A full-fledged space to call their own! Jessica LaFayette and her husband Tony have expanded what was originally a deli counter in the back of a retail operation into a restaurant that occupies the whole space. Everything on the menu is raw, vegan and gluten-free, but don’t think for a second that means you’ll be making a sacrifice. All the dishes are filling and fresh and flavor-packed. The Not Tuna Sandwich gets two thumbs way up (order the side of kale chips) and the Collard Burrito Wrap is an explosion of color and is truly virtuous. Though the eatery might feel niche to some, it warrants a visit by all regardless of dietary restrictions or choices. Rawlicious is a restaurant where you can eat and feel good, not just full.
Cafe Saint Pio
99 16th Ave SW, Cedar Rapids
Named after an Italian saint, prayers were answered for owner Brad Danielson, taking shape in the form of a coffee shop.This historic corner space in Czech Village has the essence of a turn-of-the-century European café complete with gilded mirrors and marble café tables. The beautiful afternoon light that floods through the giant windows makes this cafe feel as if it belongs on a movie set; the cool aqua walls and minimal decor offer a bit of respite from the busy world outside. This caffeine haven offers customers traditional espresso drinks alongside a selection of breakfast and lunch options.
1611 32nd St NE, Cedar Rapids
Call it a Tavern, a Canteen, a Maid-Rite or a Loosie; the mini footprint of this new diner is just big enough to craft a killer loose meat sandwich––a sandwich richly important to the culinary identity of Iowa. Inside a tiny converted one-room house, a small lunch counter wraps around an open kitchen where you can watch the simple prep of your “loosie” happen right before your eyes. In addition to their signature sandwiches, the restrained menu also offers hot dogs, egg and cheese sandwiches and homemade pasta and potato salads. Finish your counter feast with a malt whipped up from their retro malt machine or a generous slice of locally made Kathy’s Pie.
La Vecina/400 Rabbits
211 E 9th St #135, Coralville
This wood-fired Mexican restaurant focused on the cuisine of the Oaxacan region is one to put on your list. The open kitchen includes an oven with smoker attachment, a flat-top cooking surface over charcoal and a grill and is the focal point of the airy and bright dining room. Feast your eyes on the flickering flames and watch as the kitchen staff churns out plate after plate of woodsmoked delights artfully presented on hand-hewn ceramic platters and dishes. With a menu ranging from carne asada to charred octopus, ceviche to cochinitas, the food is at once alluring and exquisite. Behind the bar, they mix a spectacular margarita or paloma and have a daily happy hour from 3-6 p.m that can’t be beat. The establishment also is home to a “secret” cocktail bar, 400 Rabbits, located behind La Vecina. Call ahead to make a reservation as an experience at this intimate bar––topping out at just 25 seats––can be tricky to come by.
404 E College St #202, Iowa City
Located in the newly finished Chauncey in Downtown Iowa City, fix!, a coffee shop, occupies what was originally designed as a closet on the the building’s second floor. This airy coffee stand serves espresso drinks, drip coffee, tea and non-caffeinated beverages to guests and residents of the high-rise. Drinks are served in unique glassware and sided with a Biscoff cookie that doesn’t require you cram yourself in the coach section of a plane to receive. Tea lovers will especially enjoy the cafes selection of August Uncommon loose leaf teas. The brand is known for wild and unexpected flavors not commonly found in tea; be sure to try a cup of the Silencio––a black tea with tobacco and pineapple notes! Soak up the elevated view of the city while you knock out some work or meet with a friend before a movie downstairs. This slightly off-the-beaten-path shop is worth seeking out.
201 S Clinton St, Iowa City
Saigon’s Corner original location opened in Coralville during the summer of 2018, but it certainly wasn’t owner Tyler Phan’s first rodeo. Previously a partner in Pho Zaika and I Love Pho, Phan was well-versed when it came to crafting rich bowls of craveable pho and classic Vietnamese cuisine for local diners. He grew up in the restaurant industry, learning the family’s secret pho recipe from his uncle, a longtime pho chef in Vietnam before moving to the area. A second location of Saigon’s Corner opened in the Old Capitol Town Center (the original location has since changed ownership) and is filling a definite void in the downtown dining scene. Hearty bowls of rice noodles swimming in meaty, richly flavored broth are a staple here, but everything on the menu is superb and deserves a try.
Get Fresh Cafe
109 Iowa Ave, Iowa City
Finally, Iowa City has a Get Fresh to call our own! After years of operating a stall at NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids and on the weekends at the Iowa City Farmers Market, owner Wendy Zimmermann finally took the plunge to join the downtown Iowa City restaurant scene. Their delectable (and highly nutritious!) cold-pressed juices, smoothie bowls and grab-and-go salads and prepared foods are a welcome addition to the neighborhood. The knowledgeable staff can recommend add-ins to boost the nutrition of your morning smoothie–from mucuna pruriens to maqui or bentonite clay–or guide you towards juice blends you might benefit from. The ginger bomb is honestly better than your morning coffee–the single shot of straight-up ginger juice will wake up your taste buds for sure but also clear your foggy brain.
1405 N Elm St, Ste 105, West Liberty
Laos Cafe is a gem located just a short drive away. Though it’s new on the scene, the cafe has worked diligently to expand its selection of dishes, evidenced by their menu which boasts a large assortment of appetizers, stir fries, curries and soups. In addition to Laotian culture, Laos Cafe brings dishes unprecedented in West Liberty. The sign above the entrance reads, “Experience flavors from far away,” which is fitting in a town known for its large Latinx population and its equally large assortment of Mexican restaurants. Bring lots of friends, a healthy appetite and perhaps an extra bottle of water to take the edge off the savory, spicy cuisine.
La Bendición Pupuseria y Restaurant
89 2nd St, Ste 2, Coralville
This new eatery in Coralville delivers a rare treat for diners in the area: pupusas! For those not familiar, this El Salvadoran food—a thick, hand-sized tortilla filled with melted cheese and other ingredients ranging from vegetables to meat—is truly delightful and just a few easily make a filling and tasty lunch or light supper. In addition to pupusas, La Bendición also offers a small menu of entrees. The brilliance of the menu is rooted in its simplicity—in the grounded flavors and home-crafted recipes. This is a dining experience which feels (and tastes!) more like being invited to a shared meal in someone’s home than at a restaurant.