Chef Andy Ricker first expanded his Thai emporium from Portland to New York, and now it’s arrived in LA’s Chinatown. The other outlets’ strong presence on social media has given this authentic but Farang-helmed restaurant a large following in Los Angeles that is ready to get down and feast. Pok Pok Phat Thai’s take out noodle shop, which opened early this year, is only a few blocks away and has been getting rave reviews since it opened. However delicious those dishes are, don’t expect the new Pok Pok to feature any of Phat Thai’s items on its menu, so leave your noodle and fried rice expectations at the door and be prepared to taste flavors you rarely experience when going out to eat in Los Angeles.
If you’re new to Pok Pok, then you’re in for a treat because this place is the bomb. While Los Angeles has its fair share of authentic Thai restaurants and its own Thai Town, this Northwestern import carves out its own unique niche. The spices, marinades, and there’s no better word, explosive, ingredients used in Pok Pok’s food are just that. No matter what dish you order it won’t be bland– everything is full of complex spices, a perfect match for a city whose eaters demand a lot of flavor.
Going with a group is highly recommended, as most of Pok Pok’s food is meant to be shared like a family meal. For their soft-opening they have a lunch special that’s $30/pp. That includes two plates along with a drink. For dinner it’s slightly more at $50 per person. You’re able to reserve a pre-paid meal with their online system Tock. That may seem a little steep if you’re used to dining in Chinatown on a budget, but Pok Pok’s food delivers with quality that’s generally hard to find nearby.
The menu has about 30 dishes, which are split into various categories, from “Drinking Food,” “Grilled Things,” “One Plate Meals,” to “Food Eaten With Rice As Part of a Shared Meal.” At the end of the menu you’ll find a few sides like their coconut, jasmine, and sticky rices along with some desserts. The back of the menu is made up of drinks and is a welcome addition to this type of cuisine. They offer a variety of Asian and American bottled beers, draft beer, a huge list of whiskey, cocktails, and even some very tasty “non-proof” alcohol-free drinks. This time around they were offering a “beer slushy” as one of their specials.
You’ll take some time to order, but luckily, you get to imbibe endlessly on their 24-hour pandan leaf-infused water. (Even the water is flavorful!) Other drinks include the ever-popular Thai Iced Tea (Cha Yen) made with evaporated milk and their many drinking vinegars. The drinking vinegars are worth a try if you’ve never tasted one, and are somewhat reminiscent of kombucha – they have a strong, acidic taste.
This is a soft opening, and not everything was available– they were out of one the most popular dishes, the Pok Pok Special, consisting of a half-roasted chicken with a small green papaya salad, sticky rice, and dipping sauces. We were still able to get Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings that are said to be among the most popular items in their Portland locations. This item is listed under “Drinking Food,” which makes perfect sense because it would go great with a beer. You can choose to order them spicy or non-spicy (we recommend spicy).
Looking at the menu you may be overwhelmed by the amount of plates, but one suggestion is to try something from every category. Order some appetizers, drinking food, and the shared plates and you’ll be happy. The idea here is to try a bit of everything. The plates we ended up ordering after the chicken wings were composed of mushroom, boar meat, glass noodles with pork, Manila clams, and the papaya salad with crab.
Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings – Half a dozen fresh whole natural chicken wings marinated in fish sauce and sugar, deep fried and tossed in caramelized Phu Quoc fish sauce and garlic. Served with Vietnamese table salad.
There’s a reason why these wings are so popular- they’re well marinated and spiced and are a perfect drinking food– bar food at the highest level. They come with pickled carrots, parsnips, and lettuce as a perfect crunchy side. Who knew fish sauce and chicken wings would go so well together? If you only order one appetizer, this is it.
Phat Hoi Laai – Stir-fried Manila clams, chilies, galangal, garlic, krachai, and Thai basil.
It was hard to decide a second dish between all the other appetizers, but this plate was a welcome addition, with lots of Spicy and garlicky flavor. The clams come off very easily so you can keep enjoying your meal without digging at them too much. The broth that the clams sit on is delightful and you won’t be able to stop yourself from going back to it.
Muu Paa Kham Waan – Boar collar meat rubbed with garlic, coriander root, and black pepper. Glazed with soy and sugar, grilled over charcoal and served with iced mustard greens.
This dish was surprising since the meat wasn’t grilled like we expected – with grill marks. It was still delicious, though. Excellently cooked, rare to medium-rare slices are tender and made for dipping into the fantastic sour accompanying sauce.
Het Paa Naam Tok – Spicy grilled forest mushroom salad with vegetarian fish sauce, lime and chili powder dressing, shallots lemongrass, mint, cilantro and toasted rice powder.
If I had to choose my favorite overall, this would be at the top. Of course you would have to somewhat like mushrooms to enjoy this savory dish. The lime and cilantro really shines in this plate and the flavors are a great way to cleanse your palate while you’re trying the Thai smörgåsbord of food in front of you.
Food Eaten With Rice As Part of a Shared Meal
Sunny’s Yam Wun Sen Chao Wang – Spicy and sour glass noodle salad with naem (a house-made sour pork sausage), ground pork, mussels, dry shrimp, celery, pickled garlic, Thai chilies, shallots, and carrot. Lime, fish sauce, garlic oil dressing.
You won’t find many noodles on the menu, but this glass noodle plate will certainly fill that void. The textures in this dish are great and you’ll get something crunchy, soft, spicy, or chewy with every bite you take. It’s also a great dish to order if you don’t want their plain (but still tasty) rice sides to soak up the juices from the other plates.
Papaya Pok Pok Issan Style (whole salted rice paddy crab, naam plaa raak and dry chilies) –Central Thai-style spicy green papaya salad with tomatoes, long beans, Thai chili, lime juice, tamarind, fish sauce, garlic, palm sugar, dried shrimp, and peanuts. Made to order in the pok pok (mortar and pestle).
This was another favorite. Extremely pungent, fishy, and funky (just like the server described), it’s a must-order if that sounds appealing to you at all. The dried shrimp and fish sauce really come through and make for a true umami-packed, briny dish. Beware if you don’t like seafood, this is probably the fishiest dish Pok Pok offers.
Pok Pok LA is open Wednesday through Sunday
11:30 AM until Midnight (Closed between Lunch and Dinner)
978 N. Broadway
Los Angeles CA 90012