Vegan Des Moines round-up including Des Fresh Foods, Dirt Burger, Ice Cream El Michoacano, and Ritual Cafe. Plus, vegan shopping & local resources.
In recent years Des Moines has really stepped up its game where vegans are concerned!
It used to be that when I was visiting my hometown, it was a strain finding exciting vegan-friendly options. But nowadays, the choices are plentiful and growing.
Today I’m highlighting some of the vegan dishes on offer at restaurants, grocery stores, markets, and more. Plus, scroll to the bottom to find cruelty-free shopping options!
Des Fresh Foods
Des Fresh Foods is a vegan food truck turned restaurant in Des Moines.
The comfort food-heavy menu includes things like vegan tenderloins, chickpea nuggets, mac and cheese bites, and sweet corn cakes.
As a person who grew up in Iowa, the chickpea tenderloin scratched that nostalgia itch in a major way.
This monster sandwich is made with an oversized fried patty on a bun topped with pickles, onions, lettuce, mustard, and ketchup. They really nailed it!
The fried mac and cheese bites are pure decadence.
We also enjoyed pineapple fried rice and fried dumplings.
Update: Dirt Burger is temporarily closed until spring 2022.
Dirt Burger is a vegan fast food restaurant located in the East Village of Des Moines. As you could guess from the name, the main centerpiece of their menu is burgers.
They make the burgers in-house with buckwheat, beans, vegetables, lentils, gluten-free grains, and spices.
Because they are bean and vegetable based, the burgers themselves are on the soft side. They have the smush of an old school, homemade veggie burger versus the firmness of something seitan or pea protein-based.
The burgers are then finished with a variety of toppings.
Both times I’ve gone, I’ve ordered the Spartan (shown above). It’s topped with olive pepper relish, tzatziki, avocado, crispy onions, and greens.
My husband always orders the original, which is topped with non-dairy cheddar, ranch, onion, lettuce, and pickles.
My favorite thing I’ve ordered at Dirt Burger are the chili cheese fries. These generously smothered fries were enough for several meals. They’re topped in hearty chili and lots of melty non-dairy cheese.
Also on the menu are dirt balls. They’re similar to fried mashed potato balls. They’re quite soft on the inside – unlike French fries or tater tots. Personally, I’d stick with fries.
New World Kitchen
New World Kitchen used to have a full brick and mortar vegan restaurant in Des Moines, which I always enjoyed visiting. It’s not around anymore. But they do have a weekly pop-up for meal prep-style dishes.
Their menu changes. But expect things like mushroom & millet vegan bacon strips, cashew queso, and taco salad.
Get all of the ordering details on the New World Kitchen website.
Ritual Café is a longtime vegetarian restaurant & coffee shop in Des Moines. Most of the sandwiches on the menu can be prepared vegan. And there are several items that are vegan as-is.
I love the positive & low key vibes there. Plus, they make a perfect soy latte. (I asked for cinnamon on mine.)
The sandwiches are very homey. The toasted curried chickpea sandwich on rye includes a spread of mango chutney. It is a really unique & delicious sandwich.
I’ve also enjoyed the grilled hummus sandwich prepared vegan, as well as the sweet potato & black bean burrito, which is very flavorful.
Plain Talk Books and Coffee
Plain Talk Books & Coffee has been an East Village staple since 2009.
They recently started offering delicious vegan sandwiches with Herbivorous Butcher seitan, as well as slices & cheeses from Field Roast.
The bagels and breads come from River to River Bakery. You can taste the freshness.
The classic diner-style space is adorable. And you can also pick up some used books while you’re there.
Zombie Burger is a Des Moines favorite amongst vegans & non-vegans alike. They have locations in the East Village of downtown Des Moines and Jordan Creek.
For vegans at the downtown location, they have three burger options – a veggie nut patty, Simply Vegan burger patty, or a portobello mushroom. At Jordan Creek, only the Simply Vegan patty is available. (They used to carry the Beyond Burger, which is what’s shown here.)
My favorite thing to order is the Undead Glenn topped with shredded lettuce, pickles, and vegan zombie sauce. The zombie sauce is similar to a spicy Thousand Island dressing with sriracha instead of ketchup.
I’ve also heard high marks for the Lucile, which is topped with caramelized onions, lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, guacamole, and vegan chipotle mayo.
Order the burgers with a side of regular or sweet potato fries.
Ice Cream El Michoacano
Ice Cream El Michoacano is a casual, order-at-the-counter restaurant on Merle Hay Road. There are tables for dining in at the restaurant. Or food can be made to go.
It’s a non-vegan restaurant. However, everything at Ice Cream El Michoacano can be made vegan. That includes flautas, sopes, empanadas, burritos, tacos, and velvety refried beans.
They have soy-based vegan meat, as well as vegan cheese that I’ve heard is Follow Your Heart.
Ask at the counter for a vegan menu.
Vegan sopes are made with a layer of masa dough that’s been fried into a cup. It’s crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. They are topped with a soy-based meat, beans, lettuce, and vegan cheese.
A super delicious & decadent option!
Vegan flautas are filled with mild potatoes. The fried tortillas are topped with non-dairy cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and avocado. They are served with a fried jalapeño on the side.
Vegan refried beans are topped with non-dairy cheese and guacamole.
They said that typically they serve a thin avocado sauce as their guacamole. But if you want a chunky guacamole, just ask for the thick style.
The guacamole has lots of bright lime flavors and tastes very fresh. The refried beans are beautifully smooth.
Of course, you can also get tacos. They offer a variety of sauces & styles. My husband is especially a fan of their pineapple salsa.
Since “ice cream” is in the name, you may be wondering if they have vegan ice cream as well. It’s my understanding that they offer mango chile & lime non-dairy flavors. Although, I haven’t spent a lot of time exploring the ice cream case.
Lucky Lotus is a Southeast Asian restaurant on Ingersoll Avenue with lots of vegan options.
The interior has a really attractive design with paper lanterns & parasols hanging from the ceiling. And the order counter looks like an outdoor food stall with a corrugated metal roof.
The menu is clearly labeled with leaves next to what can be prepared vegan. In addition to the usual tofu for a plant-based protein option, they also have Soy Curls!
The drunken noodles with tofu includes fat rice noodles in a spicy chili basil sauce with plenty of vegetables.
The massuman curry is made with coconut milk, potatoes, green beans, and carrots.
I also recommend the summer red curry, bing bing wrap with drunken master Soy Curls, and banana blossom salad.
The portion sizes are super generous. Come ready to share or to have leftovers!
Gursha Ethiopian Grill
When you need Ethiopian food in a hurry, you can’t beat Gursha in the Drake neighborhood. Simply order at the counter. Then wots are ladled onto injera right in front of you.
Plus, all of the vegetarian options are fully vegan, which means you have lots of options. My favorites at Gursha are missir wot with berbere seasoned lentils and alicha with cabbage, carrots, and potatoes.
Ordering for one? Pick two vegetarian wots of your choice. Or if you’re going with another person, have all of the vegetarian wots on one plate to share (shown above).
If you’re not a fan of injera, they also offer rice.
Open Sesame Lebanese café is a located in the Des Moines East Village. It’s a small space, but decorated in such a way that feels like a special, hidden gem.
The vegan options are not marked on the menu. However, when we were there, the staff had no problem pointing us to vegan dishes and/or telling us how to modify non-vegan offerings.
The vegetarian sampler plate is vegan by default. It’s loaded with hummus, baba ganoush, falafel, tabouli, and dolmas.
They’re open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday from 11-2, and for dinner from 5:30-8. They are closed Sunday & Monday.
Gusto Pizza Company
Gusto Pizza Company is a non-vegan pizza shop with lots of vegan topping options.
Gusto uses Daiya cutting board shreds for their vegan pizzas. Regular Daiya isn’t my favorite. So I was really impressed by the big improvement of the mozzarella cutting board shreds on their dairy-free pies.
Their vegan topping options include: Impossible sausage, roma tomatoes, cremini mushrooms, kalamata olives, a variety of peppers, onions (red, green & yellow), Giardiniera relish, green olive relish, diced apples, capers, pineapple, black bean corn salsa, butternut squash, and artichokes.
5 Borough Bagels
When 5 Borough Bagels owners, Sarah & Toney Chem, moved to Iowa from NYC, they decided to take a doughy piece of the Big Apple with them.
They offer a variety of freshly made New York-style bagels. They have two vegan filling offerings – spinach artichoke and cinnamon walnut. Both fillings are tofu-based and taste homemade.
The spinach artichoke spread reminds me of Kristy’s tofu chèvre with a definite taste of tofu and highlights of spinach and artichoke. The cinnamon walnut has big chunks of walnuts and some sweetness to make it more of a dessert-style filling.
They don’t skimp on the spread, which I appreciate. It pushes the bagel into meal category. They can be topped with additional vegetable slices as well.
Toney suggested adding cucumber, tomato, and spinach to my spinach & artichoke spread on an everything bagel. You know how I love a good bagel sandwich. This was perfection.
With the exception of the chocolate chip bagels and cheese bagels, the rest of the bagel options are vegan.
They also have three types of non-dairy milk available for coffee drinks. Soy, almond, and coconut milk are on the menu.
Malo is a Latin restaurant in downtown Des Moines with a nice outdoor patio and a few vegan items – including a vegan burrito with refried beans & tater tots, portobello tacos, and crispy onion & avocado taco.
The onion & avocado taco comes with fresh avocado, chipotle crema made with cashews, pico de gallo, and crispy onions like you might find on green beans at Thanksgiving.
The Portobello taco is topped with guacamole and salsa roja. The Portobello mushrooms are marinated in a spicy chili sauce.
All of the tacos can be served on corn or flour tortillas.
I was prepared to have the avocado tacos be my far and away favorite, but the Portobello mushroom tacos came in for a surprising win. They had a good spicy kick to them and a well-rounded flavor.
For more of a sit-down restaurant vibe, Cool Basil in Clive is a great option.
While this Thai restaurant isn’t entirely vegan, they’re happy to prepare dishes without fish sauce, oyster sauce, and eggs when possible. You just have to ask.
Plus, when you get your receipt at the end of the meal, the words “no fish sauce, no oyster sauce” are printed right on it. That gives some assurance that the message got through to the back of the house.
They don’t offer seitan. However, tofu is available or they can replace meat with extra vegetables.
I like to get something different every time I go, as there are plenty of vegan-izable options to go around to vary your order.
Fong’s Pizza has a few locations – downtown Des Moines, Drake area, Ankeny, and Cedar Rapids. It is a quirky, divey restaurant, specializing in unusual pizzas.
The downtown Des Moines location has expanded its vegan offerings. And the menu is clearly marked.
It includes things like cauliflower wings, edamame hummus, and garlic cheese bread made with Violife for appetizers. For your entrée, look for avocado rangoon pizza, Asian cobb salad, or build your own pizza.
The other locations outside of downtown Des Moines have fewer vegan options.
When we were at Fong’s a long while back, we ordered one half and half pizza. Mushrooms, tomatoes, bell pepper, and onions on one side. On the other, sauerkraut and potatoes.
The potatoes taste like they are simply blanched and sliced, as opposed to being browned on the stove or seasoned in any way. The pizza was pretty bland.
But I’d be interested in revisiting it now that they have expanded their options. The atmosphere is fun. And they have late hours, which is nice.
Another pizza option in downtown Des Moines is Blaze Pizza. They also have vegan cheese on the menu, and they cook them in a brick oven. Read all about Blaze Pizza in this post on vegan fast food.
For a sit-down option, Centro in downtown Des Moines has some vegan options.
Tofu gnocchi is on both the dinner and weekend brunch menus. The dish includes lots of vegetables in a coating of garlicky olive oil.
When I had this dish, I found it to be inoffensive but dull. It reminded me of something you might get a hotel restaurant, where they’re feeding a lot of guests from around the globe and don’t want to be too daring with flavor.
Although I almost never use one in a restaurant, I was glad there was a salt shaker on the table to add something. I’ve heard that asking for marinara sauce instead makes for a more tempting dish.
Centro has wood-fired pizzas on offer, which can be ordered without cheese – like the one we ordered with tomato, basil, and mushroom. It also came with a small salad on the side.
Centro offers brunch on the weekend. And it’s one of the few places in town that has a tofu scramble. It’s served with potatoes & fruit.
Railroad Bill’s Dining Car
The space is small, and it can get busy on weekends. So you may have a wait. There’s a small outdoor eating area as well.
The vegan Bill’s Breakfast comes with a turmeric-heavy tofu scramble, toast, home fries, and your choice of sausage or rice crackling. The scramble is on the oily side & dotted with bell peppers and onions. I prefer more seasonings in my scramble.
The rice crackling tastes like a fried rice cake with soy sauce on top. It’s okay, but I’d stick with the veggie sausage.
Other vegan Des Moines stores & resources:
Veg Life Des Moines
VegLife Des Moines is an awesome non-profit that hosts vegan meet-ups & potlucks, restaurant tours, and a yearly Vegan Fest.
Connect with them on their website or Facebook page to keep up with the events they are organizing throughout the year.
The Collective is a vegan + sustainable shop downtown. Look for natural body products like razors with replaceable blades, deodorants, and body butters.
You can do bulk refills of soaps, shampoos, and cleaning sprays. While I was there, I picked up bamboo toothbrushes and wooden tops for my mason jars.
They are open Wednesday through Sunday. You can also find them doing pop-up occasional pop-ups throughout the summer. Follow them on Instagram or Facebook to stay up to date.
MARNē is a sustainable + vegan boutique in the East Village. They sell quality, high-end staples like tops, bottoms, and dresses. You can also find vegan bags, shoes, and body products. I spied several pairs of Matt & Nat shoes while I was there.
They are open Tuesday to Sunday.
Des Moines Farmers Market
The downtown farmers market runs from the first Saturday in May through the last Saturday in October.
It has a festive, fair-like atmosphere with food vendors, locally grown produce, live music, arts and crafts. It’s a great place to meet up with friends and enjoy the summer vibes.
Grab a smoothie, juice, or raw tacos at the Fresh Café & Market tent at the corner of 3rd & Court Avenue.
Vegan donuts at West Des Moines Whole Foods
(Although, Icon Donuts in Cedar Falls & Waterloo has rotating vegan options. Read about it in my vegan Cedar Falls guide!)
But before you get in the car and start driving for hours to cure your donut cravings, visit Whole Foods in West Des Moines instead.
They sell vegan donuts in their bakery. You can buy them individually. Or they sell them in packages of six.
FYI: These are not yeast-raised donuts. You won’t find a puffy glazed donut or cream filled vegan long john here. They are cake donuts. I’m typically not a cake donut fan. But for cake donuts, these are quite good & very fresh.
While you are at Whole Foods, be sure to pick up a slice of cake from Chicago Diner in their bakery case.
Content updated November 27, 2021. Originally posted June 24, 2014.