if you want a great pork bun, you’ll just head to one of the best dim sum restaurants in the bay area. but if you want a great pork bun without also having to deal with the whole carts thing, you’ll head to one of these: 11 sf spots with incredible grab-and-go pork buns.
(editor’s note: while not required, doing a pork bun crawl after reading this is definitely encouraged.)
AA’s textbook pork buns deserve more attention for their actual bun (which tastes more like a hamburger bun and less like a Hawaiian sweet bread) than their somewhat stingy (though admittedly excellent and gristle-free) interior. At just $1 per pop though, it’s hard to complain too much/at all.
San Francisco’s quintessential Chinese bakery and café is also home to the most expensive grab-and-go pork bun at... $1.30. It’s worth all 30 extra pennies though as this pork could be served at Cotogna.
Eastern Bakery claims to be THE Chinatown place that pioneered pork buns in the early days. And while that might be true, it’s not the strongest item here. Still, it’s plenty strong enough: if you want purely savory meat with a perfect sweet bun, you’ll want this.
Fact: there is really no way to know if the Golden Gate Bakery is open -- even the website is pretty unreliable. That’s because the much-celebrated custard tarts are so good, the owners can go on vacation as they please. And when it's open, the lines are Alcatraz ferry-long. But it’s not only custard tarts at GGB -- the baked pork bun here could easily steal the show long before dessert arrives.
This classic on-the-go dim sum spot knows its dumplings, potstickers, and definitely its steamed buns, which’re nicely folded with various points meeting at the top and the filling just poking out -- the temptation to eat this thing between the time when they hand it to you and the time you pay is enormous.
You know what’s a good sign when it comes to baked delicacies? When the cashier is in the back helping the baking aspect of the operation. And it holds true here. Let’s put it this way, if this bakery were a BBQ city it’d be Lockhart, Texas. A smoky sauce features balanced sweetness and smothers what’re possibly the most tender nubs of meat encountered anywhere. Oh, and if you’re getting a second bun, make it the pineapple & red bean one.
Everything is Bogart-Bacall classic with New Hollywood’s pork bun, from the squishy bread to plenty of meat, and a decent mesquite-woody character to the sauce.
Everyone at the counter will be in a hurry to order steaming-hot shrimp- or shark fin-packed har gow, ignore them and direct your attention to the one solitary elderly gentleman sitting in the back, slowly sipping his coffee, munching on his single steamed pork bun. You’re gonna want to follow his lead by getting a bun, which’ll feature a sour vinegar twang to it and a dryness that’s à la day-old white bread, causing the paper to literally stick to it. Strip the bun down to its naked pork self and you’ll find a filling that’s far from generous, but, that being said, what a glorious filling it is. If bacon jam sounds like your thing (and it really should), this Bud’s for you. Err... this bun?
Is it a coincidence that the two premier steam bun shops in the city (Good Mong Kok and Wing Sing) are just a tiny block away from each other? And while Good Mong Kok edges out Wing Sing by a touch (just because there’s a slightly more meat-slanted ratio of bun to filling, and the bun a shade softer), this is really getting picky. Get both, decide for yourself.
This is the real wild card on the list in terms of whether to get steamed or baked -- they’re both really, really good. Outside of Coi and Naked Lunch, not sure where else you’d want to eat on this “interesting” stretch if you’re not five shots into the evening festivities (in that case: Sam’s).
Everyone has different preferences about baked pork buns -- texture of the bread, sweetness of the pork’s sauce, ratio of pork to bun, on and on. That’s what Yelp is for. Go complain there. We’re here to celebrate pork buns and crown the winner that checks everything off the list: perfect bun texture with a little gentle give when pressed? Saucy but not gloppy? A little messy but good structure overall? Smoky and sweet, lip-smacking in every way? A red-as-a-cherry interior? And, most importantly, A LOT of pork. Not fat. Pork. This really is the biggest bun of the bunch and the terminus of any pork bun journey.
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Trevor Felch is a restaurants writer for SF Weekly and contributing editor for Vino 24/7. He wants somebody to come up with a beamed pork bun or steaked pork bun… you know, like cruffins and muffins, make it baked and steamed? Follow him: @TrevorFelch.
1. AA Bakery1068 Stockton St, San Francisco
2. Café Bakery & Restaurant1365 Noriega St, San Francisco
3. Eastern Bakery720 Grant Ave, San Francisco
4. Golden Gate Bakery, Inc.1029 Grant Ave, San Francisco
5. Good Mong Kok Bakery1039 Stockton St, San Francisco
6. Lung Fang Bakery1823 Clement St, San Francisco
7. New Hollywood Bakery652 Pacific Ave, San Francisco
8. Wing Lee Bakery503 Clement St, San Francisco
9. Wing Sing Dim Sum1125 Stockton St, San Francisco
10. You’s675 Broadway, San Francisco
11. Cherry Blossom Bakery844 Clement St, San Francisco
AA Bakery does a number of sweet goodies, but the best thing on the menu is the pork bun. These are just a dollar a piece, giving customers a cheap way to satisfy that sweet and savory craving.
This traditional Chinese bakeshop offers pastries, coffee, and milk tea. But, the best thing on the menu is the pork bun.
A great stop when you are craving some Chinese snacks or baked goods, Eastern Bakery is a Chinatown staple. You are going to want to try their old school pork buns.
The go-to spot for egg tarts. Bring these guys to an Asian family's gathering and get mad brownie points.
If there’s one place to get take-out fare in Chinatown, Good Mong Kok Bakery is it: a seatless, bargain dim sum shop where the pork buns, pork and shrimp siu mai, and myriad other filled dough selections are right on par with the Bay Area's best of the best.
This traditional Chinese bakery is home to a killer BBQ pork bun. Their pork bun's got a smoky sauce and just the right amount of sweetness. If you are still hungry for more, try the pineapple & red bean bun.
This bakery and restaurant serves up traditional Chinese food. It's the perfect place to get your pork bun fix.
Wing Lee Bakery has great dim sum, with large portions at super-reasonable prices -- keep a look out for the pork buns, rice cakes, and beef siu mai.
Wing Sing Dim Sum does traditional Chinese goodness. It is the place to solve a pork bun craving. In fact, their buns are known to be one of the best in the city.
You’s is a counter-service dim sum spot, serving all the favorites. Their pork buns are the star of the menu. Steamed or baked, you can't go wrong on these buns.