Located on the far-east side of Des Moines, almost to Pleasant Hill, Now or Later is a small, family-style restaurant with a focus on simply prepared comfort food. It’s usually full of regulars who frequent the restaurant for quality steaks, burgers and pasta at a moderate price (nothing on the menu is over $13) and in a cozy atmosphere.
We stopped in on a Tuesday, as the restaurant was filling up. The three- page menu is full of standard options, including pasta (a few cavatelli options, lasagna, spaghetti and ravioli), sandwiches (a club, French dip, Reuben, pork tenderloin, sausage and more), entrees (ribs, meatloaf, chicken fried chicken, stuffed peppers), burgers (rarebit, mushroom, patty melt) and salads.
The restaurant also has daily specials (chicken and noodles the night we visited) and a full bar.
We started with an order of broccoli poppers off a list of appetizers that included cheese sticks, onion rings, chicken gizzards and other fried options. A unique option, the five poppers were thick broccoli trees covered in cheddar cheese, then fried. The result was a taste that closely resembled broccoli cheese soup, only in crunchy nugget form and served with ranch dressing. They were delicious.
For dinner, my friend tried the broiled tilapia (also available fried) with rice (side options also included a baked or mashed potato or fries). The mild white fish was flaky and cooked correctly, and was well-seasoned with a lemon-pepper spice blend. The wild rice was simple, but had good flavor.
I tried the Tuscan chicken, a marinated chicken breast that the menu advertised as “lightly breaded” and topped with an herb sauce. I was pleasantly surprised at the accurate listing. The juicy chicken was coated in a barely-there crispy breading, which added a slight crunch and more flavor, yet wasn’t completely encased in fried breadcrumbs. The herb dressing was a chunky mix of tomatoes and herbs, and paired nicely with the meat, which was served over the same wild rice my friend choose as her side.
Soup or salad was offered with both of our meals, and being 90 degrees outside, we both chose the salad. The homemade honey mustard dressing was thick and very flavorful.
Despite the quality food, Now or Later isn’t a fancy place. The service is standard and efficient, but not over-the-top. If you want hot food, full water glasses and a prompt check delivery, this is the place. If you want modern decor and white tablecloths, go somewhere else.
Now or Later is worth the drive if you live or work in Des Moines for tasty classics and efficient service.
Broccoli poppers ... $5.25
Broiled tilapia ... $12.95
Tuscan chicken ... $9.95
Total, with tax and tip: 35.84
Now or Later Restaurant & Lounge
Find it: 3705 E. University Ave.
Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 4-10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 4-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday