First, let's get this out of the way: What actually is pork belly? Put most simply, it's the belly of a pig. Before the cut came into vogue more than a decade ago, most of us just knew it in its cured form as strips of bacon. We rarely thought of the part of the animal that lay, mostly inactive, between its ribs and leg. How wrong we were.
It is high in fat, which means it is also high in flavor, making it essential as an ingredient in many dishes from around the world. Variations can range from smoky, salty and crunchy to sweet, spicy and creamy. The following pork belly dishes highlight Houston's cultural diversity with three very different restaurants that have mastered the art of the belly. If you already love the cut, you should add these restaurants to your to-do list. If you are new to pork belly, after trying these dishes you will know without a doubt how you feel about the unctuous, gelatinous goodness.
Where: La Mexicana Restaurant
Every weekend, this Montrose stalwart serves traditional Mexican chicharrones secos. The pork belly is deep fried to create a crunchy, meaty and chewy dish. As the name suggest, the dish is pork skin with meat attached for heightened flavor. Add a taco made with chicharrones secos to your weekend brunch. Top it off with lime, salt and salsa or the condiment of your choice.
Where: B & B Butchers & Restaurant
Are the slabs of bacon at B & B Butchers harvested from weight lifting pigs? They're so thick and meaty, you might think they come from a porcine Schwarzenegger. And all of that fine belly bacon is cured in house, and prepared in three ways. At the restaurant, order it one of three ways, or get them all on one divine plate.
The first preparation is a plain strip of sizzling bacon, but cut ultra-thick; the tender, slightly crispy morsel is the perfect vehicle for delivering a mouthful of salty, smoky pork belly.
The second, known as Tommy's Bacon for chef Tommy Elbashary, takes that same strip of bacon and tops it with Roquefort and honey. The earthiness of the cheese, the bacon's whiff of smoke and the sugary richness of the honey marry nicely, providing a depth of flavor you won't forget.
The third is a bit of a curveball, but it's perfect for sharing with non-pork eaters in your party. As long as they love lamb, that is. To find the perfect lamb belly with just the right fat content, B & B Butchers sources their Colorado-raised lambs when they are harvested at 90 pounds—not the typical 60 pounds. This bacon has intense flavor, but the gaminess is tempered with a touch of whole-seed mustard.
Where: Les Ba'get Vietnamese Café
How do you create the creamiest and mildest pork belly ever stuffed between bread? Slow cook it in a vacuum-sealed pouch for 24 hours. The 24-Hour Sous-Vide Pork Belly Banh Mi at Les Ba'get is the kind of a sandwich that you take your friends and family to eat. It's that good. You can have it on a crunchy baguette or a buttery croissant, but the smooth, demulcent flavor of the pork belly and richness of the duck pâté and truffle aioli serve as the perfect complement to the freshness of the thin slices of cucumber, pickled daikon and carrot, scallions, cilantro and jalapeño.