Where: Pok Pok, 3226 E. Division St., Portland, OR, 503-232-1387
Why we went: I heard raves about Pok Pok from friends in Seattle and fellow Pacific Northwest travel bloggers. In fact, it seemed like a travel blogger rarely went to Portland without visiting Pok Pok. Then I did some research and found out that the restaurant’s chef-owner, Andy Ricker, had taken top honors at the James Beard awards for Best Chef in the Northwest and it was on.
Pok Pok is known for serving up dishes from northern Thailand that are inspired by the country’s street food.
Who’s there: From the outside, Pok Pok resembles an enlarged version of the food trucks in the pod across the street; there’s a distinct shack-like vibe to the whole place. You can sit outdoors under a covered area, or go inside to the slightly cramped interior. On the Friday night we were there, we took a seat at the inside bar to avoid the wait (which can get quite long, according to Yelpers). The crowd is decidedly Pacific Northwest casual, with plenty of tattoos, piercings and odd facial hair witnessed around the room.
Chowing down: You won’t find pad thai here, and that’s a good thing. The lengthy descriptions on the menu, which included their Southeast Asian inspirations and recommendations, all sounded deliciously different from what you normally see in a Thai restaurant. We settled on Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings (“based on our daytime cook Ike’s recipe from his home in Vietnam,” the menu told us), and Kaeng Hung Leh, pork belly and pork shoulder curry.
As we debated a third dish, the couple sitting next to us suggested the Yam Tuna, a Thai-style tuna salad with ginger, garlic, Thai chiles, green onions, lemongrass, cherry tomatoes and canned Oregon albacore tuna. When I saw our bartender nod assent, I put the order in.
Libations: Pok Pok has jumped on the craft cocktail craze, and daily drink specials with artisanal drinking vinegars and syrups were on the board along with the food. The mango Alexander that I ordered – mango-infused vodka combined with coconut milk and lime – went down so easy that I feared for the night ahead , Don went with the rhubarb blush that you see at the end of this post; it’s a combo of aperol (an Italian apertif), gin and rhubarb bitters on the rocks.
I was impressed with Pok Pok’s drinks before I even tasted my cocktail, however. The restaurant steeps its water with pandanus leaf, which gives it an almond taste. I loved it; Don did not. He felt it tasted tinny.
Order this: The chicken wings, which are marinated in fish sauce and palm sugar before they are deep-fried, are justly famous. We loved the sticky sweet-and-savory flavor of the fish sauce (that being said, we didn’t think they stood up to the Korean fried chicken that we’ve had at Bon Chon in Washington DC).
I had not expected much from the tuna salad, but it ended up being a winner. Our bartender told us to eat it with our hands, sopping up the tuna with a ball of sticky rice. Messy! But delicious.
Meh: I may be declaring a moratorium on pork belly; while I love the creaminess of the cut, the fattiness has been making me wince lately. It didn’t seem solid enough to stand up to the rich sauce, which had tamarind, ginger, pickled garlic, tumeric, palm sugar and Burmese curry powder.
The damage: $77 before tip – a bargain for three dishes and four cocktails!
Go back? Yes. The few dishes we ordered from the menu only enhanced our desire to try more – but the portions were plentiful and we were stuffed. I’d love to come back with a group so we can at least sample more of Ricker’s dishes (and I could drink that water all night long).
Deets: Open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. Reservations only taken for groups of 5 or more.
Have you been to Pok Pok? What should we order next time?