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Local servers share their favorite restaurants, dishes and drinks in the Iowa City area


Looking for some new dining recommendations? Local servers Becca Breazeale, Suke Cody, Simeon Talley and Lou Richter offer insight into where and what to eat in the Iowa City area.

"I admit to being a creature of habit. There are worse habits than the Motley Cow." -- Suke Cody, El Banditos
“I admit to being a creature of habit. There are worse habits than the Motley Cow.” — Suke Cody, El Banditos

What are your three favorite restaurants in the area?

Becca Breazeale Leaf Kitchen for the delicious, locally sourced food and fresh squeezed juice, but also for the quaint ambience and friendly service. Oasis, because it’s the best hummus, and because of the condiment bar. Nodo: Fresh bakery items and Brew City fries add magic to their already magical sandwich board.

Lou Richter: I work nearly every night, so I frequent my favorite restaurants for lunch. For my money the best places to grab lunch in Iowa City are Nodo (either location), Leaf Kitchen and Sushi Kicchin. These spots have an open, bustling atmosphere and friendly staff. Nodo features a huge menu and I can’t find anything I don’t like. Leaf Kitchen offers specials that are simply not available anywhere else in Iowa City. And Sushi Kicchin is affordable and delicious. The staff and dining area are tiny here, and it’s often just yourself and the person preparing your food. The savvy staff keeps things entertaining.

Suke Cody: For something quick and satisfying to eat after work, I head up the street to George’s Buffet for one of their legendarily delicious burgers and a tall draw of Saga.

For sit-down-and-be-waited-on lunch, I go to Oyama — I have a Japanese food thing and love my raw fish, and their chirashi sushi (slices of raw fish laid over a bed of rice) is simple and perfect and lets me feel indulgent and healthy at the same time.

“Pork Belly. Pork Belly. Pork Belly. At Share and at Social Club.” -- Simeon Talley, Moonrakers
“Pork Belly. Pork Belly. Pork Belly. At Share and at Social Club.” — Simeon Talley, Moonrakers

For a relaxing dinner, Dan and I have eaten at the Motley Cow at least once a week since we started dating five years ago, and we can’t see any reason to change at this point — we’ve tried other restaurants for our Friday night date, but nothing beats sitting at the bar at the Cow ordering little plates of whatever sounds good, chatting with the other regular customers and the front (and back) of house who we know on that semi-intimate level. I admit to being a creature of habit. There are worse habits than the Motley Cow.

Simeon Talley: Being that I work most if not every night, my favorite restaurants are those whose kitchens are open late and where I can get an above-average glass of red wine and a decent beer. If my schedule or my place of employment was different, I imagine I’d offer different opinions. And these places are where you can most likely find me working on other projects or reading the paper or a book.

Clinton Street Social Club stays open late during the week and later on the weekend. There’s good food — I love the pork belly — and wine by the glass at a pretty good value.

If ever I want to try a new and interesting glass of wine, I head to Brix. I find that they offer an interesting selection of wine, the staff is knowledgeable and the food menu is evolving and expanding. Donnelly’s is my go-to spot for many of the reasons above.

“Green curry with tofu from Thai Flavors. It is the comfort food I never knew I needed.” -- Becca Breazeale, Forbidden Planet
“Green curry with tofu from Thai Flavors. It is the comfort food I never knew I needed.” — Becca Breazeale, Forbidden Planet

What is your favorite thing to eat in Iowa City?

BB: Green curry with tofu from Thai Flavors. It is the comfort food I never knew I needed ‘til a few years ago.

LR: The beef barbacoa taco from Banditos. It’s locally sourced and perfectly seasoned.

SC: That would be a toss-up — either the Banditos benedictos (eggs over homemade polenta, topped with spinach and chipotle hollandaise, and liberally doused in Georgina’s Mama Eloi hot sauce) or the chilaquiles (also known as “breakfast nachos with beans,” but substituting carnitas for chicken — it’s worth the extra three bucks), both of which can only be had on Saturday and Sunday mornings at El Banditos Mexican Restaurant. I admit, I never go to Banditos as a diner to sit and eat, and the food might taste better if I did — but both are still delicious even eaten in little bites on the fly from a quickly cooling plate sitting on top of the chip warmer — which is saying something.

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ST: Pork belly. Pork belly. Pork belly. At Share and at Social Club.

What is your favorite thing to drink in Iowa City?

BB: The old fashioned from Clinton Street Social Club. Classic.

LR: I’m a big fan of the negroni: a gin, Campari and sweet vermouth cocktail.

SC: I love a good bloody mary, and if forced to choose only one to drink on a desert island for the rest of my life I’d opt for the bloody mary I stumbled onto at Brix Wine and Cheese back when they did brunch — maybe they still do brunch, but I’m normally working brunch, so it’s hard to keep track of these things.

ST: To be honest I don’t really have a favorite drink. I love red wine and am always in search of reds that are full-bodied and earthy, with lots of tannin.

“For my money the best places to grab lunch in Iowa City are Nodo, Leaf Kitchen and Sushi Kicchin.” -- Lou Richter, Clinton Street Social Club
“For my money the best places to grab lunch in Iowa City are Nodo, Leaf Kitchen and Sushi Kicchin.” — Lou Richter, Clinton Street Social Club

What is the best thing you’ve ever eaten?

BB: This is a truly impossible question, but I have to go with a heaping plate of barbacoa, served with fresh crema, I once had at about 4 a.m. in Chicago after a wonderfully weird night out.

LR: The pork belly at Clinton Street Social Club. The flavor of that dish is unforgettable.

SC: If you ever get the chance to go to Isla Mujeres and you are traveling without children, do make it a point to stay at Villa la Bella, a bed-and-breakfast perched on a small bit of cliff on the ocean side of the island. If you stay long enough (I recommend at least a week) and are just a little lucky, one of those gorgeous island mornings, Curtis, the owner, will present you with a little slice of culinary heaven — his Mayan roasted chicken enchiladas with mole sauce. For breakfast. With some seriously potent coffee and a big glass of fresh squeezed orange juice.

ST: About a year and a half ago I had a grilled bass dish from Motley Cow. It was HUGE! The eyes were left in it, along with the bones. The meat was tender and flaky coming right off the bone. And it was by far the best thing I’ve ever eaten in Iowa City.

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