With due respect to the Des Moines International Airport, the truth is, you can’t take a direct flight anywhere overseas from here. Luckily, some enterprising local restauranteurs will take you to their home countries quickly — nutritionally speaking, anyway.
Mi Patria Ecuadorian Restaurant
Think of it as comfort food with a twist. The dishes Cesar Miranda prepares at his comfortable neighborhood restaurant (named “my country”) reflect tasty Spanish and Chinese influences on the cuisine of his homeland, tucked between Colombia, Peru, and the Pacific Ocean on the coast of South America.
A great place to start: Tilapia Frita offers a taste of coastal cuisine. The moist, mild fish is lightly crispy on the outside, seasoned with a flavorful mix of garlic, cumin and oregano. Among its companions on the plate: tender lentil rice, a satisfying, mild-mannered flavor cousin of red beans and rice, and Hornado con Mote, a slow-roasted pork dish from the country’s mountainous regions. Piping hot and moist, it’ll push Mom’s pot roast into second place, served with steamed rice, chunky white corn (think hominy), fried plantains, and a cool, fresh mix of tomatoes, onions, green peppers and cilantro.
Find it: 1410 22nd St., West Des Moines
More info: 222-2755, mipatriaecuador.com
Saraj Restaurant & Bakery
Three words: Bosnian Style Gyro. You’ll need a fork and knife for this giant spin on the Greek classic. What makes it unique is lepinja, a fluffy Bosnian flatbread baked nightly at owner Fuada Aljic’s offsite bakery. Another entree you and your friends will want to fight over: Burek Pita: Rich phyllo dough stuffed with savory seasoned ground beef. No worries — you’ll have enough to go around.
For a Bosnian favorite, try Cevapi, mild sausage links on lepinja. It’s OK to eat this one with your fingers, says Aljic. Just tear off a piece of bread and wrap it around a sausage link with a little fresh onion, then dip it in the sour cream on the side. Save room for dessert at Saraj (sar-EYE), including baklava with chopped walnuts. Stop by anytime to purchase baked goods.
Find it: 1300 50th St., West Des Moines
More info: 255-1133, sarajrestaurant.com
This unpretentious cafe (pronounced LEE-lee’s) serves what insiders consider the city’s best Cafe Sua Da — Vietnamese iced coffee brewed tableside with sweetened condensed milk in a small French drip filter. You can stop by for a cup to go or stay and enjoy it with an entree.
The menu offers Laotian, Thai, Chinese, and Vietnamese soups, sandwiches and entrees. You won’t miss with Crispy Noodle Mi Xao Gron (me-so-YON), made with your choice of meat and a crunchy, colorful mix of carrots, snow peas, broccoli, cauliflower, and fresh green beans in a savory sauce.
Another staple at Li Ly’s does well: Pho, the flavorful Vietnamese noodle soup served as a steaming broth with sliced beef, meatballs or chicken and a side of fresh bean sprouts, Asian basil, cilantro, green onions and lime. It’s listed on the menu as 23-27, Noodle Soup. To enjoy it like a pro, toss in the herbs and veggies, stir in a little Sriracha hot chili sauce and hoisin sauce, and wield chopsticks as well as a spoon. It’s OK to slurp.
Find it: 3422 Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway
More info: 277-7881