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“What a place - history all over it.”

Canteen Lunch In The Alley
Ranked #1 of 84 Restaurants in Ottumwa
Certificate of Excellence
Description: Features loose meat sandwiches.
Restaurant details
Description: Features loose meat sandwiches.
Reviewed June 28, 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!

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1  Thank WideloadShipping
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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139 - 143 of 150 reviews

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.

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1  Thank cross1242
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed February 4, 2011

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.

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Thank RoadWearier
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed July 15, 2010

I grew up in Ottumwa and moved to Tennessee when I was 10. I still crave these burgers and cannot wait to get there. Maidrites are similar but definately not canteens!! I am now 47 and am going to a 30 year reunion this month and cannot wait to get to the Canteen. I am Fedexing 2 pounds of it back since I work there and can get discounted shipping!

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Thank kintn
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed August 3, 2009

I was born in Ottumwa in 1953 and the sandwich seems to have gotten smaller in my hand from when I was 5, but the smell and taste hasn't. This is the origional loose beef sandwich. without mentioning any names, they just copied the Canteen. I wish everyone could have seen the alley 50 years ago. The alley has changed, but the Canteen and the sandwich hasn't.. You ask anyone from Ottumwa to go to the Canteen and they will drop what ever they are doing and go with you. Just be prepared to eat two, because one just doesn't get-er done. :-) The origional is only with mustard, onion, and a pickle. Enjoy the experience. BTW: bring cash or check because they don't take any plastic.

As you walk down the alley you see this old painted square brick building. The smell is entising and you open this old screen door and through this wooden door that had to be the origional door when it was built. You enter to see a horse shoe type counter with this stainless steel cooking thing in the middle. No table and just about 20 stools that spin next to the counter. These stools like the doors had to have been there since the place opened in 1938 or so. No other tables or chairs. I guess it is there way to keep the place clean. It is rare not to have to wait a few minutes to be seated so be patient...everyone else had to wait as well. You sit down and a server askes what you would like to drink. Forget plastic or carry out cups, they use real dinner glasses. The person behind the steamer/beef cooker (I still don't know what they call it) and ask what you would like on your sandwich? She takes the order and right in front of you, you see your order being made. Tops it off with some seasoning (I think it is just salt and pepper) and by the way, no seasoning go into cooking the beef and is always applied after the sandwich is made. Wraps the sandwich in wax paper and you are served along with a spoon. The spoon is there to scoop up the beef crumbs that is as the bottom of the wax paper. It just doesn't get any fresher than that...anywhere! You eat and maybe order another one. When you are done you will notice people sanding at the door waiting to be seated, you pull out the cash or check to pay and you are out the door. Do you know any resturant that still takes checks? I am sure if they ever got a bad check the patrons will correct any misunderstanding? :-) GREAT PLACE TO GO AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK!!!

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2  Thank TimesLost
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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