Iowa City was the original capital of Iowa, and when the Iowa State Cyclones roll into town to take on the Hawkeyes, it’s the undisputed football capital of the state. There’s plenty to do before kickoff. Since Iowa City is a college town that boasts one of the best literature programs in the world (the Iowa Writer’s Workshop), you’d better believe there are bars. And you’d be remiss to visit Iowa without grabbing a pork tenderloin sandwich, one of Iowa’s signature food items in the non-corn category.
Here’s some of the best the heart of Hawkeye country has to offer.
About that pork tenderloin sandwich. It’s a big pork cutlet, deep-fried and offered all over town. It’s like pizza in New York: it’s everywhere, and everyone thinks they know the best spot to find it. But 2 Dogs Pub has a unique take. The massive Challenge Burger features a breaded tenderloin sandwiched between two burger patties. It’s topped with two fried eggs, bacon, cheddar cheese and onion rings. If you eat it in under five minutes, it’s free; the only thing it costs you is your dignity.
If you want to eat a pork tenderloin without feeling like you’re running a two-minute drill, there are other options. The Iron Hawk offers a bite-sized pork tenderloin starter called Tenderbites, or a grilled pork tenderloin sandwich for the health-conscious carnivore.
This old German village was first settled in the 1850s and is full of woodworking shops, craft stores and restaurants. There’s a brewery and a barn museum, and visiting the brewery first almost guarantees you’ll have fun at the museum.
Situated in nearby Coralville, Backpocket brews and bottles German-inspired beers that adhere to strict reinheitsgebot rules about beer. Water, grain, hops, yeast and nothing else -- no preservatives or additives allowed. Beer lovers can tour the brewery or hit the Taproom for pints, food and games.
Heavy flooding in the early 1990s revealed something special near Coralville Lake: a 375 million-year-old ocean floor littered with ancient fossils. Tourists can check out perfectly preserved life forms that have been around since before Kirk Ferentz took over the Hawkeyes. Yep, that long ago.
The Iowa River runs through Iowa City, and the river has always been used for hydroelectric power. But this former power plant is now one of the most popular restaurants in town. The view of the nearby rushing water is spectacular, and the steaks can’t be beat.
Famous for being a Presidential hotspot during campaign season, it’s also considered one of the best breakfast joints in town. After a fire closed the diner down for much of the summer, it’s back open and serving up eggs and Pie Shakes. That’s pie and ice cream mixed together into a milkshake. No wonder all those candidates stop by.
The former shoeshine now serves some of the best burgers in Iowa City, which are shoe polish-free and come with local beer or Short’s in-house whiskey on the side.