Pok Pok doesn’t suck

That headline is a definite understatement.

Pok Pok — for now — is an unassuming little hut on southeast Division, around 32nd street, that serves northern style Thai cusisine. It’s adjacent to a house that’s being renovated for a big move later this summer, as little Pok Pok grows up and sprouts it wings. We wait with bated breath to see how that transition materializes, and how the menu fleshes out.

Until then, you can enjoy the virgin Pok Pok and it’s small menu. There’s only a half-dozen items or so on the menu. Food Dude has an excellent write up and there’s an active thread at ExtraMSG’s forum. Andy, Mr. Pok Pok himself, weighs in with a few posts and clues us in to the future trajectory of Pok Pok’s ascension.

Currently it’s more of a take-out joint, though there is a covered patio with a few picnic tables. The last time I visited they were running a ramen special with Mama brand instant noodles (Tom Yum flavor, which Mr. Pok Pok deemed the “most popular” brand in Thailand). The soup is spiked with meat pulled from the wonderful rotisserie game hens (Kai Yaang) that are the star of the menu. For $3 it is a wonderful testament to Pok Pok’s populist approach — the fact he proudly serves instant ramen and sells it for a pittance is extremely endearing.

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The Kai Yaang is probably the tastiest bird I’ve had in Portland. The skin is flavorful and crispy, and the the bird is perfumed with lemongrass and garlic. You get a whole game hen for around $8 — this is a small(er) bird, obviously, but well worth the money. It’s served with a piquant, sweet chili dipping sauce. Absolutely amazing.

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Khao Man Som Tam. Coconut rice, topped with shredded pork and fried shallots, served with Papaya Pok Pok – shredded papaya with long beans, fish sauce, sugar, garlic, topped with peanuts. When you order papaya salad, you’ll see the huge thai mortar with the elongated pestle come out, as either Mr. Pok Pok or his apprentice starts mashing the base ingredients, including tiny dried shrimp, chilies and lime. The cherry tomato in the salad seals the deal. Fresh, tart, sweet, sour, spicy – all the stalwart tastes of Thai food working together in perfect harmony.

The coconut rice and pork are just plain yummy. The pork shreds are sweet and savory at the same time, and pair with the coconut rice just perfectly. My 20-month old daughter could not eat enough, shoveling fistfuls in her mouth. I almost didn’t want to share.

Get over to Pok Pok before it graduates and matures into perhaps a less accessible adult.

Update

For those interested in Pok Pok etymology, check out Mr. Pok Pok’s recent post at Portlandfood.org. Turns out its origins don’t spring from the Filipino patois for “whore.” Who woulda thunk.