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A fried chicken sandwich from Angry Goldfish in Des Moines. Photo: Linh Ta/Axios

Whether you're a lifelong Des Moines resident or a traveler stopping by, there are culinary treasures to discover across the metro's local restaurants.

The state of play: It's easy to poke fun at the "meat and mashed potatoes" of the Midwest (which, honestly, can be quite tasty) — but, don't discount our town's James Beard award-winning chefs, diverse array of immigrant-owned restaurants and just plain creative creations.

Here's a running list of the foods we've liked:

Asian food

Takoyaki from Hana Ramen Sushi

A takoyaki appetizer from Hana Ramen Sushi.

🐙 Takoyaki is a quintessentially fun food to eat and say. The hot, fried dough ball steams in your mouth, while the tiny piece of octopus in the center gives a textural surprise.

  • For $5.95, you can get three pieces off the Hana Ramen Sushi appetizer menu, topped with smoky bonito flakes and Kewpie mayo, which I feel is superior to any of the U.S. brands.

Open 11-9 every day, 7450 Bridgewood Blvd. #205, West Des Moines.

The snack aisle at C Fresh Market

Chip and cracker snacks at C Fresh Market in Des Moines. Photo: Linh Ta/Axios

Salted egg chips, soft mochi and crunchy rice snacks line the shelves at Des Moines' largest Asian grocery store.

  • We recommend a bag of White Rabbit Creamy Candy for $2.79. The popular Chinese sweet is a milky, chewy candy that's similar to taffy.

Open 8-8 every day; 801 University Ave., Des Moines.

Creative dishes

PB&J Fries from Curbin' Cuisine

PB&J Fries from Curbin' Cuisine in Des Moines. Photo: Linh Ta/Axios

🍟 Step aside, ketchup. This Beaverdale restaurant tops standard-cut fries with a Thai peanut sauce and a raspberry-chipotle jelly.

  • The savory and sweet flavors blended together for a taste of after-school nostalgia.

💸 For $8.25, you can get a full order, but half-orders are also available.

Open 11:30am to 8pm, Tues-Sat, 2713 Beaver Ave., Des Moines; 515-635-0090

Fried chicken
A fried chicken sandwich from Bubba's in downtown Des Moines. Photo: Linh Ta/Axios

🐔 We narrowed down the 5 best chicken sandwiches across the city, so you don't have to try them all yourself (but you should).

  • Where you should target: Angry Goldfish, Bubba's, Charlotte's Kitchen, Exile and The Station on Ingersoll.

Check out the full list, with full reviews.

Chicken Tenders
The Iowa Hot Chicken at The Chicken in Orilla. Linh Ta/Axios

The Chicken's spicy chicken tender basket, aka the "Iowa Hot Chicken" is every bit of poppin' fried chicken you're craving + some fiery burn.

  • Their strips are hand-breaded and fried to juicy and crackly perfection, while a spicy marinade and seasoning blend gives some heat.
  • I like to go the extra mile and get it coated in the dry rub for a well-seasoned punch.

Open 11am to 9pm, Sun-Thurs; 11am to 10 pm, Fri-Sat, 4221 South Orilla Rd. West Des Moines, 515-410-2520

Pizza

Potato pizza from Franka's Pizzeria

A $17 potato pizza from Franka Pizzeria at 111 E Grand Ave. in Des Moines. Photo: Linh Ta/Axios

💸 This $17 pizza from Franka Pizzeria excels when it comes to balance. The leek garnish adds a sprightly green pop on top of the slightly tangy taleggio cheese.

  • Plus: It's a textural delight. The subtle bite of the potatoes meshed well with the creamy white sauce and chewy crust.

Open 10am to 10pm, every day, 111 E. Grand Ave. Suite 101, Des Moines, 515-288-1086.

Dessert

Pink snow bingsu from Ocha Bubble Tea & Dessert Cafe

A pink snow bingsu from Ocha in Windsor Heights. Linh Ta/Axios

🍬 This eye-candy from Ocha Bubble Tea & Dessert Cafe is as delicious as it looks.

  • Linh ordered the pink snow bingsu with gummy bears, Captain Crunch and condensed milk ($7)
  • It was a super sweet and texturally-amazing combination, especially with the frozen bears. But you can customize your own dessert with boba, jelly, chocolate or fruit if that's more of your taste.

Bingsu is a popular Korean shaved-ice dessert, but don't equate it with the summer treat you get at the ball park. It's much softer than the hard ice + syrup combination. It's not as creamy as ice cream either, but it's super fun to eat either way.

Open: Noon to 8 p.m. everyday; 7216 University Ave., Windsor Heights

Hot Lava Milk Tea from 8 Degrees Ice Cream & Boba

Hot Lava Milk Tea from 8 Degrees Cafe & Boba. Linh Ta/Axios

8 Degrees Ice Cream & Boba is my go-to spot if I'm craving bubble tea. And my drink of choice is always the Hot Lava Milk Tea ($4.50).

  • The cold milk-based tea drink has three different layers to it: Milk foam on top, warm dark sugar syrup and black pearls at the bottom.
  • It's sweeter than the other menu options and the different layers and temperatures make it a fun drink. My favorite part is the "bubbles," which are fun to chew on and taste especially good from 8 Degrees.

Open: 11:30am to 8:30pm Tues; 11:30am to 9pm Wed; noon to 8:30pm Thurs; 11:30am to 10pm Fri; 11:30am to 9pm Sat; noon to 9pm Sun; 1315 31st St, Des Moines

Keep checking back in! This list will continue to be updated as Linh adds more favorites to her list.

These items first appeared in the Axios Des Moines newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

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Go deeper

Linh Ta, author of Des Moines
May 4, 2021 - Axios Des Moines

Des Moines' flag gets a makeover ahead of Pride month

Photo courtesy Flag of Des Moines

Des Moines' iconic red, white and blue flag just got a makeover in time for June, which marks Pride month.

What's happening: Flag of Des Moines, which spearheaded a grassroots campaign that successfully brought back the city's flag in 2019, teamed up with local organizations to create the flag.

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May 5, 2021 - Axios Des Moines

Street racing isn't just a problem in downtown Des Moines

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Scooping the loop was our hot topic a few weeks back, but some Des Moines residents say the late-night racing isn't exclusive to downtown.

State of play: In our warmer months, loud engines and squeaky tires are ubiquitous in some parts of Des Moines and we're really starting to hear them now.

  • But while Des Moines residents report and complain about it every year ... we're far from any solutions.
Linh Ta, author of Des Moines
May 4, 2021 - Axios Des Moines

What it'll take to get the chains Des Moines really wants

An Ikea storefront in France. Photo by Denis Thaust/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Axios Des Moines readers overwhelmingly responded to a survey about what store or restaurant was most wanted in the metro — and the top answer was overwhelmingly Ikea.

The state of play: Big factors that play into location decisions for retailers and restaurant owners are population density and the distance people are willing to drive.