POK POK - THE KING OF THAI
WHERE: Portland, OR
WHAT: Pok-Pok PDX
DATE: June 10th, 2016
ADDRESS: 3226 SE Division St. Portland, OR 97202
CHEF: Andy Ricker
OFFERS: Lunch & Dinner
SERVICE: Sit down
PRICE RANGE: $$ - $$$
PIG SCORE: 3.9 / 4.0
WHAT TO GET:
Vietnamese fish sauce wings
Muu Paa Kham Waan: Grilled meat with a garlic soy glaze
Close your eyes and imagine a Thai chef. Does tall, pale with reddish hair come to your mind? Don’t worry, it didn’t come to mine either. But, the chef Andy Ricker, behind this fantastic culinary stop in Portland, doesn’t look like your ordinary Thai chef. Andy Ricker looks like just about any normal Ameican citizen that you could imagine. He spent years in Thailand living and studying the culture before he brought his love for Thailand back home to America to share his experiences through his restaurant Pok-Pok.
While walking up, it’s hard not to notice that you’re in a residential area, and that Pok-Pok looks more like a ramshackle house than a well-established restaurant. To me, that is already a great sign of things to come. In Thailand, many street vendors and family restaurants are open air establishments. Open air establishments are “restaurants” where you pay for your food over the pot that it was cooked in, and eat while sitting on the curb out front of the house. Pok-Pok’s open air feel, decorated with inexpensive strings of Christmas lights, is a validating sign that you are in place that understands what Thai street food truly is. Once you enter Pok-Pok, put away all of your perceived notions of what Thai food may be. It is no numbed down Americanized version; only authentic, humble Thai food.
With some friends, I came close to eating my way through the entire menu. I found that everything was executed simply and on point: no flashy garnishes, no expensive cuts of meat, simply street food. The flavors were well balanced with heat, acidity, savory and sweet. Nothing was too dominate or submissive. You can taste the contrasting flavors of tart and sweet and spicy and sour work together. The balanced Asian flavors sing on your tongue. The plating is simple and direct. Everything is part of the dish, or meant to elevate the flavor, not the price.
There are a few Pok-Pok locations in America right now, but I can only speak to the original Division street location. It is nothing fancy and has never lost sight of it roots. It is simply good, basic Thai street food prepared without pretension. In my opinion, this is a landmark American Thai restaurant, and should not be missed by any Thai food fans. I can definitely say Pok-Pok is a restaurant that I will go back to again.