Vegan Des Moines round-up including Brightside Kitchen, Zombie Burger, Ice Cream El Michoacano, Open Sesame, and vegan donuts at Whole Foods.
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 Des Moines options at restaurants, food trucks, and grocery stores.
Brightside Kitchen is a vegan establishment tucked inside of Mercy’s Health & Fitness Center in Clive, Iowa.
They serve plant-based fare for breakfasts, lunches, and some dinners throughout the week. They also serve brunch on Saturdays.
The eatery focuses on whole foods, plant-based cuisine. Order at the counter and then you can eat it at one of the handful of tables or take it to go.
They offer smoothies, soup, salads, wraps, sandwiches, and a bowl of the day that changes throughout the week.
On one visit, I ordered the special – a Mexican-inspired bowl. It was made with seasoned lentils, roasted vegetables, and a fresh green salad. It was popping with flavor and incredibly fresh. There was enough left over for lunch the next day.
(I enjoyed it so much, I made my own vegan burrito bowl inspired by it when I got home!)
I also had one of their signature BBQ sporc sandwiches at an Iowa Farm Sanctuary event. It’s pictured at the top of this post.
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.
One note about the East Village location – it does get busy. So if you’re going during a popular mealtime, prepare for a wait.
My favorite thing to order is the Undead Glenn, which is the Beyond Burger topped with shredded lettuce, pickles, and vegan zombie sauce. (My husband orders this one with a double patty, like a vegan Big Mac.)
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 the Beyond Burger topped with caramelized onions, lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, guacamole, and vegan chipotle mayo.
Zombie Burger really gets the Beyond Burger preparation right – crispy around the edges and meaty on the inside. Plus, the bun is nice and fresh. The downtown location also offers vegan cheese for an extra charge.
Order the burgers with a side of regular or sweet potato fries. Just make sure to get them without any non-vegan dressing.
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.
Dirt Burger is a vegan fast food restaurant located in the East Village of Des Moines. (It was formerly the space of Tacopocalypse.)
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.
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 are now selling vegan donuts in their bakery. You can buy them individually. Or they sell them in packages of six for $10.99.
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.
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.
I had the vegetarian sampler plate with hummus, baba ganoush, falafel, tabouli, and dolmas. It is vegan by default.
Everything was excellent, even the tabouli, which I don’t typically like. (I’m not a big parsley fan.) However, the tabouli had a perfect hit of lemon to balance the bitterness of the parsley.
They’re open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday from 11-2, and for dinner from 5:30-9. They are closed Sunday & Monday.
Gusto Pizza Company
Gusto Pizza Company is a non-vegan pizza shop with lots of vegan topping options.
They have four locations – one on Ingersoll Avenue, two in West Des Moines, and one in Johnston. But I’ve only personally visited the Ingersoll location.
Gusto is a great place to go with a group, because there are plenty of long tables. And the menu is huge – meaning everyone can get exactly what they want.
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: house-made vegan 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
One of my favorite low cost things to do whenever I’m visiting New York City is to walk into almost any random bagel shop and get a vegan bagel.
In places like Iowa, vegan bagel toppings are usually limited to peanut butter or hummus. But in New York City, non-dairy bagel spreads abound with fillings like olives and mixed vegetables in their vegan cream cheese.
When I’m in the city, I’ll pick up a toasted bagel, filled to the max, and walk to Central Park to sit on a rock and tuck into breakfast.
Now that experience can be repeated at 5 Borough Bagels in Clive. (Sorry. Central Park not included.)
When owners, Sarah & Toney Chem, moved to Iowa from NYC, they decided to take a doughy piece of the Big Apple with them.
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.
David opted for the cinnamon walnut spread on a sesame seed bagel, which he also enjoyed. The bagels were fresh and chewy, just like you want.
With the exception of the chocolate chip bagels and cheese bagels, the rest of the bagel options are vegan.
Toney checked with their bagel baker, and she confirmed that the seeded bagels do not include an egg wash. The seeds are applied right after the bagels are boiled.
They also have three types of non-dairy milk available for coffee drinks. Soy, almond, and coconut milk are on the menu. My husband ordered a black coffee, and I went with a soy latte. Both were full-bodied and delicious.
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.
Malo is a Latin restaurant in downtown Des Moines with a nice outdoor patio and a few menu items that are vegan upon request – including a portobello taco & crispy onion and avocado taco.
The onion & avocado taco is vegan by default. It 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 vegan by request. (Just ask them to leave off the queso fresco.) It’s 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.
They have one listed vegan pizza on the menu, or you have the option of building your own. The white crust is vegan, but the whole wheat isn’t since it contains honey.
They offer Daiya for vegan cheese. Or you can go cheeseless, as is my preference. For the base, you can go with marinara or olive oil.
When we were there, 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 if you happen to be in Des Moines, 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. Although it is a fast food-style pizza experience, I actually prefer the flavor of Blaze Pizza over Fong’s. 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 pizzas on offer, which can be ordered without cheese. David went that route and ordered a tomato, basil, and mushroom pizza. He also got a small salad on the side.
He liked the wood-fired flavor of the crust, but didn’t think it would be a pizza he’d go out of his way to get again.
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.
Des Fresh Foods
Des Fresh Foods is a vegan food truck in Des Moines.
The menu & location changes, of course, but has included things like a chick sandwich, mac and cheese bites, summer squash tacos, street corn, and lotus cookie.
I recommend going early, as when I went it was near the end of the night. And they were running out of food.
Other vegan Des Moines resources & news:
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.
Originally posted June 2014. Content updated January 2020.