Des Moines, Iowa

Photo: HoQ Restaurant

The midterm elections are over. Don’t get too excited. It just means that the 2020 presidential election is about to kick into high gear. Already. Iowa, as always, is up first. Its caucuses are scheduled for February 3, 2020. That’s more than a year away. But politicians, their entourages, and the press are already spending a lot of time in the Hawkeye State. Do you plan on joining them?

Most campaign headquarters are based in Des Moines. Iowa’s capital and largest city sits along the Des Moines River in the center of the state. If you’ve spent any time here, you’ve surely eaten a loose meat sandwich at Maid-Rite, a taco pizza at Happy Joe’s, and Steak de Burgo at one of the city’s many steakhouses. This time, you’re determined to eat healthier.

For your first night in Des Moines, you should make a reservation at HoQ. Six years ago, it was the first farm-to-table restaurant to open in the city. It’s now both the oldest and the best. HoQ is in the East Village, a historic neighborhood where you’ll find the Iowa State Capitol and the State Historical Museum. The modern space features polished concrete floors, exposed pipes, and tall windows overlooking busy East 5th Street. Chef Suman Hoque’s menu, which changes regularly, is based entirely on Iowa products. World spices add global flavors to the dishes. While everything is fair trade, organic, sustainable, and, most importantly, delicious.

Mouthwatering starters include a cold beet and lentil salad, topped with a tangy goat cheese from Does’s & Diva’s Dairy, and warm bison empanadas, served with a garlicky chimichurri. Berkwood Farms pork loins are one of the main courses. They’re stuffed with Milton Creamery quark (curdled sour milk) and La Quercia prosciutto, and sit atop creamy potato risotto. The roasted butternut squash, mixed with Sammons Custom Farming onions, is even healthier. While desserts are simple. Homemade ice cream with sugar cookies adds just enough sweetness to the end of the meal. Just select an Iowan wine—a crisp Covered Bridges Seyval Blanc or a Jasper Winery Marquette that drinks like a Malbec—for a perfect first meal in Des Moines. For at least a little while, it’ll help take your mind off politics.

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