Vegan Eating in Des Moines: Fresh Cafe & Market

For an updated review of Fresh Cafe & Market, check out this post from June 2014.

Earlier this week I visited a vegetarian café in Des Moines, Iowa called Fresh Café & Market.  Most of the menu is vegan, and the vegetarian items have a vegan option (i.e. Daiya instead of cow’s milk cheese).  Fresh Café & Market is easy to miss, as it’s tucked on a side street in West Des Moines in a building that looks more like an office building or dentist’s office than a restaurant.  It shares the building with the School of Classical Ballet & Dance.  Once inside, though, the space is cute and well lit with that wonderful, tell tale smell of raw restaurants.  The scent of smoothies and wheatgrass fills the air like fresh cut grass on a sticky, summer day.

There’s a small bar with 50’s diner-style chairs and several tables for group dining.   The menu options of salads, soups, sandwiches, juices, and smoothies are clearly labeled vegetarian, vegan, raw, soy-free, and wheat-free.  As an added bonus, any salad can be a wrap or vice versa.  Patrons order at the counter and then meals are brought to the tables.

Their soups are always vegan, and when I was there broccoli cheddar was the offering of the day.  The cup of soup was a light starter to the meal, with large chunks of broccoli.   The soup was thinner than I’d typically expect with a strong flavor of nutritional yeast.  Luckily, I’m a big fan of nutritional yeast, and so that wasn’t a negative.  I think adding some pureed potato or cauliflower would give the soup a pleasant added oomph and body.

Raw pasta – $7.50

For the entrée I had their raw pasta made with spiralized zucchini in a tomato sauce topped with a pesto of basil, mixed raw nuts, nutritional yeast, garlic and olive oil.  The zucchini-based pasta is served on a large bed of spinach.

Finding a dish like this in the middle of Iowa is such a boon.  Surprising as it may sound, I rarely order salads at non-vegetarian restaurants.  It seems that in meat-centric restaurants, they count on flesh or animal-based cheese to be the highlight of the salads.  The actual vegetables can be on the meager side with iceberg or romaine lettuce, a few shreds of carrot, and maybe a couple of cucumber slices.  This raw meal was the opposite of that.  The flavors were fresh and vibrant, and twirling zucchini around my fork gave the meal body.  I liked how the spinach wilted in the sauce as I ate it, breaking it down, and soaking it in flavor.

Roasted Sweet Potato & Wild Rice –$8.50

My husband ordered the Roasted Sweet Potato & Wild Rice salad and had them make it as a wrap.  Large, roasted chunks of sweet potatoes and wild rice were tossed in spices and served with spinach in a tortilla.  My husband was surprised that the roasted sweet potatoes and rice were served cold since they are cooked ingredients, but enjoyed it otherwise.  (They mention in the menu that all wraps can be toasted upon request, and that would probably warm those cold ingredients.)  Although it wasn’t mentioned in the menu, they added hummus to the wrap, which he liked a lot and felt it unified the wrap in terms of flavor.

I’m sure we’ll be back to Fresh Café & Market on a future trip to Des Moines.  In the middle of Iowa, it’s exciting to find this kind of truly healthy fare.  True to its name, the vegetables popped.  That said, if you’re in a rush, be aware that everything is made to order, and there can be a bit of a wait.  (For more options of vegan-friendly restaurants in Des Moines, check out this post.)

Fresh Café & Market is located at 1721 Twenty Fifth Street Suite 110, West Des Moines, Iowa.  Their hours are Monday-Thursday 11-7, Friday 11-5, and Saturday 11-3.


  1. says

    Oh my goodness, your pasta looks so wonderful. I love spiralized zucchini and can’t wait until it becomes abundant this summer so I can use my sadly neglected spiralizer again. Was the sauce warmed? Sometimes I really enjoy cold, raw food, and sometimes I need the comfort of a little warmth. If I ever find myself in Des Moines, I’ll know where to go!

    • Cadry says

      I love spiralized zucchini too! It’s surprising what a simple change in shape can do in terms of interest. When I saw that Groupon recently had a sale on the spiralizer, I had to get one. It had been on my wish list for a long time! The sauce wasn’t warmed; however, since the soup was warm and the entree was cold, it was a good variety of temperatures.

  2. says

    I sure hope this kind of restaurant catches on across America. It can be very hard to eat vegan unless you want plain ol’ spaghetti…and who wants to pay out-to-eat-prices for that?

    • Cadry says

      My husband and I drove across country a couple of years ago, and I was pleasantly surprised at how we were able to find restaurants like this in nearly every state that we passed. While not every city is there yet, it seems like the demand for restaurants like this one is growing. I’m with you – I don’t have any desire to pay restaurant prices for spaghetti. That’s why if I have to eat out at a non-vegetarian restaurant, I’m much more likely to choose Indian, Thai, Mediterranean, or pizza. At least with those cuisines, I feel like I get my money’s worth.

  3. Michelle says

    Thanks for introducing me to such a hidden treasure in West Des Moines! I shared your post with a co-worker and she wants to go there for lunch ASAP. I’d love to try the raw pasta, but I can’t resist the wrap & smoothie combo. Yum!

    • Cadry says

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for indulging me in trying something new! If you go again, let me know what you get. I haven’t explored the entrees outside of the raw pasta, and I’m interested in knowing what I’m missing!

  4. says

    What a cute little cafe! I’d really like to try the raw pasta. We often drive through Des Moines when we go to Chicago to visit Erik’s brother, so I’ll have to remember this restaurant the next time we go–it will give us a nice little break and a chance to try something new and enjoy some healthful “road trip” food that won’t be too heavy when we have hours left to drive.

    • Cadry says

      It’s worth checking out the next time you and Erik are going through Des Moines. There’s also a vegetarian cafe and coffee shop in the downtown area called Ritual Cafe that makes a delicious grilled vegetable and hummus sandwich. (I wrote about it here: If you make it further east, there are also a few places in Iowa City that make some tempting vegan treats.

    • Cadry says

      Thanks, Gigi! Hearty soups are definitely my preference. Every once in a while I’ll do something on the lighter side like the Veganomicon Chickpea Noodle (which is top notch). However, I usually like my soup to have more weight to it.

  5. says

    That wrap is calling my name! Good call on David’s part having the salad turned into a wrap. That pasta looks super gorgeous as well!

    Isn’t it satisfying to find little hidden gems, where you least expect it? I love that you were able to find such a great place (somewhat) near your home. Should I find myself in Iowa, I know exactly where to go! :-)

    • Cadry says

      Yes, it’s such a treat to find interesting raw vegan choices in the middle of the Midwest! It seems like the reach of healthy plant based fare is getting farther and farther. This restaurant isn’t close to my home, but it is in a city where I have lots of friends and family. It’s great having more choices when going out to eat. If you find yourself in Iowa, I will be happy to show you around! :)

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