Vegan Des Moines round-up including Des Fresh Foods, Cinnaholic, Lucky Lotus, 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 across Iowa’s capital city.
Plus, scroll to the bottom to find cruelty-free shopping options!
In this post:
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.
The fried tacos are also excellent.
Des Moines now has a location of the vegan cinnamon roll franchise, Cinnaholic!
They’re located on Grand in the East Village. The location is not far from Zombie Burger, and just around the corner from Raygun.
They have gourmet, create-your-own cinnamon rolls.
Plus, tempting treats like brownies and cookies. (The chocolate chip cookies are SO GOOD.)
Everything there is vegan, egg-free, and dairy-free.
We went with a cinnamon roll topped with vanilla frosting and strawberries.
And a second one topped with almond frosting and caramel drizzle.
They’re served fresh, hot, and undeniably delicious.
They also sell vegan soft serve ice cream. You can enjoy it in a cone. Or have it in a bowl with any of their cinnamon roll toppings.
There’s seating inside with tables, couches, and a bar facing the window. Plus, there are a couple of tables outside to escape the crowds.
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.
Here are some of my favorite options:
- Bing bing wrap with tofu (I LOVE a scallion pancake!)
- Crispy rice wraps (Or enjoy the fillings sans wrap in a Nam Khao platter.)
- Pad Thai with veggies & tofu
- Fiery Monk with tofu
The portion sizes are super generous.
Come ready to share or to have leftovers!
Plain Talk Books and Coffee
Plain Talk Books & Coffee has been an East Village staple since 2009.
A while back they started offering delicious vegan sandwiches with Herbivorous Butcher seitan, as well as slices & cheeses from Field Roast.
Ask for their separate vegan menu, where they have sandwiches like a chickpea tuna melt, buffalo grilled cheese, BLT bagel sandwich, and build your own offerings.
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.
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.
The sandwiches are very homey.
The toasted curried chickpea sandwich called “Sweet & Spicy” is served on rye. It 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.
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.
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, Beyond Meat patty, or a portobello mushroom.
At Jordan Creek, only the Beyond Meat patty is available.
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.
Vegan cheese is available for an additional charge.
Order the burgers with a side of regular or sweet potato fries.
El Michoacano Taqueria
El Michoacano Taqueria 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 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 or visit their website to see the 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.
During warm weather months, vegan food truck, Veggie Thumper, brings plant based comfort food to the Des Moines metro.
For dessert, don’t miss the fudge bars, which are guaranteed to melt in your mouth.
They also have occasional specialty pop-ups around holidays in cooler months. Keep an eye on their Instagram page for details.
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.
Gusto Pizza Company
Gusto Pizza Company is a non-vegan pizza shop on Ingersoll Avenue with lots of vegan topping options.
For crusts they have both Detroit & New York style pizzas.
The vegan Supreme Detroit style pizza is especially delicious with Impossible sausage, mushrooms, peppers, and onions.
The crust is wonderfully thick & crisp around the square edges.
Malo is a Latin restaurant in downtown Des Moines with a nice outdoor patio.
They have a few vegan items including:
- Vegan burrito with refried beans & tater tots
- Portobello tacos (A good spicy kick and well-rounded flavor!)
- Crispy onion & avocado taco
Vegan chorizo is also available for an additional charge.
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.
Ceviche Bar is located in the East Village in downtown Des Moines.
They really make the most of the small space, which is beautifully decorated.
And there’s also patio dining outside.
In addition to a variety of cocktails and non-vegan options, they have a separate vegan menu.
The vegan menu is basically made up of side dishes and veggies they’re already using on the main menu, just with the meat removed. (For a reduced cost too, which I appreciate.)
They have rice and beans either with grilled yuca or tostones, a salad, or paella.
They also have a vegan Cubano sandwich with no vegan meats, but instead romaine, sautéed peppers, capers, and asparagus.
The vegan paella comes with corn, bell peppers, green beans, onions, and a few spears of asparagus. On the side, several slices of Texas toast.
The dish was supposed to be served with fried plantains, which was a big selling point for me. But when I ordered it, they were nowhere to be found.
The paella was fine, but oily & salty. There’s room for more flavor.
(I had paella leftover. So when I got home, I added smoked tofu to it, as well as pickled jalapeños. It really added a lot.)
If Ceviche Bar added some vegan meats or smoked tofu to the dishes, it would take them up a notch.
(A Cuban sandwich would be a lot more tempting stuffed with seitan instead of romaine and asparagus.)
As you can see from the pictures, it wasn’t especially busy. However, our server seemed really annoyed we were there, and only interacted with us when he absolutely had to. So all in all, I wouldn’t hurry back.
Fong’s Pizza has two locations – downtown Des Moines and Ankeny.
It is a quirky, divey restaurant, specializing in unusual pizzas.
The downtown Des Moines location has a lot more vegan options & a clearly marked menu.
It includes cauliflower wings and garlic cheese bread made with non-dairy cheese for appetizers.
For your entrée, look for avocado rangoon pizza, ramen pizza, or build your own.
They have lots of unique sauces & styles, but no vegan meats.
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.
The vegan sausage pizza comes with house-made sausage, vegan mozzarella, and red sauce.
Railroad Bill’s Dining Car
They have a separate vegan menu, which is always appreciated.
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 vegan sausage.
The scramble is on the oily side & dotted with bell peppers and onions. I prefer a wider variety of seasonings in my scramble.
(The vegan pork rinds pictured above are no longer available.)
Stores & resources
Here are some more local stores and resources that you won’t want to miss.
Veg Life Des Moines
VegLife Des Moines is an awesome non-profit that hosts vegan meet-ups, potlucks, and a Vegan Summer Market in the warm weather months.
You’ll definitely want to hit the market in Cowles Commons for vegan food trucks, shopping, and more.
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 in Highland Park.
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.
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.
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.
Content updated June 3, 2023. Originally posted June 24, 2014.