RE: Where to eat in Des Moines?
Maybe it's my Iowa-native bias showing, but I'm pretty sure Des Moines is one of the great undiscovered eating cities in the US. Some quick, off-the-beaten-path recommendations:
--George the Chili King (5722 Hickman) for good, greasy junk food. Best onion rings in Des Moines (though not in Iowa; that's the Ja-Mar Drive In in Fort Dodge), and Iowans take their onion rings very seriously.
--Taste of Thailand (215 E Walnut) for Thai food (obviously). This place is extremely popular with the media throngs that come to cover the Iowa caucuses.
--Cosi Cucina (1975 NW 86th St, Clive) for new Italian cuisine (bring money, though).
--Stella's Blue Sky Diner (3281 100th St, Urbandale) for 50s-style comfort food--you can even get Velveeta on your cheeseburger there. Their mac & cheese is heavenly, and they have a full soda fountain.
--Chuck's (3610 6th Ave) for old-school red sauce Italian. Chuck was the brother of Babe Bisignano, who was the dean of Des Moines restaurateurs for most of the 20th century. I always liked Chuck's better.
--Big Daddy's Barbeque (1000 E 14th) for VERY spicy BBQ, and not just by Iowa standards.
--Scornovacca's (2 locations on E 14th) for pizza.
--B-Bop's (3 locations) is a fast-food burger chain, but it's really good. They have great fries.
--Smitty's (1401 Army Post) for a tenderloin.
--Friedrich's (many locations) for coffee to drink; Java Joe's (Court Avenue district) for atmosphere/music.
--Limey's (1970 Grand in West Des Moines) for British pub food.
In Ames (30 minutes north), check out Hickory Park (a favorite BBQ place of Iowans, plus more wacked-out ice cream sundaes than you can shake a stick at), or Cafe Lavis (Campustown area, great eclectic cuisine) and Cafe Beaudelaire (pretty much the same, and it's even right next door to Cafe Lavis).
There's probably a TON of really good Thai and Vietnamese restaurants that I don't even know about; Iowa took in lots of Southeast Asian refugees during the 1970s and most of them settled in Des Moines. I'll go along with the recommendation of the Machine Shed, especially if you can get there before they run out of pan-fried chicken, which is almost as good as Ulbrick's (RIP) or Stroud's.
Your Iowa experience is not complete unless you manage to eat a tenderloin, a Guinea Grinder (basically, an Italian-sausage sloppy joe with lots of hot peppers and cheese), and a Maid-Rite. You should also try to get addicted to AE dairy products. But come late July/early August, eat as much sweet corn as possible.
Be sure to tell the Adventureland management that I'm still steamed they took down Der Flitzer, even if it was a million years old.