Friday, July 11, 2014

Local Restaurant Review: Malo

Good evening everyone! One of the many advantages to living in the Des Moines metro is the plentiful amount of good restaurants and pubs to sample. From downtown to the west side, the metro is a veritable bounty of unique eateries that will please even the pickiest foodie. Last week, Maggie and I sampled two newer establishments and came away impressed on both counts. I wanted to share our experiences with the first establish tonight: Malo.


900 Mulberry Street
Des Moines, IA 50309


Photo from the Des Moines Register

Located on the western side of downtown Des Moines, Malo is a new “Nuevo Latino” restaurant that offers a menu ranging from traditional tacos and burritos all the way to southern inspired delights (like chicken and waffles). They haven’t defined their menu to one item / region, but rather to a central theme – which leaves a lot of options, which is only a bad thing because most of them sound simply fantastic.

If you know any Spanish, you likely know that malo is Spanish for “bad” which makes naming your restaurant “Malo” a bit of a bold and unorthodox move – it’s a quirky choice but it matches the rest of the vibe for the restaurant, so in an odd way – it works.

Immediately after entering Malo, you feel like you’ve stepped into a high end, trendy joint. The design feels reminiscent of the “after” shots on shows like restaurant makeover. The lighting is low on the bar side but acutely focused. The opposite side of the restaurant is brightly lit by a wall of windows, which give a nice view of the Des Moines skyline. The floors and furniture are dark, but the walls have bright pops of color from a variety of sources (“reclaimed” shutters painted brightly above the bar, vibrant industrial lighting above some of the tables and a large luchador painting on a partial wall all provide distinct eye appeal, while managing to appeal to the central theme). The service station / kitchen is partially viewable (on the bar side) a choice that some will love while others will find distracting. Personally, I didn’t find it to take away from the ambiance. Our only gripe about the interior was the large table we sat at had especially tall bar stools – stools so tall they were tough to “scoot” in. A minor gripe, but for folks closer to the ground (like Maggie) one that can be a bit frustrating to deal with. Most of the restaurant is filled with regular tables and booths - we had a large group which apparently necessitated the tall table accommodation. 

There's a lot to like about the ambiance of Malo. Every design choice adds something to the appeal - all in all, it's a perfect blend of bright colors and deep ambient lighting. 

Design and ambiance only go so far, however. It’s the food and service that really matter and Malo certainly delivered on both accounts. We were greeted by a friendly front staff and had a high energy waitress who was personable and really seemed to enjoy her job. Other staff members were quick to refill water or clear plates.

Maggie ordered the “Big ‘Ol Burrito” which, it turns out, may have been an understatement. This monstrosity was nearly the size of her head and packed full of beef, rice and other fixings. It was a delicious dish, that provided an extra meal the next day as it was simply impossible to consume the entire thing in one sitting. (As an added bonus, the staff boxes up your dish for if (when) you have extras. It’s a nice touch that makes it feel like a higher end restaurant than the prices would indicate).

I ordered the Cuban and found the sandwich to be delectable. The best part of the sandwich was the lime aioli that accompanied the standard mustard – it added a zest and bite that is hard to find on a Cuban. (It’s very easy to create a bland, uninspired Cuban that’s washed away by cheese and a subpar mustard.) The only gripe I had about the food was the French fries were a bit uninspired. They weren’t terrible, but when the rest of the dish is so good, you sort of expect the fries to deliver too.

The prices were reasonable (think sit down restaurant standard pricing - $9-$12 for a sandwich –etc.) the atmosphere was chic and relaxing and the food was fantastic. All in all, we’d highly recommend you stop by Malo during your next visit to the downtown area.

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