On our visit to Portland, we made sure to drop by Pok Pok for dinner one evening. With its reasonably priced and delicious Thai food, it’s no wonder they’re known for their long waits.
They only take reservations for parties of 5 or more, so the three of us were out of luck. We arrived around 7 on a Tuesday evening and were quoted a one hour wait time. They directed us to the affiliated bar across the street named Whisky Soda. Since they’re affiliated, the servers at the bar will let you know when your table is ready. Sure enough, one hour later, our table was ready.
The space inside the Pok Pok is on the small side but they have plenty of outdoor seating. We were seated inside which has a dark and intimate atmosphere.
The man behind Pok Pok is Andy Ricker who won the James Beard award for best chef (northwest) in 2011. Given his high profile, we had high expectations for the food. Their menu is influenced by Southeast Asian flavours, with the majority of the items from Thailand.
The first thing we tried were Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings - fresh natural chicken wings marinated in fish sauce and palm sugar, deep fried, tossed in caramelized Phu Quoc fish sauce and garlic served with Vietnamese table salad ($12.50). Initially, we weren’t going to order these wings but after talking to the server, he informed us that this was their most popular dish by far. I’m so glad we ended up ordering them. It came with 6 deliciously sweet, sticky and juicy wings based on their daytime cook’s recipe from his home in Vietnam. Don’t even think about leaving Pok Pok without ordering these!
Next up was the Papaya Pok Pok – spicy green papaya salad with tomatoes, long beans, Thai chili, lime juice, tamarind, fish sauce, garlic, palm sugar, dried shrimp and peanuts ($8). The dish is made to order in the pok pok (mortar and oestle) and our server warned us in advance that the dish is very spicy. Even though we were warned, I was still surprised by how much of a kick there was.
The dish consisted of thin strips of crunchy green papaya which resembled noodles. It was a very light and refreshing dish which made it a nice dish to start the meal. Just don’t order it if you have a low spice tolerance.
Another starter we ordered was the Khao Phot Ping - grilled corn with salty coconut cream ($4), which was one of the specials of the day. It was salty, creamy and nothing special in my mind. It needed a bit of heat, perhaps. This was a dish we could’ve easily gone without.
One of my favourite dishes of the evening was the Kaeng Hung Leh – Northern Thai sweet pork belly and pork shoulder curry with ginger, palm sugar, turmeric, tamarind, Burmese curry powder and pickled garlic ($12.50).
Absolutely incredible! It came served in a little pot with a rich sauce to go with the equally rich, melt-in-your mouth pork belly. The sauce was an explosion of flavours and tasted amazing soaked up with an order of Sticky Rice ($1.50).
Another fantastic dish was the Kung Op Wun Sen – wild caught gulf prawns baked in a clay pot over charcoal with pork belly, lao jin, soy, ginger, cilantro root, black pepper, Chinese celery and bean thread noodles ($14.50).
It tasted quite similar to a Chinese dish I’ve had before. I loved the thin bean thread noodles which soaked up the sauce nicely. It came with several large prawns and delicious pork belly (you can never have enough pork belly). Another big hit!
The last dish we ordered was the Laap Pet Isaan – spicy Northeastern Thai minced duck breast salad with duck liver, lemongrass, crispy fried shallots and garlic, toasted rice powder, chile powder, lime juice and house made Isaan fish sauce topped with herbs and cracklings ($14). Unfortunately I didn’t love the dish. It had a very strange taste to it which I just wasn’t a fan of. The flavour in the duck was quite strong and was a little spicier than I would’ve liked. I wouldn’t order this dish again.
I have to warn you – we ordered way too much for the three of us. So, we didn’t order any dessert despite some tempting options including durian custard and an affogato with a Chinese fried doughnut.
Even without ordering dessert, we all left with satisfied stomachs. Well worth the 1 hour wait!
At a glance:
• Brought to you by Andy Ricker, James Beard award recipient (Best Chef Northwest 2011)
• Notorious for long waits (no reservations for parties less than 5)
• Delicious, Southeast Asian-inspired food
• Must orders: Wings and Kaeng Hung Leh
• Reasonably priced
• Free parking in the large lot a block away from the restaurant
Ratings (out of 5):
• Food: 4 stars
• Service: 4 stars
• Atmosphere: 3 stars