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Jul 16, 2013 04:52 PM

Pork Belly's Sandwich Shop

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Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice has always had an interesting food scene, with some newcomers mixing it up with long-time establishments. One of the newest places is Pork Belly's Sandwich Shop (originally named Belly registered and everything), which just opened yesterday.

I had wanted to go opening day, but circumstances prevented me. I was not going to be stopped today, however. To avoid any potential lunchtime rush, I arrived just before 11 AM and actually found a parking spot less than a block away. Upon arrival, I was greeted warmly by one of the owners, Jon Swire, who told me about their smoker and went over the menu with me briefly.

I had already perused the menu online before arriving and had a good idea what I was going to get. I knew I wanted to try both the smoked pork belly and the beef brisket, but I didn't know if I wanted to eat two sandwiches on my own. I also wanted to try the tater tots, so in the end I went with The Belly Up sandwich and the Chop Tots, thus fulfilling all of the above requirements.

Everything was to-go as their dining space was still under construction next door. I received my food in short order and skedaddled back to the office to enjoy my early lunch.

The Belly Up: "Our signature sandwich. Smoked BBQ Pork Belly topped with homemade coleslaw on a brioche roll. You’re gonna love it!" ($8.95)

This was a great sandwich. The pork belly slices were THICK, fatty, smokey, and crispy around the edges. The cole slaw did not have much mayo, and the crunchy vegetation complemented the fattiness of the meat. Simple, well balanced, delicious.

Chop Tots: "Tater Tots covered with ... Brisket and topped with melted cheese." ($4.99)

This poutinesque side was also quite good. I'm not actually a huge brisket fan, as I like my beef as medium-rare steaks, but I enjoyed the brisket. The chopped chunks from the outer edges had a nice smokiness that I wish carried through a little more to the chunks from the center. The BBQ sauce is not too sweet and not too heavy. The tots were not too oily and held up well in this dish.

Bonus: A mini chocolate chip cookie was wrapped up with the Belly Up, and was warmed by the sandwich. It was still warm when I popped it into my mouth at the end of my meal. A nice touch!

I will definitely have to come back to try at least two other sandwiches: the PBLT ("Thick sliced Pork Belly, lettuce, tomato and mayo on toasted sourdough.") and the Smoky Balls ("Our Pork & Beef meatballs smoked then thinly sliced. Served with our homemade tomato sauce, peppers and onions on a grinder roll. All topped with melted cheese.").

Pork Belly's Sandwich Shop
1146 Abbot Kinney Blvd
Venice, CA 90291
(424) 777-8875

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  1. This looks so much like what I ate the other night at Animal it might as well be a clone. We had the poutine at Animal too and it didn't look like this one, but was still great. Have you had the version at Animal, Peter and if so, how do they compare?

    This blog has photos of both the pork belly sandwiches as well as the poutine at Animal (among other dishes).

    6 Replies
    1. re: Servorg

      I'd wager that the pork belly sandwiches may have the same flavors (fatty pork, cole slaw, etc.), but I would not bet that the chop tots and poutine are at all similar.

      Animal's poutine's not made with tater tots, right? I have not had it. Chop Tots, with the smokiness of the brisket and the sweet tanginess of sauce, was definitely BBQ. Whereas I'm imagining Animal's oxtail gravy to be reduced with red wine, or at least be closer to a "normal" gravy used with traditional poutine.

      1. re: PeterCC

        Right. Animal's is made with fries.

        1. re: Servorg

          Re: chop tots/oxtail poutine: I have a feeling they're completely different animals, pun intended, just based on the ingredients and the price points $4.99 vs. $15.

          1. re: PeterCC

            It probably got lost in my post, but I noted that the poutine at Animal looks different. Was talking about the almost identical (as far as I can see) pork belly sandos.

            1. re: Servorg

              Sorry, I did miss that. (I think we were both editing our posts too...) Haven't had the pork belly sandwiches at Animal. They look more slider-sized, whereas the Belly Up was more Umami Burger-sized, but I wouldn't be surprised if they were quite similar. One thing that I did notice with the Belly Up was the lack of BBQ sauce (or if there were any, it was used judiciously). The pork was perfectly seasoned, either from a marinade or a dry rub, or both. No BBQ sauce needed.

              1. re: PeterCC

                Have to agree, looks VERY similar to the pork belly sandwiches from Animal. But yeah, Animal's ones are slider-sizes (just had them on Sunday btw - off topic: one of my better Animal meals in recent years).

    2. FYI - They are open only 10:30 AM to 4 PM on Wed/Thu of this week, then regular hours Friday...

      2 Replies
      1. re: PeterCC

        "Tater Tots covered with ... Brisket and topped with melted cheese." I walked right by this place last week and missed this. I'm kicking myself right now. Looks delicious!

        1. re: stravaigint

          They didn't open until this Monday, so don't kick yourself too hard. :-) We actually walked by on Saturday (went to try the "cro-nuts" at 3 Square Cafe/Bakery across the street) and they had a closed sign. I guess they're technically still in a soft-open phase, as they're closing at 4 PM each day this week until Friday, when they start regular hours.

      2. Went back today to try two more sandwiches for lunch...

        PBLT: "Thick sliced Pork Belly, lettuce, tomato and mayo on toasted sourdough" ($8.95)

        The pork belly in this sandwich was indeed thick-sliced, but it lacked the smokiness and crispy edges that the pork belly in the Belly Up had yesterday. I don't know if the pork belly is specifically prepared differently for each sandwich.

        To be clear, if you're craving a BLT, this may not scratch that itch. Even if the pork belly was smokier and crispier, they are still much thicker than bacon and without all the salt. That's not to say it wasn't a delicious sandwich, which it was. The sourdough was perfect, fresh green leaf lettuce rather than iceberg, decent tomatoes. You just have to judge it on its own merits.

        Only criticism I had was that it was two strips of pork belly across decently sized slices of bread. No matter how thick they were, two strips weren't going to provide enough coverage, so I had many bites of just BLT (in this case the "B" stands for "Bread"). I would have preferred at least three strips of pork belly, and I wouldn't have minded slightly less thick strips to make that possible.

        Smoky Balls: "Our Pork & Beef meatballs smoked then thinly sliced. Served with our homemade tomato sauce, peppers and onions on a grinder roll. All topped with melted cheese." ($8.95)

        I didn't realize how much the PBLT would fill me up, but I still managed to chow down the Smoky Balls. The sandwich was delicious as well, but not quite as described. The description said "thinly sliced", so I was picturing large-ish meatballs (baseball sized, maybe?) sliced like cold cuts, but they were "regular" size (between a golf ball and a baseball) and cut in half. Also, I don't think I got any peppers and onions.

        Of course, it's the taste that counts, and the meatballs tasted very good. The smoke sneaks up on you; it's not very strong in the flavor of the meatballs, which tasted almost sausage-like with the mixture of beef and pork. Instead the smokiness goes up into the sinuses a bit. Without the onions and peppers, the sandwich seemed a little one-note, but I still enjoyed it.

        I've now had three of the sandwiches, and so far the Belly Up is the clear winner for me. As I said in above, not a huge brisket fan, but I did enjoy it in the Chop Tots, so I may have to try their brisket sandwich, The Chop, next, you know, for science!

        2 Replies
        1. re: PeterCC

          Good God, you have a big appetite! ;) Sounds delicious, and prices are quite good for AK!

          Do you know if this was a food truck b/f becoming a brick and mortar place? Those chop tots sound like something I had at a food truck once....

          1. re: ilysla

            I did say I got pretty full after the PBLT. To be fair, I could definitely have eaten two of the Belly Up, but the PBLT and Smoky Balls were bigger and more filling than I expected.

            AFAIK This was not a former (or current) food truck.

        2. The website address linked above ( isn't active for me yet. This one is:

          1 Reply
          1. First visit on July 22, where I only had the Belly Up. Excellent sandwich, with some smoky edges to the pork belly, appropriate BBQ sauce, and just a perfect combination with the amount of tang in the coleslaw. Very satisfying, and I kept thinking about getting back there every day, but couldn't. They did not have the late hours on Friday (or Saturday, I forget), and I hit a locked door at 9pm.

            Ah well, back again this week, and a total turnaround from near their opening. A disorganized shop, with 1 good employee (in dreads) working his tail off, while getting no help or support from the others there. If they don't fix that, I think they'll close soon. Looks like there's some confusion with the internet orders coming in to be worked on, while also dealing with the walk-in traffic. In any case, it shouldn't be on the one good man to have to cover nearly every step of the operation. The others could certainly prep some bread, wrap and bag to move everyone's orders through.

            Perhaps because of this, I did not have a good food experience either. My Belly Up was a bit dry, without the good crunchy bits, and probably not enough flavor to the sauce tonight. Basically mediocre BBQ, and I'd rather have just picked up some ribs at one of my favorite spots for a more reliable pork fix. This was obviously very disappointing to go from the original food high to this unsettling new reality.

            I thought I might also enjoy a PBLT, but found the pork belly in this instance to be very dry and bland, much like an overcooked pork chop. Not a lot of tomato to cover the big slices of sourdough. I see no reason to repeat that menu item.

            4 Replies
            1. re: locanda

              We thought the Belly Up was a bit dry too. Maybe it was not enough sauce/slaw, or maybe they should consider buttering the bread after toasting? Or maybe it just needed more pork belly. I'd still like to try the Chop Melt and get some more of the awesome Slop Tots, but with so many good things to eat in the area, I don't think I'd hurry back for the Belly Up.

              Pic here:

              1. re: aching

                It's weird, usually restaurants run smoother the longer they open. I did not find my Belly Up to be too dry. I actually like that it wasn't doused with BBQ sauce as the meat itself was sufficiently moist. Like locanda, I didn't care for the PBLT. Haven't been back since my double visit their opening week.

                1. re: PeterCC

                  actually i've found many restaurants suffer from what locanda says: look at Ramen California (star ramen chef kicks it off and then leaves it to hired help and it gets worse and worse); there were a couple other ramen restaurants like this but i'm forgetting the names at the moment.

                  there were also a couple higher profile american eateries the past couple years that had their more "famous" exec chef debut the restaurant and then leave it to replacement to run it, but it got worse. i'll ask my friends if they remember what i was thinking of...

                  1. re: chowseeker1999

                    I'm sure that happens a lot, but this place doesn't have a name chef. I was more thinking of places that had service issues that have subsequently worked out the kinks. Kotoya (speaking of ramen) is one example.

                    Not making excuses for the place. Based on what locanda witnessed, it's definitely not cool for one staffer to be doing all the work, but when I was there, everyone seemed to be hustling-and-bustling.

                    They just tweeted that they'll have ribs tomorrow after 1:30 PM. Just 20 racks. Maybe I'll go tomorrow to check it out.