I first came across Pok Pok while watching Vice Munchies, ironically enough while living in Bangkok, Thailand. There was this 1 hour long documentary about a farang named Andy Ricker who ran a restaurant in Portland, Oregon and it was supposed to be the most authentic Thai street food outside of Thailand. Not just any street food, but Issan and northern food in particular.
After seeing that video, I mentally added it to my bucket list of places to visit without realising that I’d be eventually living in the United States, let alone visiting Portland.
Fast forward a year or so and here I was, living on Campus at UCSD and I happened to walk into the book shop where I stumbled upon a cookbook, was titled none other than “Pok Pok” and written by Andy Ricker himself. I had to buy it straight away and it’s been a staple of our home cooked thai meals ever since.
It just so happened that we were staying with our old landlord from Baan Farang in Bangkok – Rochelle and offered to take her out for dinner (unfortunately she had to work). We found out that there were multiple Pok Pok restaurants and bars around the states, with Pok Pok, Pok Pok Noi and Whiskey Soda Bar based in Portland. So we decided to check them out, we called in advance, not wanting to miss a table – we figured it would be busy but were told that there were no reservations, we needed to get there early for our table, so thats what we did. We drove out to the restaurant that was in a residential neighbourhood in Portland in a converted house and took our number.
Waiting wasn’t a chore however, as across the road from Pok Pok was it’s sister bar, Whiskey Soda Bar, where we were able to wait and order our share of Chang, Singha and Beer Lao while eating various Thai drinking snacks. The decor was awesome and reminded us of being in Thailand. With its wooden panels, pastel colors, molam and luk thung music on the speakers and great snacks (we ordered ourselves some Yam Met Mamuang Himmaphan as Sarah is a dirty Vegetarian), it was the perfect way to spend the 45mins to an hour that it takes to get a table at Pok Pok on a busy night.
Finally our number was called. Off across the road we went. The place was packed, and for good reason. Our table was inside and downstairs, tightly packed and close to the kitchen where we could see all the action going on. We ordered family style our selection from the menu: Het Paa Naam Tok (Spicy mushroom salad), Khao Soi, Sticky Rice, Kai Yaang and a bunch of other tasty stuff on the menu and got stuck in. It was without a doubt the best Thai food I have had outside of Thailand (and better than a lot that I had in Thailand). It was the most authentic (if the word applies in this context) Thai food in the states.
It turns out we loved it so much we had to go again, this time when Sarah’s sister was in town a few days later. We decided upon lunch and tried Pok Pok Noi, the smaller, sister street food style restaurant located in another Portland suburb. This wasn’t nearly as full as the original, and we were able to get ourselves some nice seating outside out the back. I loved the pvc table cloths which took me right back to getting food from my local place in Pinklao. I’ve lost track of what we ordered, but it was once again family style, and it was absolutely mouth wateringly delicious. If you are in Portland you cannot afford not to go to Pok Pok or Pok Pok Noi. Pok Pok has been so successful that they are now open in New York and have a Pok Pok LA as well as Sen Yai (a noodle joint), which I’ll be trying to visit when I finally get to explore LA’s food scene.
Pok Pok (Whiskey Soda Bar is across the road)
3226 SE Division St, Portland, OR 97202
Pok Pok Noi
1469 NE Prescott St, Portland, OR 97211
Pok Pok Wing
3120 SE Milwaukie Ave, Portland, OR 97202