The skilled chefs at Carlos O’Kelly’s Mexican Cafe whip up burritos, enchiladas, and sizzling fajitas to fill an extensive menu of south-of-the-border cuisine. Diners push aside still-steaming nacho and quesadilla starters as a waiter approaches, arms meticulously stacked with plates of enchiladas and burritos ($8.99–$9.99 each). Chefs slather spinach and mushroom enchiladas in butter garlic sauce, and the burro en fuego specialty burrito befuddles meat detectors by burying contraband shredded beef and spicy chili sauce deep inside a warm flour tortilla. Diners can also look over a gluten-free menu to bite into enchiladas and fajitas prepared on corn tortillas as, in the kitchen, blenders buzz up pomegranate and strawberry frozen margaritas into salt-rimmed glasses for frozen fruit consumption without fear of stuck tongue.
The Underground boasted four CityView awards in 2009, including Best Bartender and Best Bar Overall. The laid back subterranean space presents live music most nights, hosting both local and national acts. Hide away from the world and its impossible crossword puzzles with well drink ($3) or draft beer ($3–$4) flanked by helping of Frank's pizza ($8). The bar also offers a wide selection of wines by the glass ($7) and martinis that will leave you shaken, not obliterated ($7). This game-friendly drinkery also features billiard tables and dartboards for pool sharks and target tunas. The Underground is 21 and over after 9 p.m. Most live music shows are free, but there is the occasional cover charge (not covered by the Groupon) so be sure to check the schedule before planning your rock-filled evening.
Des Moines Social Club's in-house, cabaret-style bar hosts revolving sets of live entertainment from music to comedy while serving a broad, liquid array of drinks and cocktails. A specialty blood orange cosmo ($8) can play a sipping accessory while taking a break during salsa dancing on Monday's Latin Night, while stumped participants can seek an answer to Tuesday's Team Trivia night at the bottom of a Campari-based Jersey Shore ($8). Community pride manifests through 19 signature neighborhood beer and shot combos for $5 a pair, from the East Village inspired duo of Flying Dog Pale and SoCo Lime to the Ames coupling of Grainbelt and Goldschlager. Further drink options along with other recurring events can be found online. Absent an in-house spectacle, the expansive Pappajohn Sculpture Park with its chiseled works of mozzarella and pepperoni art is easily seen trough the façade of windows facing north.
Midwest Black Angus beef, free of hormones or antibiotics, joins with creative ingredients such as A.1. sauce and chipotle aioli to create more than 15 unique burgers at Legends American Grill. These burgers embody a variety and thirst for excitement that radiates throughout each of the grill's central-Iowa locations. There, nestled amid deep-umber booths or brick walls, diners watch sports flicker across flat-screen televisions, rooting on their team and showing disdain for the ref’s decision to wear white pants after Labor Day. But if the score is disheartening, fans can dig into the menu to cheer themselves up. Hand-cut Creekstone Farms steaks offset surf entrees such as salmon in béarnaise sauce or grilled mahi-mahi in a sweet-and-spicy thai sauce. Comfort-food favorites such as meatloaf and fried chicken also make an appearance, pairing with cocktails and beers served by the bottle and pint.
A nondescript black-and-white sign hangs outside The Standard Martini Bar, reflecting the understated elegance inside. Bartenders shake and stir 49 different martinis, including 15 modern interpretations with ingredients ranging from Godiva dark-chocolate liqueur to green tea to banana schnapps. These drinks accompany the eclectic, bistro-style menus of paninis and tapas, which draw inspiration from Cajun, Italian, and Mexican cuisines.
The decor echoes this subtle sense of refinement with its stone columns, paintings-lined walls, and caviar-filled saltshakers. The Standard Martini Bar keeps the environment lively, though, by hosting live music, karaoke nights, and trivia contests throughout the week.