New restaurants pop up every week in the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City area, but only a special few stand out
1755 Boyrum St, Iowa City
Opened in late November 2018 and occupying the former Frontier Family Restaurant location on Boyrum Street, Pho Lucky quietly crept onto the radar serving quality, authentic Vietnamese cuisine. The curated and straightforward menu promises expertly crafted pho with a flavorful and nuanced broth, fresh spring rolls with delectably addictive peanut sauce as well as noodle dishes and entrees. The owners and waitstaff are friendly and attentive. They promptly and efficiently bring your piping hot bowl of broth and noodles with a full plate of crisp accoutrements to doctor your soupy noodles to perfection. In addition to Pho Lucky’s culinary prowess, the restaurant’s window seating is worth mentioning. Nestled into one of these spots on a brisk day with sunlight beaming in and a full bowl in front of you, you’ll feel like you’ve truly struck it rich.
203 N Linn St, Iowa City
This design darling anchoring Iowa City’s Northside Marketplace underwent a transformative process last year, but came out the other side looking lighter and oh-so-Instagrammable. Varied forms of seating, unique tiles and textures and expansive windows flooded with natural light come together to make this neighborhood joint a cozy and comfortable spot you can visit any time of the day. Serving brunch, dinner and drinks, this cafe focuses on familiar dishes with updated and unique twists. You’ll find grain bowls and banh mi alongside pot pie and Dutch babies, and it’s all tied together with a well-crafted list of cocktails, wine and beer. When you go, try the hashbrowns. The hand-held size of Goosetown’s fried potatoes may conjure memories of drive-through breakfasts, but the preparation here is decidedly more virtuous.
1507 C Street SW, Cedar Rapids
Opened in January 2019 by Phoebe and Samuel Charles, this cozy and welcoming restaurant manages to be perfectly on-trend without ever trying too hard. Offering a cuisine inspired by German, Czech and Midwestern comfort foods that you can expect to change seasonally, Rodina encourages dining family-style—ordering multiple plates to share and enjoy across the table—a connection often lost in today’s dining experiences. A beautiful, thoughtfully designed interior is woven together with well-executed cocktails by knowledgeable barkeeps and artfully prepared plates by talented chefs, resulting in an experience that is modern and eclectic with the classic comforts of home.
Dodge Street Coffeehouse
2790 N Dodge St, Iowa City
Opening just before the end of 2018, partners Jamie Skinner and Kelly Elliott breathed fresh life into the former Subway location which now houses their new coffeehouse. Gone are the green and yellow remnants of the ubiquitous sandwich brand, replaced with leafy green plants, string lights and interesting pendant fixtures and a dedicated children’s play area. And that’s without even mentioning the coffee and food. Featuring all Iowa roasters, the shop offers traditional coffee, espresso and tea drinks for both in-house enjoyment and drive-through convenience. Alongside the coffee menu, the food offerings at the coffeehouse highlight healthy local options from Iowa City’s most popular restaurants: breakfast from The Dandy Lion and Local Burrito; lunch options from Oasis, Nodo and Trumpet Blossom; and sweet treats from Molly’s Cupcakes. Cruise by on your way to work and make use of the drive-through or visit on the weekend when you can luxuriate in this cozy spot.
The Dandy Lion
111 S Dubuque St, Iowa City
Opened in the summer of 2018, this downtown breakfast nook and wine bar serves up on-point dishes while aiming to please. Try the turmeric latte or the avocado toast if you’re of the millennial set—but trust that it’s a truly satisfying order no matter your age. If you’re a downtown IC regular, there’s no doubt you’ve walked past the cafe’s windows and been tempted by the impressive baked goods on display. No matter how quickly you travel by, the treats somehow always catch your eye and thankfully, they’re as delicious as they look.
1100 3rd St SE #34, Cedar Rapids
After trying out a pop-up stand inside NewBo City Market, owner Sneh Chopra officially opened Melting Bite in a dedicated space inside the market in September of 2018. Melting Bite delights patrons with freshly made dishes that will transport them to the streets of India and will fill their palate with a melody of sweet, savory, spicy and tangy flavors. If you’re not exactly sure what to order from their small but diverse menu, just ask Sneh and she’ll be happy to recommend a delicious option you’ll be sure to love. Besides authentic Indian offerings, you can also find exquisite sweets like mousse, cupcakes and cake by the slice. If you are looking for a custom cake, they do that too. Melting Bite is only open Saturdays and Sundays, but hopes to expand hours to Thursdays and Fridays in the future.
While not a total newbie—owner Adam Hadjis grew up in the restaurant industry—Gianna’s Italian Beef marks his first foray into full-fledged restaurateur-hood. Located in a historic building in downtown Cedar Rapids, Hadjis spent the last two years laboring over the renovation, completing much of it himself. As a memorial to his young daughter, Gianna, who passed away in 2012, the restaurant’s menu celebrates some of her favorite foods with classic Chicago dogs and Italian beef sandwiches making the cut alongside traditional pasta salad, shoestring fries and seasonal offerings like Italian ice. Swing by for lunch or dinner, or a late-night nosh on the weekend.
Wild Culture Kombucha
210 N Linn St, Iowa City
Iowa City got a little more hip this past fall when Wild Culture Kombucha settled in a vacant space in the Northside Marketplace. What was once a dark neighborhood bar is now a warm and inviting spot for all types of patrons whether seeking alcoholic libations or something on the lighter end. A welcome alternative to a traditional bar, this taproom pours both their namesake kombucha as well as wine, locally brewed beer and kombucha shandies. Previously only available on tap at bars, restaurants and grocery stores in the area or at the Iowa City Farmers Market, this brick-and-mortar location has allowed Wild Culture owners Rachelle Schmidt and Tim Roed to get back to their experimental roots, regularly releasing one-time batches of rotating flavors exclusively at the taproom.
Melk Diner and Cereal Bar
116 E Washington St, Iowa City
This sleek new downtown Iowa City diner serves up childhood nostalgia by the bowlful. The well-stocked bar at Melk replaces traditional liquor, beer and wine with a rotating selection of nearly 50 beloved breakfast cereals. Order up a bowl from the colorful bar display; $3 will set you up with a nice serving of your favorite. When you’re down to the last bites of cereal but left with an abundance of milk sloshing around in the bottom of the bowl, get a refill for just $1.50. If you’re not into cereal, you can still find plenty on the menu here. Diners can opt for something more filling and less sugary from a well-rounded selection of breakfast standards, sandwiches and sides or mix their cereal with ice cream for a decadent cereal shake.