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The Hunt For Iowa’s Best Pork Tenderloin Sandwich | Recipe

Iowa loves its pork tenderloin sandwich. There’s just something about that breaded and fried pork cutlet, often served on a too-small bun. You could spend a week visiting Iowa restaurants with the best sandwich – so if you want to, I’ve included the state’s favorites below. And if you want a recipe to make pork tenderloin sandwiches yourself, scroll to the very end. As a bonus, you can use your air fryer for it.

It’s an annual debate: Who has the best tenderloins in Iowa? It depends on the year. Iowa Pork Producers Association has announced their top picks each year since 2003. The thing is, the winner each year has to wait five years before entering again, so you’ll have to look back on past lists for even more great options.

Pork tenderloin sandwich topped with mustard, onion and pickles.

In October, the 2021 winners were announced: 

  1. Larsen’s Pub in Elk Horn (also a winner in 2007) 
  2. Old Road Cafe & Bar in Emerson 
  3. Victoria Station in Harlan 
  4. Z’s Eatery and Draught Haus in Indianola 
  5. Stalker’s Pub in Miles 

The 2020 winner was PrairieMoon on Main in Prairieburg.

You can decide for yourself and travel the Iowa Tenderloin Trail. There are 14 sandwiches on the trail.

Biggest pork tenderloin sandwich

So the thing about pork tenderloin is that it’s pounded flat, and some restaurants take that flattening to the extreme. The pork is flattened so much, the cutlet is as big as – or bigger than – a plate.

Rumor has it, St. Olaf Tavern in Olaf serves the state’s largest pork tenderloin sandwich. They call it “The Big One” and it’s 16 ounces of 100% fresh pork loin.

But I’ve seen pictures taken at restaurants around the state, and there are some massive sandwiches out there. Some contenders include:

Goldie’s Ice Cream Shoppe in Prairie City 

Bent’s Smokehouse & Pub in Westgate (it won’t even fit into a pizza box) 

AJ’s Bar & Grill in Mt. Sterling (the Jumbo spills over the dinner plate) 

Newton’s Café in Waterloo 

Blind Pig in Cedar Rapids (there’s the option to share the behemoth) 

Air Fryer Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Recipe

Ready to make a sandwich for yourself? Here’s my recipe for making a pork tenderloin sandwich using an air fryer.

Close-up photo of an air fryer pork tenderloin sandwich

Air Fryer Pork Tenderloin Recipe

Serves 2

Ingredients

2- 4 ounce boneless pork loin chops, pounded to ¼ inch thick 

½ cup flour

1 egg, beaten 

1 cup plain breadcrumbs

Cooking spray

2 hamburger buns

Top with: mustard, sliced onion, and pickles

Directions

In three separate shallow plates or pie plates add flour to one, the beaten egg to one, and the breadcrumbs to the final plate. 

Season both sides of the pork loins with salt and pepper. Then, dip the pork loin chop into the flour covering both sides and shaking off the excess. Next, dip the floured pork loin into the egg, covering both sides. Finally, dip the pork loin into breadcrumbs pressing into both sides. Repeat for the remaining pork loin.

Before placing the breaded pork loins into the air fryer basket, lightly spray each side with the cooking spray. Depending on the size of your basket you may need to do this in batches. Set the temperature to 300 degrees and air fry for 10 minutes. Your pork loin will be golden brown and the breading crispy when finished. Repeat with remaining pork loin if necessary.

Top a hamburger bun with pork loin. Garnish with mustard, onions, and pickles. To be a true Iowa style pork loin the loin must be at least double the size of the bun! 

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