It remains remarkable a humble sandwich can ignite such passion. Whether it’s battered, or breaded, thick, or thin, Iowans will travel long distances to sample superlative examples of the the classic pork tenderloin sandwich.
Each year, the Iowa Pork Producers Association invites the public to vote to select the state’s best tenderloins. In 2020 the association received 4,501 nominations for 390 different establishments — more proof, if ever needed, Iowa loves its pork loin.
Here are 20 top pork tenderloin purveyors you can find right around the corner in the Des Moines metro.
Angry Goldfish Pub & Eatery
Call it audacious, or inspired, the Des Moines south side’s Angry Goldfish Pub & Eatery makes the list with its quirky recipe, but assures customers the very popular sandwich is “still amazing.” The tenderloin is breaded with crushed Goldfish crackers covered in spicy Sriracha sauce, then cooled down with more-traditional garnishes of lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickles.
Location: 2301 S.W. Ninth St., Des Moines
Hours: 11 a.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday; 11-1 a.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.
B & B Grocery Meat & Deli
A neighborhood fixture since 1922, B & B’s combination grocery store, delicatessen and meat market serves an important local role. And it’s famed Murderers’ Row of self-proclaimed “killer” sandwiches has drawn generations of fans. Using pork from its own butcher shop and served on a choice of bread, B&B’s tenderloins are cut, flattened and breaded in-house following a recipe the Brooks family has been perfecting for decades.
Location: 2001 S.E. Sixth St., Des Moines
Hours: 8.30 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 8.30 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday
Big Al’s BBQ
Of Filipino heritage, based in Adel and specializing in Southern-inspired barbecue, “Big” Al Laudencia has taken his life’s disparate elements and made it all work. Diners love his smokehouse brisket, chicken and ribs, and his tenderloin sandwiches were voted a top five Iowa Pork Producers Association finalist in 2019. Big Al’s flavor secret? The pork tenderloin is hardwood smoked before being hand-breaded in Southern-style cornmeal and then placed on a brioche bun. A bonus is house-fried kettle chips served on the side.
Location: 1960 Grand Ave., West Des Moines
Hours: 11 a.m.-8.30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-9.30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday
Brick Street Market and Café
Inside the casual, diner-style restaurant that sits right off the grocery store floor, the Café’s tenderloin sandwich was voted the runner-up in the Iowa Pork Producers Association’s 2014 contest and takes full advantage of the quality ingredients always found on the nearby shelves. Available fried or grilled, the pork is cut by the store’s meat department and served on fresh baked choices of white, wheat and onion buns. Customers looking for a lighter bite can order the fried tenderloin cut into strips and served with a side dish.
Location: 114 Brick St., Bondurant
Hours: 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday
The tenderloin goes upscale at downtown Des Moines’ Centro. Restaurateur George Formaro and team have naturally added their own creative twist, inventing the Quentin Tarantino-tribute Kill-Bill Pork Tenderloin. Featuring a triple pork whammy, the dish is stacked with Niman Ranch tenderloin, ham, bacon, pepper jack cheese, a sunny side-up egg, red onion and garlic mayo and served on a toasted ciabatta bun, which helps explains its alternate name: The Five Pointed Palm Exploding Heart Sandwich.
Location: 1003 Locust St., Des Moines
Hours: 4-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 4-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday
Cole’s Ice Cream
Honoring the memory of Brandon Cole, his war veteran son, owner David Sturdy uses the late Marine’s special recipe to create his extremely popular sandwich. Weighing in at 22 ounces when it hits the bun, the tenderloin is hand cut and pounded only once a customer places an order, then seasoned with secret sauces and spices before a final trip to the fryer. And as the venue’s name suggests, visitors can also relax with frozen yogurt and ice cream, plus burgers, hot dogs, fries and a grilled tenderloin sandwich on request.
Location: 101 E. Sixth Ave., Slater
Hours: 11 a.m.-7.30 p.m. daily
Contact: (515) 473-1336; facebook.com/ColesIceCream
Felix and Oscar’s
With a casual menu of pizza, pastas, burgers and bread sticks, it makes sense for Felix and Oscar’s to also offer a traditional tenderloin sandwich plus an upgraded version with grilled ham, double-smoked country-style bacon and pepper jack cheese. But for something different, combine a craving for tenderloin with a hankering for pizza and order F&O’s ultimate pork tenderloin pie, topped with a bold combination of breaded tenderloin, ham, bacon, ketchup and mustard sauce and pickles.
Location: 4050 Merle Hay Road, Des Moines
Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4-10 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday
The Filling Station
A headlining dish listed right at the top of the lunch menu and the board behind the ordering counter, The Filling Station’s version of the tenderloin sandwich is loved by customers and the staff also consider it pretty special. The secret recipe includes taking time to brine the Iowa pork, followed by a four-stage breading process featuring hints of saltine crackers, plus toppings of lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle, and the finale of a homemade brioche bun.
Location: 2400 S. University Blvd., Ames
Hours: 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday
Goldie’s Ice Cream Shoppe
Voted Iowa’s best tenderloin in 2009 and, for many, a baseline to judge all other sandwiches, the crispy, tender specialty of the house at Goldie’s always makes a drive to Jasper County worth the trip. Also offering a full collection of casual diner favorites, ice cream, sundaes, malts and shakes, Goldie’s menu includes owner Brad Magg’s namesake combo, balancing a cheeseburger on top of the tenderloin, plus the Mingo special, which adds cheese and sausage sourced from the local Mingo butcher shop.
Location: 304 W. Second St., Prairie City
Hours: 11 a.m.-8.30 p.m. daily
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As an “unapologetically Iowan” beer hall in the East Village, the Iowa Taproom had almost no choice but to add a tenderloin sandwich to its menu. Hand-breading its pork, the bar serves onion, tomato, lettuce and pickles on the side. For tenderloin renegades, The Taproom has created the Tenderlings: six deep-fried strips of its breaded pork served with a honey-mustard sauce, and all without all the traditional fuss of a bun or vegetable garnish.
Location: 215 E. Third St., No. 100, Des Moines
Hours:, 11-12 a.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday
Contact: (515) 243-0827; iowataproom.com
A brilliant piece of marketing that introduced national television audiences to the fried pork tenderloin phenomena, the Adam Emmenecker challenge is still available at Jethro’s BBQ restaurants. It’s inspired by the former Drake University basketball star’s favorite foods, all jammed into one sandwich. Customer who can clean their plates in 15 minutes win a T-shirt and their photograph on the wall of fame, and the meal is free. In return for glory, they must eat a pork tenderloin sandwich topped with buffalo chicken tenders, white cheddar sauce, fried cheese cubes, Texas brisket, applewood smoked bacon, a cheeseburger, plus a pound of waffle fries.
Location: 3100 Forest Ave., Des Moines, IA 50311
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Thursday-Sunday
Kelly’s Little Nipper
One of the oldest bars in Des Moines, the low-key but welcoming Kelly’s Little Nipper has earned a loyal following for its no-fills menu of pub grub favorites, including pizza, burgers and bacon-wrapped tater tots. An under-the-radar hit is the giant-sized breaded tenderloin sandwich, served on large slices of French bread with a choice of chips, crinkle cut fries, deep-fried corn or homemade onion rings dipped in a vodka beer batter.
Location: 1701 E. Grand Ave., Des Moines
Hours: 10 a.m.-midnight Sunday-Thursday; 10-1 a.m. Friday and Saturday
Mr Bibbs Tenderloin
There’s nothing fancy about the décor at the cash-only Mr Bibbs Tenderloin, but regulars rave about the burgers, onion rings, Italian grinders and its tenderloin menu. Order a standard sandwich or the oversized “deluxe,” upgrade with a garnish of chili, or opt for the un-breaded version.
Location: 2705 Sixth Ave., Des Moines
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday,
Contact: (515) 243-0929; facebook.com/Mr-Bibbs-6th-Ave-186965137989674/
Nite Hawk Bar & Grill
A favorite pit stop for riders on the High Trestle bike trail, Slater’s Nite Hawk Bar & Grill announces with pride it was voted one of Iowa’s five best tenderloin sandwich makers back in 2019. Hosting a vibrant live music schedule, a busy outdoor patio and full casual bar menu, the tenderloin special can be grilled or hand breaded. The Nite Hawk also offers an optional spicy twist on a traditional recipe, with bonus ingredients of pepper jack cheese, chipotle mayonnaise and grilled jalapeños.
Location: 105 Greene St., Slater
Hours: Kitchen open daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Serving American classics in a comfortable setting, Skip’s has been a familiar favorite on the south side for special occasions, holiday meals and its dependable menu of seafood, chicken dishes, pastas and steak de burgo. It also offers a well-regarded breaded pork tenderloin sandwich for lunch and dinner, topped with lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle and resting on a toasted Kaiser roll.
Location: 4000 Fleur Drive, Des Moines
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday,
Smitty’s Tenderloin Shop
Preparing its tenderloins and onion rings from scratch each morning, Smitty’s has been synonymous with hand breaded satisfaction for three generations. Even sliced in two, the king and queen sandwich sizes are big enough to share. Inside the informal, diner-style space, the free-spirited menu also serves the veggie loin, still an all-meat sandwich but topped with lettuce and tomato, and the taco loin, adding chili, cheese and a packet of mild taco sauce.
Location: 1401 Army Post Road, Des Moines
Hours: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-0Saturday
Smokey D’s BBQ
Winner of multiple national awards for its stellar barbecued meats, Smokey D’s Second Avenue location offers two versions of the sandwich classic. After tenderizing, the meat is dunked in buttermilk, flour and seasoning before being fried to a golden brown. For bolder tastes, the restaurant mixes diced jalapeños into the breading and tops the pork loin with jalapeño jack cheese and a sprinkling of fried jalapeños, for a kick in every bite.
Location: 5055 N.W. Second Ave., Des Moines
Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Sugar Shack Diner
Designed with red vinyl booths and declaring itself the “home of the homemade tenderloin,” Altoona’s Sugar Shack Diner is a popular, casual choice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Serving up tenderloins that stretch to the edge of the restaurant’s signature red plates, Sugar Shack offers a fried or grilled sandwich with French fries or coleslaw. A chili version is upgraded with red onions and shredded cheddar cheese. The house combo adds a cheeseburger or Graziano sausage under the bun.
Location: 550 36th Ave. S.W,. Suite J, Altoona
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Friday; 8 a.m-8 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday
Whatcha Smokin’ BBQ + Brew
The runner-up in the Iowa Pork Producers Association’s 2018 contest, Whatcha Smokin’ only serves one version of a tenderloin sandwich, but it makes a big impression. Also famed for its Central Texas-style meats, slow smoked and served directly from pit to plate, the casual restaurant operates out of a renovated gas station on Highway 17. The award-winning sandwich lives up to its name, the Double Wide, and arrives with lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle, plus a choice of side from a list including campground beans, Texas toast, cornbread and a pimento cheese pasta salad.
Location: 403 Iowa Ave., Luther
Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday
West Side Family Restaurant
Along with the Nite Hawk Bar & Grill and Big Al’s BBQ, the West Side Family Restaurant was voted among Iowa’s best in 2019 and proudly reminds its customers of the recognition. Prepared with a light breading, the hand-cut tenderloin is served with lettuce, onion and pickle. For a change of pace, the kitchen also makes a tenderloin breakfast skillet, featuring hash browns, two buttermilk biscuits and scrambled eggs and smothered with sausage gravy.
Location: 229 Sixth Ave. W., Grinnell,
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled the name of Des Moines restauranteur George Formaro.