As the old phrase goes, nothing in this world is certain except for three things: death, taxes, and Iowa restaurants having a tenderloin on the menu.
To sift through the breading crumbs and find the best of the best, we turned to a panel of the most qualified tenderloin experts we could find: Iowans. Below are the places that our followers voted the best tenderloins in Greater Des Moines. Bring your appetite, leave with leftovers.
Old School Stalwarts
Considered the Godfather of Des Moines tenderloin joints, Smitty’s has been serving up over 3,000 tenderloins a week since 1952. It’s become destination dining for visiting out-of-town journalists during Caucus season, and in 2019, People Magazine named it the best sandwich in Iowa. Pair it with their hand-breaded onion rings, and you’ve got the quintessential Iowa tenderloin experience.
Fun, deep-fried fact: you’ll find some of the best tenderloins in mom-and-pop grocery stores. Family owned and operated since 1922, B&B is a tiny grocery store and butcher shop whose big break came after being featured on Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods” (because the tenderloins are bizarrely good?) You’re not here for the ambiance, you’re here for the “killer sandwiches” that go straight from the butcher block to the deep fat fryer in a single process.
Brick Street Market
Like we were saying about grocery stores, Brick Street Market & Café is a full-service grocery store in Bondurant that offers up one of the more underrated tenderloins on this list to those in the know. The market won the prestigious Iowa Pork Producers award for best tenderloin in Greater Des Moines and the second-best in the state in 2014. You can even buy the breading to take home and try to recreate it on your own.
Goldie’s Ice Cream Shoppe
If you’re in the mood for a real slice of Americana (and homemade pie), head east to Prairie City to Goldie’s, which looks like it came straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Named Best Tenderloin in Iowa by USA Today in 2019, Goldie’s tenderloin is of the thicker variety, which allows the meat to retain its tenderness. For those who like to live on the edge, they have the Magg Combo (tenderloin and cheeseburger) or Mingo Special (tenderloin topped with sausage and cheese). Follow it up with some soft-serve ice cream and a trip to the nearby Neal Smith Wildlife refuge, where the buffalo roam, quite literally.
Kelly’s Little Nipper
Around in some iteration since 1908, Kelly’s Little Nipper has served at various times as a general store, a brothel, and a bar. Currently one of the best townie bars in Des Moines, it serves up a delightful tenderloin with thick and crunchy breading and perfectly moist and tender meat. It pairs well with a can of your grandpa’s favorite beer.
New School Upstarts
Contrary to the places listed above, not all the best tenderloins are served in dive bars and grocery stores (just most of them). Take Centro, one of the nicest restaurants in town, which also serves one of the most interesting tenderloins in town. The Kill-Bill Pork Tenderloin (“The Five-Pointed Palm Exploding Heart Sandwich”) – yes, that’s the full name – is a Niman Ranch tenderloin topped with ham, bacon, pepper jack cheese, sunny-side-up egg, red onion, and garlic mayo on a toasted ciabatta bun. See, tenderloins can clean up nicely. It tastes like a million bucks!
Not only does the popular Iowa Taproom serve a killer tenderloin (add jalapenos for extra kick), but also tenderloin strips called “tenderlings,” served with honey mustard. Really one of those “why didn’t I think of this first?” scenarios. Pair them with one of the 100+ Iowa craft beers on tap, and you’ll feel like you’ve discovered a whole new world.
Another favorite of local tenderloin connoisseurs, Angry Goldfish ups the ante by serving a tenderloin breaded with sriracha seasoned goldfish crackers. (Insert head exploding emoji.) There’s a reason this comfortable neighborhood joint often makes the shortlist of “Where is your favorite place to eat in Des Moines?” and the tenderloin is it.
The buzzy new brewery on the block is best known for their “push-pop” sour beers, but give it a little more time, and the tenderloin will have just as much acclaim. Dubbed the Flatty Monster, you can taste the TLC they put into these. Don’t let the brewery moniker fool you…this is food worth shouting about, even if you don’t order a beer (but really, you should do that too).
At some point, you let doubt creep into your head. “A tenderloin is a tenderloin,” you think to yourself. “What are we even doing here?” Well, you clearly haven’t tried the tenderloin at Big Al’s BBQ. They smoke the loin before they hand bread it, adding just enough subtle flavor to make it stand out in Iowa’s sea of pork tenderloins. You’re gonna want to try this one. Named one of the Top 5 tenderloins in the state by the Iowa Pork Producers in 2019.