SF Bay Area
Food and drink that has us seeing gold
If “Belly of the Pig” (the name of my blog) didn’t already make it clear, I have a passion for all things pork belly and bacon. Unctuous or crisp, fatty or lean -- be still my heart if any iteration is on the menu. Indeed, bacon (cured pork belly for the uninitiated) makes everything better, said everyone ever. And luckily, it’s still on trend these days in Philly. Whether you’re looking for low brow or high, you can find candied pecan bacon in dive bars and gussied up pork belly and beans at a proper British gastropub. Need some spice in your life? Thin slivers of pork belly drowning in Szechuan-spiced chili oil will set you straight.
So in the interest of satiating everyone’s porcine palates, I present some of Philly’s best spots to enjoy pork belly and bacon.
1. Talula’s Garden
If you’re looking for a magical setting do indulge in pork belly, you can do no better than this Washington Square gem, especially if you can nab a table al fresco. The menu changes monthly at this New-American Stephen Starr restaurant and there’s a constant rotation of freshly baked tarts, well-seasoned crudos, and house-made pastas on offer. Pork belly’s well-executed and generously portioned, often paired with local apples, pickled radish, and a fresh ginger salad. Magical indeed.
2. Percy Street Barbecue
Philly’s not really known for its BBQ, but if you’re craving smoked meats in Center City proper, Percy Street does it best. In addition to plenty of sides, their Lockhart special offers up three meats for the table, including pork belly. If you’re opting for a more focused route, the pork belly sandwich is essentially Percy Street’s take on classic Banh Mi flavors, with spicy pickled carrots, cilantro, and thick slabs of crisped pork belly. And if you’re lucky enough to see their crispy pork belly and oyster stew on special, it’s a must order. A generous mélange of unctuous, yet crisp pork belly with a rich broth filled with oysters, potatoes, peas, and carrots will keep you warm through the winter nights.
3. Khyber Pass Pub
Khyber Pass may seem like the prototypical Old City dive, but it has a bevy of craft beers on offer, along with a comfort food menu with a bit of a Southern twang. It’s easy to enjoy a brew with some BBQ or Po-boys. I’d highly recommend one of their “Big Ass Biscuits” smothered in homemade gravy or their fried green tomato BLT. A must order though? The pecan-crusted candied bacon. It’s crisp, savory, sweet, and salty, with great texture from the pecans that will send you over the moon.
4. Smokin’ Betty’s
Smokin’ Betty’s was one of the first spots I indulged in the city’s pork belly. And there’s a reason I’ve repeatedly come back for more. Offering American comfort food, you’ll find anything on the menu from BBQ brisket to a ridiculous tur-duck-en burger. But for my money, I’d recommend the eponymous Betty Burger. A juicy Angus sirloin burger is topped with cheddar, avocado, roasted garlic aioli, a runny egg, and of course, confit pork belly. Tremblingly tender, the generous slabs of pork bring the burger over the top. Request multiple napkins in advance.
5. The Dandelion
Aching for hearty British pub fare? Look no further than the Dandelion, Stephen Starr’s gastropub, in the Rittenhouse Square area. Intimate bar areas lead way to multiple rooms, each with their own story to tell. Updated seasonal takes on British food include Sunday roasts, afternoon tea, bangers and mash, and of course, proper fish and triple cooked chips. For the fall and winter months, you’ll often find crispy Hampshire pork belly, which is one of the most decadent and hearty dishes you’ll find in Philly. A huge hunk of unctuous belly comes with crisped skin and some levity provided by a sweet apple glaze. The heft of the dish is further supported by the blood pudding cake, with a countervailing balance provided by the acid from a tomato white bean stew. The perfect dish for a chilly night.
6. Bank and Bourbon
Looking to enjoy a thick cut of pork belly, straight up? Located in the Loews Hotel, Bank and Bourbon allows the pork to shine. Chef Tom Harkins roasts it at 250 with juniper and bay leaves, until fall-apart tender. Better yet, it’s paired with an onion soubise that provides depth and a subtle sweetness, with pickled apricots and jalapeno cutting through the richness of the pork. Be on the lookout for their annual Bourbon Bash, which often features a whole slab of pastrami-rubbed pork belly.
7. Han Dynasty
You don’t often find pork belly prepared cold, but Philly’s favorite Szechuan restaurant does pork proud. Coupled with a tongue-numbing chili-garlic sauce that’s incredibly addictive, it’s hard to put down your chopsticks. Need a warmer rendition? Go for the double-cooked pork belly, which is lightly crisped and paired with leeks, hot peppers, and fermented black bean paste. Salty, sweet, and savory, with a bit of a kick, it’s perfect to pair with a bowl of steamed rice. It’s no surprise that proprietor Han Chiang now has 8 successful outposts, with a few in NYC as well.
Philly restaurant regulars know that we’re in Iron Chef Jose Garces’ culinary playground. And at his intimate Tinto, you’ll find bacon and pork belly scattered throughout the Basque tapas menu. For dinner, they have honey-lacquered pork belly canapés with shaved apples providing a foil for the heft of the pork. Headed there for brunch? Do try the Desayuno Bocadillo, a breakfast sandwich featuring thick slabs of pork belly, a soft manchego omelet, and a piperade of stewed onions, green peppers, and tomatoes. Get a side of their house-smoked paprika bacon while you’re at it!