12 Ridiculous Tenderloin Sandwiches Across The U.S.

Venture to any neighborhood dive in the Midwest and you'll come across a magnificent creation as common to the region as a burger and fries. The tenderloin sandwich, sometimes abbreviated BPT (breaded pork tenderloin), takes a pork cutlet pounded to razor-thin proportions, submerges it in oil, and plops it on a hamburger bun.

You might mistake the tenderloin sandwich for German schnitzel, and in a sense you wouldn't be incorrect. According to Eater, an influx of German immigrants to the United States during the 20th century explains its European flair, but Midwesterners claim the breaded behemoth as a culinary specialty in its own right. It's Indiana's prized dish (per Visit Indiana), with its invention often credited to the Huntington-based eatery Nick's Kitchen. 

It goes without saying that Hoosiers are well-versed in the tenderloin sandwich, but states like Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, and Missouri are celebrated for producing the authentic pork sandwich as well. From the tried-and-true recipes of local legends to quirky twists on tradition, here are some of the tastiest tenderloins being made in the U.S. today.

Nick's Kitchen - Huntington, Indiana

Born and bred Hoosiers who know tenderloin sandwiches like the back of their hand will tell you it's all about Nick's Kitchen. While steeped in some apocryphal lore, the homey establishment is widely believed to be the birthplace of the dish, credited to German immigrant Nick Freienstein at the turn of the century. The deep-fried cutlets were originally sold out of a food cart in Downtown Huntington, but today they're prepared in the restaurant's dwellings in house with the exact same recipe passed down by the restaurant's namesake. 

Starting with a lengthy soak in buttermilk, the pork pieces are blanketed in hearty cracker crumbs by hand before seeing the inside of the fryer. Its rustic appearance is no accident, thanks to the careful process followed step by step that produces the perfect tenderloin every time (per Roadfood). Perfectly juicy with a satisfying crunch, the cutlet coasts off the plate's edge without threatening complete chaos when you finally reach the pillowy bun at its center. The legend lives on through each and every bite, and you'll be licking up the crumbs by the time it's finished. Once you've cleared your plate, it's time to make room for dessert — specifically, a slice of Sugar Cream Pie. Not only is the flaky confection another regional tradition, but Nick's version is made from scratch every day of the week. 

Smitty's Tenderloins - Des Moines, Iowa

Tucking into a tenderloin sandwich should be a messy, albeit controlled, experience where textures and flavors merge. It should also bust your gut while going easy on the purse strings. Smitty's Tenderloins does all of the above and more. A multi-generational family operation launched by Bill Smith in the mid-1960s, its curried favor among locals for its greasy spoon staples like burgers, fries, and onion rings, but it's the tenderloin that's the talk of the town. It garnered some nationwide attention in 2019 when People Magazine declared it the state's best sandwich, according to the Des Moines Register. 

Tenderloins are in the name after all, so it covers an entire swath of the menu all offered in stately King or Queen sizes. Amid deviations like chili cheese and taco seasoning, the Breaded Loin remains the winner of the bunch because of its unbeatable simplicity and mouthwatering flavor. It's the size of a flying saucer, with a sheath of breadcrumb coating that's both light as air and crispy, the perfect gateway to the juicy pork harbored inside. The toppings are humble — pickles, onion, ketchup, and mustard — so they don't overstep the piece de resistance. Considering one of these bad boys rings up between $5.20 and $9.10, the notion of denying the public the knowledge of its existence is ridiculous. 

Steer-In - Indianapolis, Indiana

Indianapolis' East Side is home to a no-frills tenderloin that'll stuff you silly, and you'll find it at Steer-In. One of those old-school diners with lines out the door and loads of charm, it boasts a vast menu of comfort foods that nourish the soul morning, noon, and night. Although "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives" spotlighted its Meatball Sandwich during a visit in 2011, the Hoosier Tenderloin is the one scooping up all the awards, nabbing Nuvo's "Best Pork Tenderloin" three years in a row. Even without community recognition, this tenderloin is capable of changing hearts and minds with just one bite, and one look at its greasy glory will show you exactly why that is. 

What makes the Hoosier Tenderloin so hard to resist? For starters, it's downright gigantic, especially when paired with a handful of onion rings. The pork is ridiculously tender for being pounded into oblivion, while the breading encasing it is sturdy, impervious to any possible collapse during the act of its consumption. It's held together by a toasted bun, which might sound unexpected until you consider the additional crunch it gives. Go for the original, or try the spicy version with a pepper-infused coating that'll light a fire on the tongue. In any quest for the most ridiculous tenderloin, there's nowhere you can go wrong.

Victoria Station - Harlan, Iowa

Thrice tenderized, dredged in buttermilk and seasonings, and a fryer bath is the treatment Victoria Station's prize-winning cutlet gets before landing on your plate. The Harlan steakhouse run by couple Richard and Angela Buman does a mighty fine tenderloin that stays true to its roots, while jolting it with some refreshing changes. It won the Iowa Pork Producers Association's Best Breaded Tenderloin contest in 2021, perhaps one of the highest honors a tenderloin sandwich can get in the nation. 

There are some key differences that make this tenderloin stand out compared to its pork compatriots. Instead of a hamburger bun, it's served between two slices of buttery Texas toast. Double the bread means double the crunch factor when you take your first earth-shattering bite. For the sauce, the restaurant spreads on a garlic aioli that's made in house. Buns and fixings can be swapped to one's preference, but there's a reason the Buman's took home first prize, and it's this creative take on the Midwestern classic. Find them cooking something good Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. It's well worth the stop.

Plump's Last Shot - Indianapolis, Indiana

Only basketball can compete with Indiana's love of the tenderloin, and at Plump's Last Shot, the two intertwine beautifully. The sports bar in Indianapolis' Broad Ripple neighborhood is run by the family of Bobby Plump, the high school basketball legend whose underdog story laid the groundwork for the 1986 flick "Hoosiers" (via USA Today). Locals and tourists come for the memorabilia tacked to the walls as much as they do for the local flavor, but you don't have to be a sports buff to enjoy it. In fact, Plump's Last Shot is a place for everyone, as all friendly neighborhood pubs are, with tasty finger foods in a laidback setting.

The Hoosier Tenderloin, by all accounts, is the star of the show, both at the restaurant and statewide (per Yelp). The lengths the restaurant went to perfect it are visible to the naked eye. The sandwich is thick and meaty, unlike the paper-thin varieties common in the region, with a bread roll more proportionate to its ridiculous size. The pork is carved into bigger pieces, with a lighter hand on the tenderizer in order to preserve the juiciness and heft. You can't talk about the tenderloin without mentioning the coating, and Plump's took a lot of care in creating a light, crunchy crust, with USA Today reporting at least 15 attempts. Hoosiers craving a slam-dunk of a sammie won't find one like it anywhere else.

The Angry Goldfish Pub & Eatery - Des Moines, Iowa

Don't be fooled by The Angry Goldfish's hot-headed name. This watering hole in Des Moines slings the kind of comfort food that feels like a big warm hug around the gut, from barbecue sandwiches to pot roast platters. Being an Iowan eatery, it's guaranteed that tenderloin will make some sort of appearance, and The Angry Goldfish's take is one of the most inviting of the bunch. The Goldfish Tenderloin checks all the boxes for what the Midwestern staple should be: golden-brown, wide as a hat brim, and decked out with all the toppings on a hearty roll. But there's a catch — the breading isn't made out of bread crumbs or Saltines. Instead, it takes Sriracha-spiked Goldfish crackers and crushes them into a fine meal for coating the pork. 

Incorporating a snack time favorite will always score points — who doesn't love "The Snack That Smiles Back?" — but the mix of sweet and spicy from the Sriracha takes it to a totally different level. It also pairs well with the litany of side choices, which includes kettle chips, parmesan fries, tots, and more. If you can't get enough of that cheese cracker crust, The Angry Goldfish offers the same crackers on its menu for only a dollar, appropriately called "Angry Goldfish." Just try not to smile when biting into one of these ridiculous tenderloins.

Muldoon's - Carmel, Indiana

Irish pubs might not come to mind when you've got pulverized pork on the brain, but think about it: They're the perfect place for gut-busting bites that put a ravenous stomach to heel, and the tenderloin sandwich more than fits the bill here. Muldoon's is a lively spot for snacks and suds in Carmel's Old Town district, a local gem celebrated for its philanthropy as much as it is for its Irish bar fare, including Cottage Pie and Fish & Chips. But it's also a Midwestern joint, which means the regional eats get a special shout-out as well. 

Yelp reviewers say the Breaded Tenderloin is "really the best as proclaimed" and "second to none." It's a giant beast of a sandwich, boasting a craggy exterior bursting from the seams of a fluffy sesame bun. The meat is directly sourced from Joe's Butcher Shop – just a two-minute jaunt on foot down Main Street — so its freshness won't be a matter of debate amongst seasoned foodies. It's the little details that matter, and Muldoon's tenderloin has them in spades. For example, the blog All Tenderloins, All the Time put a spotlight on the herbs and spices. It's easy to forget about the breading when you're busy savoring succulent meat, but that all changes when tasting the expertly-crafted seasoning blend that's not only balanced, but somehow brings out the flavors of everything else. At $13.99, it's hard to beat. 

Breitbach's Country Dining - Balltown, Iowa

With a population of 79 per the U.S. Census Bureau, Balltown is as small as small towns can possibly get. To say there's nothing there, however, would be a major mistake. Breitbach's Country Dining is located in Balltown, and it boasts two enviable facts. First, it's the state's oldest restaurant, having opened in 1852 during the Fillmore administration. Second, it's home to one of the best tenderloins produced in the nation. The Pork Tenderloin here is always in high demand, with the kitchen slinging up to 200 of the sandwiches on a weekly basis (via The Iowa Pork Producers Association). That's more pork than people!

What's so special about Breitbach's breaded tenderloin? Everything, that's what. It's a Mount Rushmore-esque mammoth capable of vanquishing the most voracious appetite, with a deep-fried shell and pork flattened past the point of utility but no less fun to eat. The menu lists it at $12.99, and that includes your choice of either coleslaw, fries, or crispy onion rings. Other battered selections include the Fish Fillet and Battered Pike, but everyone in Balltown knows it's the Pork Tenderloin you'll want to scoop up.

Strange Bird - Indianapolis, Indiana

Tiki bars are the last place you might envision snagging a breaded tenderloin, so leave it to Strange Bird to defy expectations. Hoosiers flock to this nightlife spot for the rum-soaked cocktails and island-inspired ambiance, as well as a treasure trove of delicious entrees, including the Coconut Crusted Tenderloin (via Indianapolis Monthly). If the classic tenderloin could be compared to a cozy weekend at home, then Strange Bird's version is a tropical getaway, sunburns and all. It features deep-fried coconut breading, passionfruit aioli, and garnishes like American cheese, lettuce, and pickles gathered between a Hawaiian bun. 

Strange Bird's tenderloin is a showstopper. The sweetness of the breading, the zesty special sauce, and the crackled exterior nail all the elements diners crave in a sandwich, let alone a tenderloin sandwich. Traditionalists believe you can't mess with a classic, especially the state's self-proclaimed dish of choice. Regardless, locals across the board express nothing but joy for Strange Bird's unique interpretation. As one Yelp reviewer put it: "Wow, what a way to liven a midwestern staple. I think about that tenderloin regularly!" 

Kitty's Cafe - Kansas City, Missouri

One of the best tenderloins you'll have in your life is not located in Indiana or Iowa, but Kansas City, Missouri. Asian-American-owned for generations, Kitty's Cafe serves diner favorites at prices so low, they'll make you drop your wallet in disbelief. It's also accompanied by a very important history: According to NPR, Japanese-American couple Paul and Kitty Kawakami launched the establishment in the early 1950s. They were confined in an internment camp during the Second World War prior to moving to Missouri. 

The tenderloins fried at Kitty's are not the plate-eclipsing variety famous to the region. However, the demure size shows looks can be deceiving. It appears so compact because each sandwich is stacked high with three tempura-battered pork cutlets, giving it a vertical, not horizontal, appearance. Garnishes include the usual tenderloin toppers such as pickles and lettuce, but a special homemade hot sauce adds a spicy kick that diners can't get enough of. As the food blog Dining with Frankie revealed, you'll even hear customers request extra sauce on their sandwiches, so don't be surprised if you find yourself giving in to peer pressure when it's your turn to order. Tenderloins cost $6.50 apiece, and they only take cash. 

Aristocrat Pub & Restaurant - Indianapolis, Indiana

Aristocrat Pub & Restaurant is a long-time favorite among Hoosiers seeking out top-tier tenderloins. Located in Indianapolis' Broad Ripple neighborhood, locals come for the food and extensive beer list, but stay for the attractive amenities that make dining out an experience to remember. Ample dining space, an outdoor patio, and a lush garden are just some of the features happily offered here. Plus, it's the restaurant that claims to have kicked off the trend of open-air dining in Indiana's capital

While the vast array of entrees can overwhelm the senses, it's also important to trust your gut and go for the gold. In this case, that's the Hoosier Tenderloin. For $15, you'll receive a weighty cutlet of cosmic proportions, seasoned well and sequestered between a plump roll that you won't know whether to saw in half or eat whole. It's served with coleslaw or kettle chips, and customers can choose to have their tenderloin deep-fried or grilled, although sticklers will always insist on the former. The textbook tenderloin sandwich, simply wash it down with a wheat ale while soaking up the sun for summertime goodness. 

Billy O'Neal's Pub & Eatery - Indianapolis, Indiana

Let's say you're craving a tenderloin sandwich, but not the bloat-inducing stomach ache that follows after eating one. Billy O'Neal's Pub & Eatery has just the solution. As its menu shows, the Irish bar in Indianapolis serves a tenderloin in two different sizes, letting customers control how much of a good thing they want. Billy's Famous Tenderloin has all the basics covered — crispy, breaded pork and a buttery brioche bun — with a notable difference. Customers get their choice of a 5-ounce or 10-ounce cutlet, priced between $9.49 and $11.49 respectively. 

Sometimes you just want a taste of a deep-fried delicacy without committing to the entire thing, or you want to go hog wild without any limitations. Both are possible at Billy O'Neal's, and the results are beyond delicious. Better yet, tenderloins come with your pick of sides such as sweet potato fries, coleslaw, or onion rings, ensuring an empty stomach is out of sight, out of mind. Should skeptics have any doubts on the smaller size, All Tenderloins, All the Time ordered the 5-ounce cutlet during a visit and found it filling enough on its own, so visitors with an appetite will be in good hands.