiebakery) on

Nahabedian also recommends the “amazing farmers’ market” where you have to find, “of course, Iowa beef and corn.” If you go in August, Nahabedian cannot recommend the annual state fair enough. “If you visit one state fair in your life, [definitely] make it the Iowa State Fair. [It’s] so much fun and [you get] to see the 4-H clubs teaching children to raise livestock, the pie baking and jams, preserves and pickle competition…plus the world-renowned Butter Sculpting Contest!”

If the weather’s nice when you’re in Des Moines, the city has three public swimming pools, 76 city parks, three golf courses and 45 miles of trails. If you want to take a boat out for the day, Gray's Lake in Gray’s Lake Park features a boat rental facility, as well as a fishing pier and floating boardwalk. For runners, the park is encircled by a lighted 1.9-mile running path called Kruidenier Trail, which is a great way to see the city and prepare for a night of eating.

lucca photo TK
lucca photo TK

For dinner, Nahabedian sends friends to Baru 66, a French bistro 10 minutes west of the city in Windsor Heights opened by serial local restaurateur David Baruthio. If your crowd eats beef, she highly recommends two steakhouses: The Original Jesse’s Embers, “where everyone knows your name,” and the “upscale steakhouse” 801 Chophouse, a “favorite of national press celebrities during caucus time.”

For scenier dinner options, Nahabedian recommends Lucca, “a small, popular space in the East Village.” For a restaurant that’s “new on the scene,” Nahabedian recommends St. Kilda Café & Bakery, owned by a “great Aussie/NYC expat who married [an] Iowan woman.” For spots that are “very popular with locals,” there’s Alba or Tursi’s Latin King, which is “an old school Italian [spot] near the Fairgrounds” that opened in 1947.

Definitely get your fill of Iowa beers at the Iowa Taproom, adds Nahabedian. If you’d prefer a more full-range cocktail bar, head to Hello, Marjorie or Juniper Moon. For a late-ish casual dinner, check out A Dong Restaurant for “a wonderful Vietnamese refugee family story and restaurant,” and “of course” Nick’s, “an Iowa tenderloin joint.”

On your way out, Nahabedian recommends visiting Herb and Kathy Eckhouse’s La Quercia, a 20-minute drive south of the city in Norwalk, for “the stunning array of prosciutto and local ham sausages and products being made,” and The Cheese Shop of Des Moines for a quick cheese board, melt or toast.


Keep Exploring - Stories we think you will enjoy reading