A decade ago, Iowa's second city survived one of the worst natural disasters in American history. Now, it's thriving.
Four days a week, the covered market in Cedar Rapids, Iowa hums with energy—you'll find it by looking up directions to the NewBo City Market, that's NewBo as in New Bohemia, your first of many reminders that this city was heavily settled by Czech immigrants, going back to the 1800's.
Particularly on the weekends, the market fills up with hungry people. Those looking for instant gratification can choose from, say, tacos, or dumplings, or falafel; then there are the vendors selling grass-fed beef, fresh bread, organic herbs and other essentials. This is so much more than yet another public market, however—this is something of a miracle. A decade ago, right here, right here where you are standing? All underwater. All of it.
The catastrophic floods that swept through Eastern Iowa in 2008 hit Cedar Rapids the hardest. Roughly 10 square miles of the city—settled right along the Cedar River—went under, including the downtown-adjacent NewBo neighborhood. The lowest spot in town, this was always one of the first places to go.
That was then, this is now. Drop in on Cedar Rapids today, and if you didn't know the city before and weren't looking for clues, you'd be hard put to recognize that you were standing at the epicenter of what came to be recognized as one of the worst natural disasters in American history. NewBo and its sister neighborhood, the historic Czech Village, just over the river, aren't just back, they're doing great, too—here and in the downtown area, you'll find a growing number of interesting restaurants and bars, some of them all but instrumental to the city's rebirth. If you're headed to town, here is where you celebrate Cedar Rapids' epic comeback.
NewBo City Market
As long as they're up and running (Thursday-Sunday), you're starting here—the most happening place in the city's most happening neighborhood truly is one of the best gathering places in town, and as mentioned before, there's always plenty to eat. Besides the market's permanent vendors, look for food truck events, live music, yoga classes and an abundance of other happenings.
Andy and Carrie Shumacher have been at the forefront of Cedar Rapids' culinary revival. Cobble Hill, named after their old Brooklyn neighborhood, is one of the city's best restaurants, and they've followed that up with this modern taco and cocktail spot that's proving rather effective at drawing more people into the NewBo neighborhood.
Lion Bridge Brewing Co.
One of the city's first craft breweries chose the heart of the old Czech Village as its landing pad, and if you're asking, things are going great. Like NewBo over the bridge, the area got hammered by the floods; for the purposes of putting the neighborhood back on the map, it certainly hasn't hurt to have an award-winning brewery (they've snagged a couple of golds at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver) right on the main drag. Once here, you're steps from one of the neighborhood's finest assets, and another post-flood success story, the Village Meat Market & Café.
This family-owned, all-day café in a historic NewBo building—once home to a Czech fraternal society—kicks the day off with breakfast burritos, avocado toast and other fashionable ways to start your day, taking things all the way through to happy hour with good local beers, wine, and civilized spirits.
Dash Coffee Roasters
One of Iowa's most modern roaster/café operations can be found a short walk (a pleasant one, over the river) from downtown Cedar Rapids—the space itself is de rigueur-minimal, but the coffee's positively elegant. Looking to rub shoulders with the local cool crowd? Post up here for the morning. (By the way—you can get avocado toast here, as well.)
A former pastry shop in a strip mall on the edge of Cedar Rapids probably isn’t the first place you'd go looking for classic French cooking, but you're in capable hands here with Ian and Isabelle Cummings, who met in France and got married. Eventually, they landed here, running that previously mentioned shop for more than a decade. Salmon in puff pastry, beef bourguignon, vichyssoise—it's all here, and so are (as you'd hope) some rather fine desserts. Make reservations.