By Heather Hoch and Lauren Saria
During our quest to find Phoenix's best offal dishes, we noticed a great deal of pork belly popping up on the menus around town. While pork belly didn't quite make the weirdness cut for our offal specifications, we thought the delicious, luxurious cut of pork deserved a list of its own due to all of the wonderfully unique ways Valley chefs are serving it up. From humble digs in North Phoenix to upscale joints where pork belly gets the royal treatment, you can find a wide range of pork belly experiences in town. Just make sure to bring a friend on your pork belly adventure if you want to try all ten because these sinful dishes are better shared.
Pork Belly Pibil at The Mission
The Mission's take on modern Latin cuisine often result in delicious dishes you can't get anywhere else in town, like the spicy homage to chicken and waffles and the avocado margarita. However, one of the best ways to start a Mission meal, aside from the tableside guacamole, is the decadent pork belly pibil ($12). The small slab of roasted pork belly might not look like much, but the appetizer is definitely sharable. Accompanied by sweet, tart pickled onion and orange, creamy banana-habanero aoli and a ridiculously smooth avocado crema, the pork belly pibil starts off great and gets more interesting bite after bite as you experiment with condiment combinations.
Lechon Kawali at Halo Halo Kitchen
Filipino food may not have a strong presence in Phoenix, but the folks over at Halo Halo Kitchen are certainly holding it down with their lechon kawali. The cut of pork belly in this dish is boiled and then fried until the skin is crisp, the outer layer is crunchy and the inside is still tender. Served with fragrant rice and your choice of another dish for $6 as a combo or $9 per pound a la carte, you can choose to eat your pork belly at home or at Halo Halo in North Phoenix with chile lime Cholula and lechon sauce (a tangy liver-based sauce).
Pork Belly with Tomato Agrodolce and Creamy Polenta at Crudo
The words "melt in your mouth" are thrown around a lot in reference to pork belly, but over at Crudo the pork belly entrée ($16) pretty much defines the concept. Served on a bed of addictingly creamy polenta, the ratio of lean and primarily fatty grilled meat just falls apart on your butter knife. The sweet and acidic tomato agrodolce pairs perfectly with the pork belly, complimenting it in the uniquely Italian way that Crudo's chef Cullen Campbell is known for. Joined with one of the house specialty cocktails, the pork belly may feel a little indulgent, but, go on, spoil yourself a little.
Maple Smoked Pork Belly Crostini at Barrelhouse American Kitchen and Cocktails
While Barrelhouse takes a highly experimental stance in their cocktail menu curation, the food menu at this Chandler restaurant is filled with classics done right. Flatbreads, steak, jerk spiced sea bass, hard cider pot roast and even mac and cheese are on the menu, but we had our sights set on pork belly. Priced at $7.50 for dinner or $6 during happy hour, the maple-smoked pork belly small plate is a harmonious combination of sweet, smoky and fatty pork with contrasting tangy, bitter honey mustard dressed greens and jicama on a crispy garlic crostini. While the appetizer is meant to share, we really wouldn't blame you if you snatched up all the pork belly before anyone else got a chance.
Pork Belly Buns at Nobuo at Teeter House
Upscale Japanese fare meets Victorian American architecture at Nobuo at the Teeter House. On a cold Phoenix day, it's nice to sit inside the historic home in Heritage Square with some freshly steeped jasmine pearls tea and take a moment for yourself. While you're reflecting, order a plate of pork belly buns ($10) to snack on. The sweet, pillowy bun surrounds tender braised pork belly, cool cucumber, pickled mustard greens and a sweet, tangy sauce for a well-balanced snack for two or a light lunch for one. Be aware that this tantalizing dish is only available on the lunch menu, so make sure you stop in midday to get these one-of-a-kind pork buns.
Pork Belly Pastrami at Citizen Public House
There are a few dishes on the menu at Citizen Public House that earn a spot on our list of favorite eats in the whole city - and we're not ashamed to say the pork belly pastrami ($12) is one of them. Succulent pieces of seasoned pork belly sit atop pieces of rye spaetzle like an elevated version of your favorite pastrami sandwich. Instead of sauerkraut the dish offers a flavorful mix of shredded Brussels sprouts and mustard. The combination of smokey, fatty meat and perfectly seasoned "kraut" is definitely a don't-miss dish for first time and return diners alike.
Sam Gyup Sahl at Café Ga Hyang
This West-side late-night spot (don't worry it's open during the daytime for lunch too) is a Valley favorite for authentic Korean cuisine. The barbeque is top-notch, though it's all prepared in the kitchen as opposed to at your table. While the short ribs and beef are solid options, for something more unique try the Sam Gyup Sahl ($15). You'll get a steaming pile of peppery pork belly along with a customary bowl of white rice. Indulge yourself by combining meat, rice and banchan, the small dishes of pickled vegetables and other sides meant to accompany your food.
Berkshire Pork Belly with Udon Noodles at The House Brasserie
Chef Matt Carter serves up his own version of modern American food at The House Brasserie in Scottsdale. Like his other restaurants - The Mission and Zinc Bistro - The House offers memorable food in an even more memorable setting. On the long list of starter dishes you'll find the Berkshire pork belly with udon noodles, kimchee and a fried egg ($12). With unexpected Asian flair on an otherwise European-influenced menu, the dish makes for a savory and satisfying way to start what's sure to be a delicious meal. Be sure to break the egg and mix the noodles, kimchee and pork belly for a perfect balance of savory and sour.
PBLT at Bootleggers
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If you love a good BLT then you should have qualms about the idea of a pork belly, lettuce and tomato sandwich -- or a PBLT ($12). This dish is one of the very best from Bootleggers, the meat-centric restaurant from Rick Phillips, co-writer of the food blog EaterAZ and creator of the Arizona Taco and Arizona BBQ festivals. Pork belly doesn't get much more tender than when seasoned and slow-smoked for ten hours, as is the case here. And when paired with the restaurant's spicy aioli, it becomes almost irresistible. The sandwich comes with a hefty slice of beefsteak tomato, lettuce and onions, between two slices of toasted sourdough. It's a monstrous serving too, so be prepared to use a napkin or two.
Sweet Chile Glazed Pork Belly at Pig and Pickle
When it comes to pork, Pig and Pickle in Scottsdale does it right. Located in a strip mall, the restaurant comes courtesy of chefs Keenan Bosworth and Joshua Riesner, formerly of Atlas Bistro. Here comfort food benefits from artistic flair to produce dishes like their expertly crafted sweet chile glazed pork belly ($12). The pork belly, another Asian-influenced dish on an otherwise American/European menu, combines lightly spicy chile sauce with rich pork belly, peanuts and bok choy. The sauce alone is finger-licking good and makes for a perfect backdrop for the rest of the dish.