If you're staying downtown, there is zero reason to not eat somewhere within walking distance given the number of great choices. Can you be more specific on what you're looking for? When people are throwing out High Life Lounge and Splash (on completely different ends of the spectrum in price and atmosphere), it says you need to provide some more clarification or you're going to be drowning in suggestions that are all over the board.
Do you want to keep the car at the hotel? Do you want something urban and hip? Very casual? Ethnic? What do you want to avoid? Near Court Avenue since you may be going to Pianopoolza?
Another vote for Centro.
And another "meh" vote for Dos Rios. Did lunch there and I don't think the place is bad, again, just not our style of Mexican, especially at those prices.
Since you appear flexible and may want to stay in Court Ave district, here are my suggestions based on what we enjoying when we're downtown for an evening: :
We like smaller, out-of the-way bars where you can carry on a conversation:
The Lift - in old Kirkwood Hotel (now apartments) -- best Martini menu in Des Moines!
The Red Monk -- top floor of Royal Mile -- dark, intimate Belgium bar
Shorty's -- basement under Sborrco -- on Court Ave (just west of Legend's). No sign in front. You enter through the alley in back. Great hang out.
If you want very casual, cheap, food - High Life Lounge.
Sushi? Zen (it is next to The Lift, in the Kirkwood)
A little more classy, but still casual - Sborrco -- wine bar/restaurant on Court Ave. (same building as Shorty's)
Pizza? (both of these places are on 4th St across from Royal Mile). Both offer pizza late( after bars close), so if you end up eating light early and going to Pianopoolza, you can still have some pizza before you head back to your hotel. There is also several street vendors that have popped up lately too for late night eats.
Fong's -- this is also a great bar option if you want to try some fun drinks. It is a tiki bar.
Catch the game?
Johnny's Hall of Fame - they have added pizza recently, but I've never tried it.
Finally, my wife and I really like Dos Rios. I can understand why some people aren't crazy for it, but I think it helps to know exactly what type of place it is. It is Mexican, but it is not the slop it on your plate/stuff your belly/everything tastes good, but similar, Mexican restaurant most of us are used to in central Iowa. These dishes are more authentic, more fresh ingredients (and thus more expensive), less sloppy sauces, etc. The best part is the tequila selection. Again, this is not what most of us in Iowa are used to. Here you buy a Tequila shot (choose from over 100+ different types) and you sip it with your appetizer (get the guacamole they make tableside!) and/or meal. It is like sipping a fine wine, rather than throwing back a shot of Jose Quevo (sp?)like most of us have done in the past. It also has a very urban, big city feel to it. I had a friend from Minneapolis in town a couple month's ago. He couldn't stop talking about how he wished they had a place like this in Minneapolis. We actually enjoy Dos Rios more as a place for appetizers and drinks, so that is an option too if you don't want to go the full meal. .
There are so many other options, but this should give you more than enough to chew on. Have fun!
My idea of good mexican is the old Raul's. I don't have a problem spending money for good italian, seafod, etc but for some reason I don't like paying $10 for them to make guacamole in front of me. Plus I hate restuarants that come up to you and ask you your name and then say it all the time. IMO it's very cheasy.
I'm probably just low class. I'd rather eat at Tasty Taco's :)
If you like seafood you should go to Splash. Always good.
Splash Chef is an ISU grad too (was my roomie). If seafood isn't your thing, they have some good steaks too.
Centro is great also.
Centro is one of our favs too, but location isn't the best if you're wanting to head out from the Marriot and then end up in Court Ave. Centro is the opposite direction. If there werent' numerous other options, then I'd say go for it.
Come to think of it, I don't think there is anyplace downtown that is really "bad". There are places that are better than others, but I can't think of anywhere I wouldn't eat downtown.
The worst experience I've had lately was at A Dong. The food was pretty good, but the service was just atrocious. I think they were having issues with the help, and it was a Friday night which didn't help matters any. Other than that, all the places downtown are pretty decent.
I tend to avoid Raccoon River just because their beer is mediocre and I think their menu is very overpriced (though generally good). Court Ave's beers have never impressed me either, but they have a decent "pub food" menu.
I generally end up at Hessin Haus for dinner (I'm addicted to sauerkraut balls), and El Bait Shop for beers afterwards.