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Iowa City, IA


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Note: I am still advocating for one combined Iowa thread (plus this creates work for leleboo!), similar to the thread for Wisconsin, but in the meantime, if anyone visits here soon, I hope you all have a lovely time exploring this town like gelittleman and I did.

For a college town, Iowa City is still pretty quaint and quiet. It may be due to the fact that the U of I students were just starting to trickle back from break the weekend of January 15, but I love how there is a strong localvore movement here, especially taking advantage of farmland and space available out here.

Shopping - in case you find yourself craving for something Whole Foods-like, there are 2 such places to satisfy your needs:

1. The New Pioneer Food Co-op at 22 S. Van Buren St. is a member-supported store, with a great, local and fair-trade coffee bean selection (not to mention teas!) and assorted bakery goods. The carrot cake is a pretty-good try, with the lemon cookies a close-second. The only downside is that non-members get a 5% surcharge for each item purchased.

The local coffee roasters' beans purchased were: Cafe del Sol (Breakfast Mexican blend - needs some work, a bit too acidic for me, but decent flavor) and Capanna Coffee & Gelato (great flavor, less acidic and closer to Counter Culture beans, but not as bold - highly recommend visiting the Iowa City shop for a sit-down - did not try their gelato, but locals love it).

2. The Bread Garden Market at 225 South Linn Street is more central to the college campus and more convenient for those staying in hotels city-center. They have a pretty decent beer selection, if you need a quick fix. I also recommend trying their bakery items, as a late-night lemon tart really hit the spot after a long plane ride. (Capanna's Iowa City location is a stone's throw from here. As well as the public library and a kids' playground if you need little ones to run off energy somewhere.)

If you need something more commercial like Safeway, then a Hy-Vee store (employee-owned!) may be what you are looking for. A 10-15 minute drive from city-center will land you one on Dodge Street, but this was a drive-by and not a stop-in.


Well before the lemon tart came a must-have afternoon snack, much needed after the long plane ride. The place to satisfy BOTH a quick and delicious bite would be at Oasis Falafel at 206 North Linn Street. Cheap, but flavorful, with a very different type, yet great-tasting falafel. The only downfall was that the hummus was a bit too mushy for me - almost like baby puree. But the pita bread reminded me of those found at Zaytinya and Me Jana - fluffy and soft. Kid-friendly, as they provide crayons and blank paper with a place to tape your artwork after.

Next stop was Givanni's, an Italian-American staple in town. Great place to have a large party, as they had a huge space upstairs and was great at accommodating a party of 5 adults + 2 toddlers at the last minute (we had the entire upstairs to ourselves). The must-try here is the Electric Goat, which is a Chèvre in a spicy red sauce with roasted tomatoes, garlic cloves & basil ($9).

Saturday morning yielded a random crêperie, with an even more random find of someone non-Asian who spoke Mandarin with me. The Crêpes de Luxe Cafe at 309 East College is super-friendly, bright and cheery. One can definitely hang out the whole day here. A crêpe order was big enough to share, but you might want to get your own. I like that the crêpes are not super-sweet like how some batters are.

A late night run to Hamburg Inn #2 was also a must, especially since sparkycom recommended it as a locals' place. I wasn't brave enough to try their famous pie shakes, but for a $1.99, you can get a delicious Sweet Potato Cake (pancake) as big as your head. Can't beat that price!

Finally, at the journey's end, a brunch at Motley Cow Cafe was a hit-the-spot good, with the waffles buttery and filling and local and fresh. This is one of the "support local" places in town and I felt that everything tastes like it, even the Cafe del Sol coffee. The only drawback were the poor choice of salt shakers, which was a green pepper shape that didn't balance so well, so it tipped and spilled salt a lot. A lot. I did get an eyebrow raise at the host stand when it was just the little man and I, but I saw other families in there, so I am unsure why. It didn't matter in the end, as the service was attentive, even when I asked for a new cup of coffee because I got a little too sugar-happy on accident. Plus, you can't say anything negative when your server's name is Paco (I really like that name - it's upbeat!).

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