Dissecting the Pork Buns of the Inner Richmond
To discover and dissect the subtle variations of baked pork buns from every dim-sum spot in the Inner Richmond.
A baked pork bun is a palm-sized snack made of airy, yeasty bread that's stuffed with barbecued meat coated in a thick sauce. Baked pork buns have a browned and sometimes glazed top and should not be confused with steamed pork buns that have springy white bread on the outside. Buns range from about $0.50 to $1.25 each. Essentially, there are three main components: bread, meat, and sauce.
Ruler, food scale, mouth (preferably a clean and moderately hungry palate)
We limited our sample area to only dim-sum takeout places on Clement Street between 12th Avenue and Arguello Boulevard, the respective west and east bookends of the Inner Richmond. Within these parameters, we went to a total of nine dim-sum takeout eateries. This was the only way to make our project feasible to complete in one day – there are only so many buns we can eat!
We evaluated the pork buns on their dimensions (height, diameter, and weight), meat size and texture, bread characteristics, noteworthy ingredients, ratio of ingredients (meat to bread to sauce), flavor, and appearance.
We examined, nibbled, picked at, and devoured our way up and down Clement Street, shop by shop. And as it turns out, each shop’s baked pork buns are remarkably unique. For example, the buns at Bread of Life Bakery have a nontraditional sweet pineapple flavored top that blends with a savory filling, while the buns at Clement Restaurant have pieces of onion in the BBQ pork stuffing. We scribbled notes, diagrammed our observations, and even pulled out the scale for you to see the differences for yourself.
After charting out all the nuances of each bun, we had a hard time defining what “best” meant. While we all shared similar rankings for our top three favorites (Clement Restaurant, Wing Sing, and Cherry Blossom), there wasn’t one clear winner. Each bun had its own merits, and what’s best is more about your individual preference, which is what this guide is meant to help you discover. We have classified the buns into preferential categories such as “The Adventurous Sweet Tooth” and the “The Heavyweight Champion” to help you find your favorite.
Pork buns differ day-to-day and batch to batch. Data displayed in the slideshow may not be a perfect representation of a particular dim-sum store’s pork bun. We cross-checked our observations by eating our way through the circuit for a second round, and noted a few minor discrepancies, such as amount of bread or time baked in the oven.