Only after studying wine literature, discussing options with distributors, and attending tastings do Frank and Abby Bowman decide which reds and whites will join their already massive stock of approximately 200 wine varietals. Their temperature-controlled wine cellar stores nearly 1,500 bottles, which the Bowmans—Linn Street Cafe's owners since 1996—uncork at daily meals, wine tastings, and multi-course wine-pairing dinners. Along with wine pours, their 70-seat restaurant houses contemporary American dishes crafted from sustainable seafood, local farmers' produce, and meats hand-plucked from Iowan gardens. The elegant meals continue to win raves from critics and outlets such as CityVoter, which awarded Linn Street Cafe a finalist position in its 2011 Best Romantic Restaurant competition.
Arguably, any meal is made even better with a hearty margarita on the side. With several flavors and top-shelf tequilas at the ready, the crew at Cactus Mexican Restaurant & Cantina mixes up their regular and special margaritas to diners' specifications. Back in the kitchen, chefs create their traditional Mexican plates and American-style Mexican dishes, with appetizers that include a trio of dips and a giant piles of nachos. Meals then graduate to big plates of seafood, burritos, or sizzling fajitas before desserts tempt diners into abandoning their enchilada-only diets for something sweeter.
When looking for a quiet spot, customers turn to The High Ground Cafe. Whether seated on the patio or in the airy cafe, they can set up shop with their computer, a cup of fair trade Kickapoo Coffee Roaster brew, and a light snack. The menu includes plenty of tasty offerings, such as the flavorful turkey mango sandwich or a cup of Italian wedding soup.
The chefs at El Dorado prepare housemade enchiladas, burritos, tacos, and other Mexican favorites. Eaters can down the south-of-the-border flavors with an array of beverages from the bar, including 42-ounce Monster margaritas. To set a festive mood, the restaurant occasionally books upbeat musical acts and hosts poetry readings with Santa.
Sometimes the most satisfying meals are the simplest. Leaf Kitchen's cubano sandwich, for example, a semi-regular special with braised pork and melted swiss, was so good that it inspired Little Village's Scott Samuelson to declare, "a part of me [wanted] to check into some private room to be alone with my sandwich and its sauces." And this isn't the only dish that the restaurant's chefs effortlessly elevate. Their rustic cooking spans breakfast and lunch, ranging from sweet and savory crepes to grilled chicken-club sandwiches, focusing on sustainability as well as simplicity. Meals make use of locally sourced produce and meats, and even the coffee is an exclusive blend crafted by a certified organic, fair-trade roaster.
While the cuisine at Leaf Kitchen is minimalistic in design, the dining space is anything but. Midwest Living praised it by remarking that the "eclectic more-is-more interior offers so much to take in that you may not know where to look first." Servers flit among wood and formica tables set with mismatched dinnerware and clustered with turquoise stools and canary-yellow chairs. These vibrant touches find their complement in a retro-inspired soundtrack of jazz, soul, and world music, which gets knees bouncing without the spring-loaded floorboards used by other restaurants.
The cooks at Quinton's Bar & Deli know the ingredients that make a good Reuben?corned beef, sauerkraut, melted Swiss, and housemade dressing. But they also know the Reuben's extended family, which is why their menu has a section entirely devoted to the sandwich. The Rachel exchanges corned beef for turkey, whereas the Patsy switches in grilled navel pastrami. They can even combine two or three of the meats to create a Combo Reuben with twice the cheese.
Sandwiches in general happen to be the deli's bread and butter. Their most popular is the TAC, which stands for turkey, avocado, and cream cheese. Other options include the beef and brie, whose house-seasoned roast beef is covered with imported cheese, and the Aloha chicken, stacked with grilled pineapple and served in the pocket of a Hawaiian shirt. Burgers make an appearance as well, featuring hand-shaped patties from Bud's Meat in Riverside, Iowa.
And if you'd like some soup with your sandwich, Quinton's serves up the combo with a twist, ladling the soup inside bread bowls. A sizable selection of beers, wines, and spirits?including cocktails with homemade ginger beer?wash down bites.