503 completes Eighth Street evolution2/25/2015
Neighborhoods evolve mysteriously. A few years and one sexual harassment lawsuit ago, Eighth Street in West Des Moines was the center of the Iowa restaurant universe with Jimmy’s American Café, Eighth Street Seafood, Pain Pane and Cabo San Lucas at its nexus. That was before the downtown scene exploded and the above-mentioned restaurants were sold to cover court costs. Today, the Eighth Street strip consists of two Mexican restaurants (Raul’s and Tacos Andreas) one Vietnamese café (Lemongrass) and now 503, a Salvadoran restaurant and nightclub.
The latest player moved here from Perry, where they called themselves El Buen Gusto. They moved into Angelo’s/Jimmy’s in near turnkey style. Lots of Hawkeye paraphernalia still decorates the walls. TVs are still tuned into sports, albeit Mexican League soccer games now. Tables have been removed from the main dining room to provide a dance floor where DJs entertain on weekend nights. Because of the nightclub, the restaurant closes early on Fridays and Saturdays.
The menu includes some dishes one expects in Mexican cafés, plus a number of them that one does not. Tamales are steamed in both corn husks and banana leaves. Yucca is fried with loose meat and steamed in a cornhusk. Guisquil (a gourd also known as chayote) is stuffed with cheese, battered and fried like a chile relleno. Empanadas are made with plantains. Tacos and gorditas are made with a choice of chicken, pork or beef tongue. The pork is pastor (braised) style, not carnitas (braised and fried). Tortillas are available homemade and thick as pupusas or thinner, commercial style. Salvadoran breakfast presents two eggs cooked as you like with beans, fried plantains and tortillas or French bread. Pupusas were covered with freshly made curtido of cabbage and peppers.
Costillas chirukka (beef ribs), my favorite dish here, are cut across the bone, Korean-style, seasoned and seared brilliantly. They can also be ordered in tomato sauce. Pollo con crema, perhaps Salvador’s most famous dish, is made here with breast meat and tomatoes in thick Mexican-style cream. Carne guisado was a tender beef stew. Chiles rellenos are made with poblano chilies and stuffed with a choice of ground beef or cheese. Burritos, tacos, tortas, enchiladas, fajitas and tostadas resembeled those sold in Mexican tacquerias in town. Tilapia was fried whole. Seafood soup and stew are served on weekends only.
The pace is quite leisurely here. If you are in hurry you can be frustrated, but it takes time to prepare everything, even tortillas, from scratch. Tap beer has been removed from the bar. Bottles of mostly Mexican beers dominate that selection. Rums and tequilas outnumber all other bottles of liquor. The most expensive item on the menu was $15. A la carte ordering barely exists. One can buy a single tamale, but tacos can only be ordered in sets of four, gorditas in sets of three.
Bottom line – this famous patio will be rocking again this summer, but to a different beat.
Side Dishes: Andy Schumacher (Cobble Hill in Cedar Rapids) and Sean Wilson (Proof) are semifinalists this year for the James Beard Award as Best Chef Midwest. Nic Gonwa (Eatery A) is a national semifinalist for the Beard award for “rising star” (best chef age 30 or younger)… Heather Thompson Hamilton bought Tally’s. Keith Johnson has returned there as executive chef. While many old favorites remain, Johnson has created a new menu. His lobster ravioli has a cult following… Tres Amigos Mexican café opened in the old Carefree Patisserie in Valley Junction… Backpocket Brewery in Iowa City is introducing Iowa Swabian Hall smoked beer, to complement the pig breed created by Iowa farmer Carl Blake. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.
1238 Eighth St., West Des Moines
Restaurant hours: Sun. – Thurs. 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., Fri. – Sat. 11 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.