My Five Favorite Food Reasons To Visit Clear Lake, Iowa

Disclosure: In exchange for traveling with the Clear Lake Chamber to Chicago, I have agreed to write five posts about the trip. It is my commitment to share my honest opinion about my experiences. This first post introduces our trip and the Chamber. 

Writing a post about Clear Lake, Iowa is a breeze for me, because I have a really easy time thinking of things I like in this city. There’s a Raygun shirt that says, “Clear Lake: The Hamptons of Mason City. It’s funny because it’s kind of true.

Clear Lake Dock

They’re our neighbor with the biggest body of water! It’s probably the biggest lake in North Iowa which makes it a popular vacation/summer home destination. Jake and I have our favorite spots in our current hometown of Mason City, but venture to Clear Lake often. When I received an opportunity to travel to Chicago with the Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce and seven North Iowa Bloggers via our new carrier Air Choice One, I jumped.

Two years ago when Jake and I moved to Mason City, our airport was actually air-carrierless! The airport sat vacant until last November when Air Choice One began its contract. We heard tales of the previous air carrier’s unpredictability and hoped along with the rest of the city that things would improve. Now, flights go to and from Chicago, IL and St. Louis, MO for about $100 per roundtrip ticket. We’re a two-hour drive from the MSP and Des Moines airports and an hour from Rochester. I hope Air Choice One will continue to improve its service. We need a dependable air carrier and I’m hopeful about these new flight options. This will be my first time flying this airline.

For those road tripping north or south along I-35, Clear Lake is located next to the freeway making it a convenient place to grab a break or meal. The Surf Ballroom and Buddy Holly Crash Site are also located within the city. These are five of my favorite food reasons to visit Clear Lake:

My favorite butcher shop is in Clear Lake.

I drive to Clear Lake almost weekly to purchase meat from Louie’s Custom Meats. Sure, I could purchase meat closer to home, but I like this small, family owned and operated butcher the most. Plus, everything we get here just tastes better. The prices here are affordable and I can also grab a growler of beer produced by Lake Time Brewing, a Clear Lake Brewery.

You can get broasted chicken in Clear Lake.

Barrel CHicken
Jake and I get fried chicken cravings occasionally. We’ve indulged this craving at other places in North Iowa, but like the broasted chicken from the historic Barrel Drive-In the best. The skin’s crispy and the meat is tender and moist.

You can enjoy cheap cocktails and better bar food at Rookies in Clear Lake.

Rookies Collage

We’ve mentioned Rookie’s often, because it really is one of our favorite date night spots. I hear the atmosphere can get rowdier on weekend evenings, but we’ve always found a laid-back vibe at dinner time. Rookie’s is connected to the restaurant Sevens so customers can order more than just bar food while sitting around the big, shiny bar.

This is not to say their bar food isn’t good, though. Rookies serves one of my favorite version of sweet potato fries in North Iowa. They’re sprinkled with an addicting seasoning salt and served with a creamy dip that tastes like bacon. One of our other favorite entrees is the sautéed lemon-pepper cod served with a crisp green salad. The fact that I can sidle up to the bar and eat a better than average salad with homemade lemon vinaigrette is enough to make me loyal.

An old school supper club is located in Clear Lake.

half moon Collage
Half Moon Inn is an old school supper club near the Surf Ballroom. There is no flashy sign and the building isn’t showy, so you might not know it’s there unless someone tells you to look for it. Many rave about Northwestern Steakhouse’s Greek-style steak, while other friends prefer Half Moon.

We haven’t visited Northwestern yet, but liked the charred flavor of our ribeye. It was tender and the juices had a compelling acidic note. Meals start with a cute, pre-bread basket cracker basket with butter and dinner salads. A small loaf of bread arrives later with the entrees. The blue cheese dressing indeed included chunks of blue cheese and one can order hash browns as their potato side. Most restaurants in North Iowa offer shredded hash browns as a potato option and I love this.

You can dine lakeside at The Landing in Clear Lake. 


To my knowledge, the Landing is the only lakeside restaurant located in the city of Clear Lake (however there is a popular supper club called the Muskie Lounge in Ventura). The Landing is connected to a small hotel, so don’t be surprised to see vacationers hanging out on the yard or their patios. We enjoyed a meal here late last summer near the end of the season and have looked forward to returning. You’ll really get your money’s worth if you dine here on an evening with live music.

The Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce welcomes questions from visitors. Contact them online or visit their office at 205 Main Ave. They also share information through their tourism blog and visitors’ guide


  1. Sara Broers

    I am a fan of Summer at the Lake- can’t wait!

  2. Betsy

    Great post! I love Clear Lake and this gave me an idea. PM Park is lakeside and it has a fantastic tiki bar…have you been there? I think a bloggers meet-up there is a MUST this summer!

    • Jeni

      I haven’t been there in the summer. Our friends visited during our first winter. We saw there was a tiki bar in Clear Lake and got really excited so we headed over while it was snowing. Then, we realized it was a seasonal business;)

  3. Katy Flint

    I have never been to PM Park & the Tiki Bar as well as the landing because T isn’t very adventurous, so I would like blogger outings at both places please!!

  4. Louie Covillo

    Thank you Jeni for your support. I thank all the Bloggers for the great way you cover North Iowa small businesses

    • Jeni

      It’s a joy and honor to cover my favorite small businesses!

  5. Beth Ann Chiles

    So many places I have yet to discover in Clear Lake and time is running out! I had better get busy! I am very excited about all of these great places and our upcoming trip! Woo hoo! Love this post!

  6. Minnesota Prairie Roots

    Our mutual friend, Beth Ann, directed me here, not that I haven’t heard her talk about her Jeni before.

    Clear Lake is now officially on my list of places to visit when my husband and I cross the border into Iowa. We explored Mason City last summer while staying at the Chiles B & B. Loved the quirky sculpture/art garden and the Frank Lloyd Wright homes and hotel. Oh, and the sculptures. You have a delightful community.

    • Jeni

      Not that I haven’t heard Beth mention you, too:) I heard you had a wonderful visit last summer. Clear Lake is so much fun in the summer.

  7. Kristen

    I have never been to clear lake. I only hear about it, when it sometimes gets mentioned on Iowa Public Radio. Looks like I need to take a day trip with my kiddos!

  8. Val - Corn, Beans, Pigs and Kids

    We are so bad about going to the same places whenever we go out on a date night. We’ll have to try the Half Moon Inn! (And the Raygun shirt makes me laugh!)

    • Jeni

      If Jake had his way, we’d go to Las Palmas every other week:) Half Moon was such a fun place to eat.

  9. Donna Hup

    I’ve only been to one of these places. Myles is home this weekend so maybe we will try one of these 🙂

  10. Tim Garrett

    What a great article. It just goes to show that good things can last forever. As a young boy going to grade school in Clear Lake I remember many evenings eating with the family and an extended group of friends at both the Muskie and The Half Moon in the mid 70’s. Now some 40 plus years later when we do get to visit, those are 2 of the first stops for dinner. Not just for the food, but for the family atmosphere that is still carried on. Thanks to the families still involved that make places like these great.

    • Jeni

      We really wanted to visit the Muskie, but it was super packed the night we went. Heard the food there rocks. Happy it could bring back some good memories and bring attention to awesome family businesses.

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