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“Welcome to a 1930s-era classic diner” 5 of 5 stars
Review of Canteen Lunch In The Alley

Canteen Lunch In The Alley
112 1/2 E 2nd St, Ottumwa, IA
(641) 682-5320
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Ranked #1 of 67 Restaurants in Ottumwa
Restaurant details
Oldbiker49
Senior Contributor
29 reviews 29 reviews
9 restaurant reviews
Reviews in 19 cities Reviews in 19 cities
18 helpful votes 18 helpful votes
“Welcome to a 1930s-era classic diner”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed January 3, 2012

Each trip to Iowa includes a stop in what has to be southeast Iowa's favorite- the Canteen in Ottumwa. You are not here for the surroundings, although while waiting for your canteen sandwich (loose steamed hamburger and onions) read the newspaper clippings and photos of FDR. Homemade pies and buns. The Canteen is an Ottumwa staple- so much so a parking garage was built over it after fears of moving the diner sparked national outrage. An Ottumwa and Iowa classic.

Visited January 2012
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56 reviews from our community

Visitor rating
    43
    8
    3
    1
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Rating summary
    Food
    Service
    Value
    Atmosphere
Date | Rating
  • English first
  • Any
English first
Austin, Texas
Top Contributor
66 reviews 66 reviews
37 restaurant reviews
Reviews in 39 cities Reviews in 39 cities
40 helpful votes 40 helpful votes
“Great Lunch and definitely worth the effort”
4 of 5 stars Reviewed November 6, 2011

Even in a small town like Ottumwa, this place is a little difficult to find: It is located in/on the first floor of a parking deck. The restaurant has been there since 1936 so the parking deck was built around it. Ok....on to the food. A loose meat hamburger is roughly a sloppy joe without the sauce. I had mine with ketchup, mustard and cheese (I'm a traditionalist) and they serve it to you in wax paper. Maybe a little difficult to eat w/o dropping food but really tasty. Cokes are served in vintage small plastic tumblers and you can buy a variety of chips (no fries). They make about 8 varieties of pie and I had the excellent apple pie ala mode. The whole lunch was "spot on" in my opinion.

The ladies who work their are older, fun & sassy. They told me that although they are "all democrats", they quit taking food away from republicans years ago.

  • Visited November 2011
    • 4 of 5 stars Value
    • 4 of 5 stars Atmosphere
    • 5 of 5 stars Service
    • 4 of 5 stars Food
Was this review helpful? Yes 2
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Portland, Oregon
Contributor
11 reviews 11 reviews
11 restaurant reviews
Reviews in 4 cities Reviews in 4 cities
30 helpful votes 30 helpful votes
“What a place - history all over it.”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed June 29, 2011

This place has been there forever. The sandwiches are not what you might expect as they are loose meat sandwiches. All the same, they are all the same. They are delicious and it is a cute little place that you can say you've been to. It's kind of hard to find but if you walk out of the front door of the Hotel Ottumwa downtown on third street look under the parking garage and low and behold you'll see this little gem of a spot. A must do, thanks Gayla!

  • Visited August 2010
    • 5 of 5 stars Value
    • 5 of 5 stars Atmosphere
    • 5 of 5 stars Service
    • 5 of 5 stars Food
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Senior Contributor
31 reviews 31 reviews
17 restaurant reviews
Reviews in 12 cities Reviews in 12 cities
27 helpful votes 27 helpful votes
“A Real Treat”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed April 16, 2011

I was born and raised in Ottumwa and while I was growing up, going for a Canteen was always a special treat. I live a long way away now but whenever I get back, the first place I head for is the Canteen. It still is a special place to eat. For those untutored in it's lore, yes they serve a loose-meat hamburger somewhat like a Made-Rite. However, they are bigger and taste better. (The rumor is that the Canteen uses all the meat from a cow and not just the usual hamburger meat. So, you're getting steak and roast meat along with the mere hamburger.) The service is quick an efficient. (You'll be interested in watching them work while you eat.) The value is good. (Even though they no longer cost 50 cents like when I was growing up.) And the atmosphere is one of a kind. If your a frequent visitor, the staff knows you. And if you're a local, you'll probably know the other guests because everyone in Ottumwa still thinks of the Canteen as a special treat.

  • Visited April 2011
    • 5 of 5 stars Value
    • 5 of 5 stars Atmosphere
    • 5 of 5 stars Service
    • 5 of 5 stars Food
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Portland, Oregon
Top Contributor
79 reviews 79 reviews
33 restaurant reviews
Reviews in 62 cities Reviews in 62 cities
123 helpful votes 123 helpful votes
“A must-try when traveling through Ottumwa”
4 of 5 stars Reviewed February 4, 2011 via mobile

I stopped in Ottumwa on business for a couple of days and my preliminary online research revealed the existence of this unusual restaurant. Though frequented by lots of locals during my meal there, and clearly a long-time local favorite, the Canteen, being the most historical and distinctive restaurant in town, also plays to the tourist market (souvenir t-shirts on display for sale). Like all landmark restaurants (the Varsity in Atlanta comes to mind), it is a little overpriced, but would not have survived all this time without providing a tasty and distinctive menu. I felt gently ripped off by what I paid for two Canteen sandwiches, but would absolutely return if ever in the area again.

    • 2 of 5 stars Value
    • 4 of 5 stars Atmosphere
    • 4 of 5 stars Service
    • 5 of 5 stars Food
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