Where to find some of the best Chinese restaurants and buffets in the Des Moines metro (2024)

Where to find some of the best Chinese restaurants and buffets in the Des Moines metro (1)

Des Moines has moved beyond sweet and sour pork and fortune cookies. The metro has been a home for Chinese-American restaurants ever since King Ying Low opened its doors at Fifth and Locust streets back in 1902. Fifteen years later, the 20th Century Café debuted one block to the west with a feast of bird's nest soup and egg foo young with lobster, and served plates of “first class chop-suey” to night-owls until 1 a.m.

Today, bird’s nest soup has been banished from American menus, but around town, the tradition of serving crispy and fluffy fare like egg foo young lives on. It's just one of many hybrid dishes that combine American tastes and Chinese origins to become staples of the casual dining experience.

Around the region and frequently tucked away behind humble strip-mall storefronts, tongue-tingling and inventive dishes are waiting to be discovered by curious diners. This alphabetical list features a broad selection of take-out favorites and slightly more formal environments.

Common with casual venues, restaurant hours frequently change, and diners are advised to check ahead before making a specific trip.Emphasis has been placed on full-time restaurants that gravitate toward a mostly Chinese-inspired menu, rather than pan-Asian concepts. Also excluded are national chains and neighborhood spots that stick to an overly familiar, but tried-and-true menu.

And for fans of an all-you-can-eat adventure, three buffet restaurants have been included to inspire the heartiest of appetites.

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Did we miss your favorite Chinese restaurant? Drop our dining reporter Susan Stapleton a line and tell her about your favorite restaurants and what you order at sstapleton@gannett.com.

China House

Promoting itself as the home of the Des Moines’ "best" General Tso's chicken, low-key lunch and dinner destination China House serves all the traditional classics, like shrimp chow mein, lemon chicken, and beef and broccoli, plus a couple of dozen Sichuan- and Hunan-style dishes for guests who enjoy an extra boost of flavor. Lunch specials and combination platters will satisfy diners searching for value and generous portions.

Location: 2916 E. University Ave., Des Moines

Contact: 515-266-7000

China Moon Restaurant

For more than three decades, China Moon has compensated for its unpretentious strip mall space with a full menu of Sichuan- and Hunan-inspired recipes, and several lesser-seen dishes. Among the dinner entrees, plates of sauteed and fried scallops, a whole fish fried with ginger, tangy eggplant with mushrooms and green peppers, and a welcome addition of crisp, or Peking duck. The latter is available in whole or half portions and wrapped in pancakes. Guests are cautioned that this famed platter often takes longer to prepare than many conventional menu items, so prepare to sit back and relax in one of the restaurant’s distinctive red seats.

Location: 225 S.E. Oralabor Road, Ankeny

Contact: 515-964-8400; chinamoonia.com

China Place

A Drake neighborhood mainstay, diners have been walking across China Place’s red carpet since 2001 and ordering from a menu of traditional casual dishes and popular crowd pleasers. Orange chicken is a particular favorite among repeat visitors, plus moo shu pancakes, egg foo young, sautéed snow pea pods, batter-dipped fried pork cooked with a brown chili sauce, plus the glamorous-sounding entrée of scallops in velvet sauce.

Location: 2414 University Ave., Des Moines

Contact: 515-633-9393; chinaplacedsm.com

Dragon House

Best known for its delivery and take-out service, Dragon House’s Lee Town Center location on Euclid Avenue also offers customers dine-in service. The restaurant has been in business for more than a dozen years, and offers Cantonese-inspired chow fun meals, curry beef, or spicy shrimp, and an order of Sichuan bean curd for diners wishing to add some kick to their vegetables. Unusual for a modest eatery, the restaurant also offers a half serving of crispy duck, marinated in spices before being deep fried.

Location: 2470 E. Euclid Ave., Des Moines

Contact: 515-265-1631; dragonhousedesmoines.com

Fawn’s Asian Cuisine

An eastside mainstay since 2008, Fawn’s Asian Cuisine’s stand-alone building is easy to spot on University Avenue. The large menu incorporates Chinese, Lao and Thai influences, creating opportunities to order Asian pork sausage salad, pho, vermicelli soup with a red curry broth, Laotian-inspired stir fry entrees and tilapia panang curry. Within the Chinese-inspired section of the menu, find a broad collection of chicken, beef, tofu, pork and vegetable dishes, plus a shrimp and lobster sauce dish, spicy kung pao plates and home-style bean curd.

Location: 1107 E. University Ave., Des Moines

Contact: 515-266-0664; fawnsasiancuisine.com

Heavenly Asian Cuisine & Lounge

Where to find some of the best Chinese restaurants and buffets in the Des Moines metro (2)

A jewel of Valley Junction’s dining scene, Heavenly Asian Cuisine borrows its culinary inspiration from China, Vietnam, and generations of original family recipes. For customers unsure of what to order, the menu thoughtfully provides suggestions and descriptions to help guide diners toward mild or spicy meals. Hot pot is a house specialty, cooked at the table to dramatic and steaming effect and a hard-to-find option in the metro. Serving more than a dozen different shrimp, chicken or beef choices, the restaurant also dabbles in Vietnamese specialty dishes such as banh mi sandwiches and pho stewed for more than eight hours. The global influence also extends to California wines and Korean soju among its curated drinks and co*cktail roster.

Location: 225 Fifth St., West Des Moines

Contact: 515-255-5598; heavenlyasiancuisine.com

Iron Wok

Located in a West Des Moines strip mall, Iron Wok’s compact collection of familiar choices includes sweet and sour dishes, Hunan and Sichuan favorites, plus a collection of spicy vegetable and bean curd dishes. An expanded dinner menu adds hot braised fish and twice-cooked pork. Iron Wok also offers beef, chicken and vegetable pad Thai from a list of Thailand-inspired favorites for takeout and dine in. For diners hunting for a fiery upgrade, dishes marked as “angry” are not shy about adding some extra heat.

Location: 6630 Mills Civic Pkwy., West Des Moines

Contact: 515-224-2100; www.iron-wok.com

Jade Garden Chinese Restaurant

The interior design of Ankeny’s Jade Garden resembles a throwback to Chinese American restaurants of the past, decorated with glass-topped tables, a smiling buddha statue and red-and-bone-white plates. Its previous location lay claim to be the first Chinese restaurant in Ankeny when it launched in 1985. Nearly four decades later, repeat customers can dive into a menu inspired by Hunan, Mandarin and Sichuan recipes. Choices include sizzling soups, yu shiang pork, war sue gai prepared with chicken breast nuggets, and the intriguing prospect of “flaming” bananas, or apples for dessert. Mongolian beef served on a bed of crispy rice noodles has been a menu fixture since the restaurant’s opening day.

Location: 602 N. Ankeny Blvd., Ankeny

Contact: 515-964-2422; jadegardenchineseia.com

Lucky Bamboo Asian Cuisine

Guests place their orders in front of a large fish tank at this no-frills, counter-service restaurant, serving casual Chinese favorites in Ankeny for more than 20 years. Familiar picks fill the menu, plus a sizzling chicken and rice soup, a full lineup of lo mein and chow mein specials, water chestnut and snow peas in brown sauce, Sichuan and Hunan vegetable creations, and breaded shrimp tossed and braised in the wok. The kitchen also serves a scattering of Japanese-inspired selections and bowls of Vietnamese pho.

Location: 1555 SE Delaware Ave, # I, Ankeny

Contact: 515-965-5749; luckybambooasiancuisine.com

Mandarin Grill & Sushi Bar

Where to find some of the best Chinese restaurants and buffets in the Des Moines metro (3)

Renowned for serving some of the most authentic Chinese specialties in central Iowa, Clive’s Mandarin Grill prepares a fusion menu that also draws from Korean and Japanese favorites to satisfy most cravings. The appetizer section is a perfect representation of the international influences, featuring tempura fried shrimp, sticky Korean rice cakes and Hawaiian-style salmon poke. Among the uncommon house specialties, yushang eggplant, crispy duck and a favorite noodle dish from Beijing, tza djang mein. The restaurant also serves a handful of gluten-sensitive dishes, and they’ve been known to stock the cult favorite beverage, Lucky Buddha Beer, served in its unique and eye-catching green glass bottle.

Location: 1250 N.W. 128th St., Clive

Contact: 515-327-5988

Sam’s Fine Food & Egg Rolls

Where to find some of the best Chinese restaurants and buffets in the Des Moines metro (4)

Despite a handful of tables, and an almost hidden southside location, Sam’s Fine Food has earned a large and loyal fan base that swear by its casual dining menu. Open since 2000, their ground chicken, cabbage, carrot and clear noodle egg rolls are the namesake headliners. And a small kitchen hasn’t slowed their ambition to include cashew shrimp, spicy Hunan beef, empress fried chicken with its own flavor kick, and a Mongolian fried rice special on the menu. Among other fine foods, Lao and Thai specials of pad Thai and angry chicken, beef, pork, or shrimp.

Location: 3300 S.W. Ninth St., Unit 4, Des Moines

Contact: 515-288-5400

Shanghai Chinese Restaurant

Where to find some of the best Chinese restaurants and buffets in the Des Moines metro (5)

Family owned since 2002 and proud to call itself Waukee’s oldest Chinese and Vietnamese restaurant, Shanghai’s large dining room welcomes customers with booth and table seating, along with stools at the bar. The restaurant has created a series of combination specials for up to five diners to help mix and match their menu choices. On the Chinese menu, Cantonese spare ribs, crispy breaded and fried prawns, and entrees served with an appetizer and fortune cookie finale. Tempting Vietnamese specials include pad Thai, vermicelli bowls, pho, and deep-fried pork egg rolls.

Location: 33 N.E. Carefree Lane, Waukee

Contact: 515-987-3111; shanghaiwk.com

Tsing Tsao South

Tsing Tsao debuted locally in 1991 and now operates restaurants in Waukee, Urbandale, and the east side. At its Fleur Drive expansion, diners encounter a classic, no-frills example of a counter-service concept, with room for both table and booth seating, and a bustling take-out venture. All day specials include spicy Hunan chicken, shrimp with lobster sauce, and chicken with cashews, plus a menu of familiar favorites of hot and sour soup, moo goo gai pan, lo mein, and egg foo young omelets prepared with meats, shrimp, or vegetables.

Location: 4230 Fleur Drive, Des Moines

Contact: 515-256-8800; tsingtsaosouth.com

Wong’s Chopsticks

Where to find some of the best Chinese restaurants and buffets in the Des Moines metro (6)

Praised for its weekend dim sum menu, a rarity among local Chinese restaurants, Wong's Chopsticks has occupied a corner space at a Johnston strip mall for more than a decade. Its evolving and intriguing dim sum plates include selections that might challenge a first-time visitor’s taste buds, including chicken feet with black sauce, sticky rice in lotus leaf, and ginger beef tripe. The large daily menu also features curry chicken in a cream sauce, steamed dumplings, hot braised pork, vegetable egg foo young, and “L.A.-style” sesame chicken.

Location: 5500 Merle Hay Road, Suite L, Johnston

Contact: 515-727-5136

And for fans of buffet dining:

New China Buffet & Grill

Located on a very busy stretch of Delaware Avenue in Ankeny, China Buffet is smaller in size than many of its all-you-can-eat contemporaries, but places a stronger emphasis on its casual Chinese menu. Items include Sichuan pork, kung pao chicken, shrimp with garlic sauce, soups, fried rice, chow mein and mei fun, that can all be ordered as individual dishes, priced separately from the daily buffet deal. The sushi bar is a popular attraction among buffet aficionados, as is the soft-serve ice cream and desserts.

Location: 2010 S.E. Delaware Ave., Ankeny

Contact: 515-963-9599; chinabuffetankeny.com

Hibachi Grill & Supreme Buffet

Where to find some of the best Chinese restaurants and buffets in the Des Moines metro (7)

The huge Hibachi Grill buffet has been cooking as many as 250 items, seven days a week, since its West Des Moines debut in 2009. Chinese, Japanese, Asian, and American cuisine are all represented and served at individual stations, specializing in choices of sushi, noodles, hibachi grill meats, salads, and desserts. A buffet-to-go option is also available, charged by the pound and priced according to the type of food.

Location: 1801 22nd St., West Des Moines

Contact: 515-267-8383; hibachigrilliowa.com

New China Buffet & Grill

Easy to find and surrounded by plenty of parking spaces, New China Buffet & Grill in front of the Southridge Mall prides itself on more than years of business experience and more than 150 items to discover on its daily buffet. Customers can take a global culinary tour and pile their plate with Chinese, American and Japanese favorites, including sushi, Mongolian barbecue, pizza, fried wontons, and Hunan chicken. Diners preferring to bypass the buffet can order from a separate and extensive menu of casual Chinese classics, individually priced and prepared with ingredients like beef, chicken, and seafood, plus options of egg foo young, chow mein, and fried rice meals.

Location: 1201 E. Army Post Road, Des Moines

Contact: 515-287-9969; newchinabuffetdesmoines.com

Richard Lane is a freelance writer based in Des Moines. His favorite Chinese-American dishes are lemon chicken, duck with pancakes and plum sauce, and mapo tofu. If he can find fried seaweed, he will order that too.

Where to find some of the best Chinese restaurants and buffets in the Des Moines metro (2024)


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