3226 S.E. Division
Portland , OR
In my restaurant research prior to my visit, I kept seeing Pok Pok popping up on top restaurants of Portland. The credentials were impressive. Considered one of the top Thai restaurants of the city and with a dish listed in Food & Wine (2007) as top 10 across the country, I am (once again) surprised to learn that the chef of this authentic Thai establishment was… not an Asian chef, but a man named Andy Ricker. According to Food and Wine, Ricker was obsessed with learning the intricate details of Thai cooking and trained and lived in the country to learn the proper methods. With his dedication and desire for authenticity, Pok Pok is a true Thai culinary experience and is easily one of the most popular restaurants in the city.
I’m nervous that my cousin and I will face a monstrous wait in the frigid air. She warns me that it’s likely we could want for easily over an hour, especially since Pok Pok doesn’t take reservations and has even opened up a nearby bar, the Whiskey Soda Bar Lounge, to accommodate the waiting crowds. Luckily, it’s a weekday and we find a seat almost immediately during the lunch hour.
The restaurant is busy and cozy and furnished with simple wooden walls, windows, and yellow tulips. Our water is smooth and has a flavorful hint of toasted rice. I learn later on the restaurant website that the water is soaked in a Pandanus leaf, which is typical in Northern Thailand.
I have my heart set on only two dishes: the famous boar collar dish (Ca Cha La Vong) and Ike’s Sticky Wings – Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings. The waiter informs me that the boar collar is only available for dinnertime and I’m crushed. However, he suggests another dish that is cooked in the similar seasonings and sauces of the boar collar dish and I reluctantly agree.
Neva Naam Tok – Spicy Isaan Flank Steak salad
Isaan, is a northeastern region of Thailand, and the dish is cooked with those regional flavors. The dish is a flavorful mix of fish sauce, lime, chili, shallots, lemongrass, mint, cilantro, and toasted rice powder. The lemongrass is quite overpowering, but the meat is nicely tender and zesty with the sauce. It’s not a delicacy, like boar collar, but it’s tasty and refreshing.
Ike’s Sticky Wings
Crowned by Food and Wine editors as one of the top restaurant dishes in the country, these wings pack a punch of salty, sweet, and wonderfully fried flavor. It’s marinated in fish sauce and palm sugar, deep fried, then tossed in caramelized Phu Quoc fish sauce and garlic. It’s delicious and the chicken wings are also nice and juicy. This is definitely a dish to eat with a side of sticky rice to balance out the strong fish sauce flavor. Cap off with some Thai Iced Tea (offered either with milk or with lime).
As a popular dining establishment, it’s a great lunch spot to avoid the crowds while still enjoying the flavorful dishes. Ricker does an excellent job of keeping true to authentic and even enhancing Thai flavors in his dishes. I love Thai food and enjoyed the specialized variations in the menu as compared to a typical Thai restaurant. Next visit: Boar Collar, for sure. The price: about $30 for two.