The Summer of Pork Belly Hits San Francisco in the Form of a Meat-Shaped Stone

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Meat-shaped stone, approx. 1800–1900. China, Qing dynasty (1644–1911). Stone: jasper; stand: gold. National Palace Museum, Taipei, Guza 000178 Lü-413.  (Photograph © National Palace Museum, Taipei.)

We can thank the Asian Art Museum for making this the summer of pork belly in San Francisco. The museum, which is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year, is honoring the occasion with a landmark exhibition titled Emperors' Treasures: Chinese Art from the National Palace Museum, Taipei. The exhibition opens today (and runs through September 18), and has been much anticipated thanks to the nearly 150 pieces of art (ranging from stunning Ming pottery to ancient calligraphy from the 13th century) that make up the collection.

In addition to featuring an incredible collection of art that originally hailed from the Forbidden City in Beijing (Chiang Kai-shek and his followers absconded with the collection when they fled mainland China during the Chinese Civil War), many of the pieces have never left Asia. Included in their number is the Meat-Shaped Stone, a piece of jasper from the Qing dynasty (1644-1911; the stone was created in the 19th century), that was painstakingly carved to resemble dongpo rou. This stewed pork belly preparation was apparently invented by Su Dongpo, a poet and artist from the 11th century.

The stone is enormously popular on its home turf of Taipei, and considering the cultural collisions — royal power, art, and food — it’s not hard to see why. The Asian Art Museum is following suit, seizing on the pork belly potential and has enlisted 13 San Francisco restaurants, ranging from The Slanted Door to Stone’s Throw, to create their own pork belly dishes in homage (those special dishes will appear on menus starting tonight, running through July 17) .

But a food-obsessed town like San Francisco can’t necessarily be sated with just 13 pork belly preparations (though all are worth trying; check out the full list of participating restaurants and dishes). We’ve rounded up nine top spots in San Francisco with excellent pork belly dishes of their own — extracurricular pork belly, if you will — to further satisfy your sculpture-induced cravings. Whether they’re menu staples or new dishes at reliably fantastic restaurants, we can’t wait to dive in and go on a veritable pork belly crawl in the upcoming weeks and months.

What’s your favorite pork belly dish in San Francisco? Tell us in the comments!


 Vigorón at Lolinda
Vigorón at Lolinda (Eric Wolfinger)

The crew at Lolinda have a sure hand with just about all meats, but their pork belly, a hot pequeno (small plate), is unmissable. Tender cubes of crisp-skinned pork belly are served simply with a shredded cabbage-jalapeno slaw, crispy yucca, and a lime wedge, which brings a wonderful brightness to the rich, salty meat.

Evil Eye

Pork Belly Toast at Evil Eye
Pork Belly Toast at Evil Eye (Evil Eye)

Evil Eye is a brand-new Mission bar with serious cocktails, a rock ‘n’ roll vibe, and a bar food menu we’d turn into dinner any day of the week. They also have a pork belly dish that we can’t stop thinking about. Here, thick-sliced toast is layered with a mix of funky, spicy kimchi and sweet, snappy rock shrimp, then topped with thick slices of rich belly. It’s cut for sharing, but we’d understand if you want to keep it for yourself.

Zero Zero

Slow Cooked Pork Belly with Roman Style Dumplings at Zero Zero
Slow Cooked Pork Belly with Roman Style Dumplings at Zero Zero ( Zero Zero)

Zero Zero may be known for their pizza, but their pork belly may well be the sleeper hit of the menu. The belly is slow-cooked until tender, given a quick sear to add caramelization and texture, and is served alongside tender-crisp Roman-style dumplings. Crispy broccoli, a runny poached egg, and a kick of harissa finish the dish.

Big Chef Tom’s Belly Burgers

Banh, Baby, Banh at Big Chef Tom's Belly Burgers
Banh, Baby, Banh at Big Chef Tom's Belly Burgers (Big Chef Tom’s Belly Burgers)

What’s better than a burger topped with pork belly? A burger completely made of of ground up, salty, rich pork belly. That’s why Big Chef Tom is basically a hero for pork belly lovers, worldwide (or at least in San Francisco). We love all of his versions (having sampled extensively at both Outside Lands and his SOMA restaurant), but we love the flavor-texture contrasts of his Vietnamese-flavored “Banh, Baby, Banh,” which is seasoned with Vietnamese caramel, and topped with hardboiled egg, sliced, fresh jalapenos, and bright cilantro.

Bar Agricole

Roast Pork Belly with Nectarines, Frisée and Endive at Bar Agricole
Roast Pork Belly with Nectarines, Frisée and Endive at Bar Agricole (Colin Price)

It’s hard to beat Bar Agricole when it comes to seasonal, thoughtful preparations that allow each ingredient to shine. That’s the case with their current pork belly dish, in which a bacon-like slice of belly is roasted and served alongside sweet nectarines, before being topped with bracing fresh frisee and endive. Sophisticated, simple, and pure Agricole-style.

The Alembic

Pork Belly with Charred Broccoli, Maitake, Aztec Apricot, Sprouts, and Spring Onion at The Alembic
Pork Belly with Charred Broccoli, Maitake, Aztec Apricot, Sprouts, and Spring Onion at The Alembic (Chloe List)

We’re continually impressed with The Alembic’s food menu — their approach to bar food is as meticulous and artful as their fantastic cocktails. Their current pork belly preparation is no exception. Sliced pork belly takes on a strata-like appearance, and is joined by charred broccoli, maitake mushrooms, apricots, and bright spring onions.

Lers Ros

Pad Kra Prow Moo Krob at Lers Ros
Pad Kra Prow Moo Krob at Lers Ros (Lers Ros)

Lers Ros, the old guard of San Francisco’s excellent Thai food has one of the best, and at this point, one of the most classic, pork belly dishes around. Pad kra prow moo krob, or pork belly stir fried with fresh Thai basil, is a marvelous combination of flavors. The rich, meaty hunks of belly (along with bits of crispy rind) are the star, but the basil leaves crisp up and take on a salty, porky flavor themselves after a quick spin in the stir fry.


Kalua Pork Belly at 'aina
Kalua Pork Belly at 'aina (‘aina)

‘aina burst onto the Dogpatch scene this spring bringing us all the one thing we didn’t know we needed — all-day Hawaiian brunch. One of the stars of their island-influenced menu is the kalua pork belly — kalua refers to the process of slow-cooking meat (traditionally, in an umu pit, dug into the sand). Here, the presentation may be a little less dramatic than a whole hog, but the dish — which involves melty slices of belly alongside poached eggs, short-grained rice, shaved summer squash, arugula, pickled onions, and fennel puree is a balanced summertime delight.

Kin Khao

Caramelized Pork Belly at Kin Khao
Caramelized Pork Belly at Kin Khao (Kin Khao)

We first tried Kin Khao’s caramelized claypot pork belly a few years back, and have been dreaming about it ever since. Seriously. Thick-sliced belly is braised overnight in a funky-sweet mix of fish sauce and palm sugar, before being caramelized in the oven. Salty-sweet and fall-apart tender, each porky bite full on melts in your mouth. Don’t forget a side of rice to soak up the rich, flavorful sauce.