For simmering soul food, step into Bonnie B’s Smokin on North Lake for hand-sliced pulled-pork sandwiches and pork ribs. The latter is smoked in the backroom pit for hours then served with a secret BBQ sauce from a 50-year-old family recipe. Sisters Bonnie and Zenobia Ivory moved out West with the family matriarch from Oklahoma City before opening in Pasadena in 2009. Affectionately known as “Z” by loyal customers, Ivory is now running the business, and the ribs are her specialty. “They really do fall off the bone,” she says. They also offer vegetarian options, thanks to Z’s daughter who doesn’t eat meat.
For the pork chop aficionado who prefers a Fred Flintstone–style serving, the American-meets-French-cuisine at Bistro 45 is your spot. The ranch-to-restaurant, signature 12-ounce Niman Ranch pork chop on a bed of shaved organic brussels sprouts, topped with a Fuji apple compote, is a serious commitment but one that has kept customers coming back for years.
Just outside The Americana at Brand in Glendale, Taiwanese staple Din Tai Fung is legendary for its Kurobuta pork xiao long bao and a variety of pork wontons. On your next visit, try the stewed pork sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves or the sliced crispy fried pork chop. You can order this dish as an appetizer, in a soothing bowl of noodle soup, or as a topping for your fried rice. The juicy chop is marinated with an in-house signature sauce before it’s dusted with potato starch and pan fired in oil for about 2 minutes, rendering the addictive golden crunch.
Originally from Alhambra, the Pasadena location of Lunasia Dim Sum House on Colorado is also a popular pork palace for Shanghai soup dumplings and the lighter steamed BBQ pork bao. If you’re dining with a group of friends, just go for it with the massively rich Macao-style roasted pork belly.
For elevated modern-Mexican fare, founder Sergio Martinez serves many of the elevated dishes that made a big impact in the community when Maestro opened on Union almost five years ago. Currently, the most crave-worthy dish is the slow-cooked pork carnitas Nixtamal fried quesadillas with organic black bean puree and a blend of quesillo from Oaxaca topped with cotija cheese. “This dish is meant to be rich and comforting with traditional flavors,” says Martinez. They also just added cochinita pibil with suckling pig to the menu—and don’t miss the breakfast tacos with chorizo.
If you’d like to go to the source and whip up a few dishes at home, Chops Butcher Shoppe offers upscale organic and grass-fed options, including Nueske’s bacon, at its counter in South Pasadena on Monterey Road. Its premium offerings have also been utilized by acclaimed modern Spanish eatery Otoño in Highland Park, among others. Co-owners Jeff Perez and Ruben Perez (no relation), smoke their own meats and carry highly sought-after Kurobuta pork chops from True Story in the Berkshires. “If you are going to eat meat, why not invest in quality that you can put into your body?” says Ruben, who is very health conscious—especially when it comes to pork.