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Malo: The ‘bad’ bar that’s really damn good


One of the hot new attractions in the downtown area, Malo brings in crowds well past happy hour with specialty drinks and creative dishes.

One of the hot new attractions in the downtown area, Malo brings in crowds well past happy hour with specialty drinks and creative dishes.

Naming a restaurant “bad” might seem like a strange way to start out a business, but for downtown Des Moines’ new Latin-inspired bar and restaurant, the name couldn’t be more opposite of its reputation.

Malo opened its doors in May next to the Des Moines Social Club in an old fire station. However, you forget what the building once was when you step inside and see the colorful ceiling panels, modern light fixtures and classic art lining the walls. It feels like a five-star restaurant from the moment you walk through the door.

There’s also the large Lucha Libre mural on the dividing wall inside the dining area. It adds a bit of funky flair to the otherwise fancy establishment.

The food is a mixture of Latin and Mexican classics — like tacos and enchiladas — with something of an Italian twist, thanks to its creator, George Formaro. Fried calamari isn’t a normal Latin American dish, but you won’t hear any complaints to have it on the menu.


Fresh chips and salsa are brought out to each table upon seating and can be customized with a triple sample platter for just $3. A variety of tacos can be tried for as low as the same price, but the more intricate dishes — Agave and Chipotle Glazed Pork Chop, Coriander Crusted Snapper — are on the upper end of pricing at $24.99 on the dinner menu.

Portion sizes and exquisite taste make every dish worth the price, as each was meticulously thought out and prepared and will undoubtedly serve at least one extra meal.

With seating for more than 300 people, it’s clear that owners had high expectations, and rightfully so. It fills up fast in both the dining area and bar, especially on Tuesdays when people apparently get a hankering for tacos — even without a special.

Right away, you realize Malo isn’t your run-of-the-mill Mexican restaurant with chips and margaritas. Friendly staff, creative drinks and a stylish atmosphere make Malo the type of place you’d take your parents when you want to impress them and humble-brag about how refined and mature you’ve become since moving out.

And about those drinks… The bar offers a whole lot more than just a couple margarita machines spinning in the background. The first thing you’ll see when you walk in is the enormous wine collection arranged on one wall. Farther in you’ll see all kinds of liquor for a variety of classic and unique cocktails. Drink prices are standard, anywhere from $5-$12, and worth the investment.

The bartenders take care to make each drink the right way, like using a pestle to grind chunks of pineapple, lime and mint for the best pineapple mojito you’ve ever had.

So, what about Malo could make it fit the name’s description?

Lunchtime food prices are discounted but still keep their large portions; the atmosphere is elegant and friendly; drinks are top-notch and fresh; tacos are half-price during daily happy hour and still served as late-night options. Oh, and did I mention Malo serves brunch every Sunday?

There’s really nothing malo about it. CV

900 Mulberry St. • 515-244-5000
Sunday: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.,
brunch 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Monday-Thursday: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Friday-Saturday: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Happy hour: 4-6 p.m. daily, and 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday

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