Pok Pok is one of the most interesting Thai restaurants in the United States. With locations in Portland and New York City, James Beard Award-winning chef Andy Ricker scours the Thai countryside for explosively flavorful dishes that are deeply authentic.
Ricker has a high profile. Recent media appearances include being a judge on Beat Bobby Flay and a full length documentary from Vice. His passion for the cuisine of Thailand is evident in every plate he serves.
A place with this much publicity obviously can generate a little bit of a wait for diners. Reservations are not accepted for parties smaller than 6. Luckily, the Whiskey Soda Lounge, Ricker's Thai bar food spot, is located across the street. It is a great place to grab a cocktail during the inevitable wait. The reservation systems were connected, and the bartenders are able to tell you when your reservation has been called from across the street. The text message system can also alert you via phone. Try not to fill up on the delicious looking menu at Whiskey Soda Lounge before venturing back for the main attraction.
The atmosphere of the restaurant changes depending on your location. Some areas are vibrant, while others seemed more restrained. Service was excellent. The menu is marked for vegetarians, but staff can make additional recommendations when needed.
If the menu lists an item as spicy, believe it. The heat on the papaya salad (papaya pok pok, the house dish) creeps, going from a subtle wisp of chili to a full blown inferno in a matter of three to five bites. The texture of unripe papaya gives the dish a meaty chew, and the flavors alternate with layers of lime, tamarind and peanuts.
The het paa nom tok is a forest mushroom salad dressed with soy sauce, lime and chili. The mushrooms were thinly sliced, and the dish showcased the essence of black pepper, cilantro and sweet smoke.
Cocktails were outstanding. The apple gin Rickey was made with the Pok Pok Som apple drinking vinegar, which gave the drink a bright acidity to contrast the herbaceous gin.