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Pork Out 

Around the world (and the area) in seven swine sandwiches

click to enlarge Pulled pork sandwich and fried bread at The Red Lion
  • Pulled pork sandwich and fried bread at The Red Lion

We started with a plan: Find the best pulled pork in Spokane. We assumed this would be a classic Americana cook-off, with straightforward flavors and plenty of barbecue sauce oozing between our fingers. We figured our job would be easy: Find the best bun, the best meat, and the best sauce. Dock the cook whose bun went soggy or whose meat arrived dry. Tally up the points, proclaim a winner, and walk away … to the gym, to work off the accumulation of seven sandwiches eaten in just over 24 hours.

In reality, our hunt for the best pork took us south of the border, to the Korean peninsula and into the heart of the Mediterranean — not to mention side trips to Texas and South Carolina, with seven kitchens taking seven radically different regional spins on the pork sandwich.

Fuss all you want about Spokane’s monochromatic culture. Our kitchens are diversifying, as the humble pig is (un)happy to point out.

The Ground Rules

WHO: Two judges. Both men. Neither vegetarian. Kevin Finch. Luke Baumgarten.
WHAT: Seven sandwiches. No Idaho entries. All from places getting good pork buzz.
SCORING: Categories for quality of the meat, bun and sauce, with a final for the sandwich’s overall impact.

Around The World In Three Sandwiches

Simply eat lunch at Italia Trattoria, Ha Ha Grill House or the deli at De Leon’s Foods, and you’ll be forced to abandon the assumption that America has the corner on pulled pork. All three serve up impressive and radically different sandwiches. Italia’s version fancies up the basic shredded pork with slices of both ham (pork in another form) and provolone before topping it with lettuce, tomatoes and a smear of lemony aioli. Ha Ha serves up a sandwich that looks Southern until you take a bite and find not just caramelized onions, but a sauce laced with cinnamon, fruit and herbs that typically don’t have names in English. De Leon’s tortas de carnitas adds refried beans, crema, lettuce, tomato and a dusting of aged Mexican cheese for a glorious mess wrapped in tinfoil.

American Barbecue Under Four Buns

What comes to mind for most of us when someone suggests a pork sandwich is the classic Southern specialty featuring shredded or sliced pork, barbecue sauce and a soft bun. Depending on the state of origin, this classic may or may not also include a mound of coleslaw under the bun. O’Doherty’s Irish Pub in the Valley — that collision of an Irish drinking establishment and a barbecue joint — serves its pulled pork straight: no slaw and a sweet sauce. The Red Lion BBQ and Pub has two separate sandwiches on the menu: one with slaw and one without. We liked the proportions on the pork-and-slaw option. Hill’s and Chicken-N-More offer slaw as a possible side so you can make the call. At Chicken-N-More, the slaw is a great counterpoint to the heat, spice and vinegar of Hemphill’s sauce. The strength of Hill’s sandwich allows it to shine with or without slaw.

The Boss Hog

We typically scorn signs like the one in the window at Hill’s. It proclaims in hand-printed letters: “BEST PULLED PORK IN THE PNW.” Not just “INW,” they’re calling out the whole tri-state area. Yet, in this case, it might actually be true. Each sandwich we tried scored well, but Hill’s collected the most points to take the top spot, garnering Luke’s highest score and my second highest. The meat was tender and moist; the sauce was both spicy and savory; and the bun was incredibly soft without falling apart. In Luke’s words: “This is just about the perfect sandwich.”

If your favorite pork sandwich is missing, we’d love to eat it. Email luke@inlander.com

ITALIA TRATTORIA 144 S. Cannon St.
Sandwich Italian pulled pork (secretly called the “Miss Piggy” by the staff)
Award The Dainty Eater Award for the least messy sandwich.
Meat Type Shredded
Bun Choice Square ciabatta from Bouzies
Sauce Aioli Side Options Soup, mixed greens, or Italia’s crisp Caesar
Messiness 1 napkin

DE LEON FOODS 102 E. Francis Ave.
Sandwich Tortas de Carnitas
Award Delicious Mess Award for soupy wonderfulness on a bun
Meat Type Shredded
Bun Choice Mexican-style hamburger bun, slightly sweeter and more dense than a typical north-of-the-border variety
Sauce Crema and a smear of refried beans
Side Options Sides are extra
Messiness 4 napkins

HA HA'S GRILL HOUSE 2710 E. Garland Ave.
Sandwich Pulled pork
Award International Fusion Award
Meat Type Shredded with caramelized onions
Bun Choice Soft Kaiser roll
Sauce A wonderfully complex Korean barbecue sauce that includes apple, Korean pear and pineapple as well as a number of Korean herbs you won’t find at the supermarket (and probably don’t have English names).
Side Asian pasta salad or the chef’s inspiration for the day
Messiness 2 napkins

RED LION BBQ AND PUB 126 N. Division
Sandwich Big Dave’s
Award Absolute Best Side for Red Lion’s perfect fry bread
Meat Type Sliced
Bun Choice Toasted hamburger bun
Sauce Bright and tangy
Side Options Plenty of options, but don’t miss the fry bread.
Messiness 2 napkins

O’DOHERTY'S (Valley) 11723 E. Sprague
Sandwich Pulled pork sandwich
Awards Best Smoke Sweetest Sauce
Meat Type Shredded
Bun Choice Soft sesame seed bun
Sauce Dark and sweet
Side Options Macaroni salad (great), fries, beans or salad
Messiness 3-4 napkins

HILL'S RESTAURANT & LOUNGE 401 W. Main Ave.
Sandwich Pulled Pork
Awards Luke’s top pick the Boss Hog Award for overall scoring supremacy
Meat Type Shredded
Bun Choice Soft hamburger bun house-made with Shepherd’s Grain and Lentz spelt flours
Sauce A balanced barbecue sauce with spicy and savory notes that didn’t overpower the pork.
Side Options Fries, chips, salad, or a snappy Napa cabbage coleslaw
Messiness 2 napkins

CHICKEN-N-MORE 414 W. Sprague Ave.
Sandwich Pulled pork
Awards Kevin’s Top Pick Spicy Sauce
Meat Type Sliced
Bun Choice Hoagie roll
Sauce A red Carolina sauce with heat and a vinegar tang
Side Options Extra: many great options, but with the sandwich, get the slaw
Messiness 2 napkins

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