I love me some Pok Pok, but between heading all the way over to SE and waiting an hour to get in, it’s not always worth the trouble. Sure, Whiskey Soda Lounge is amazing and a fabulous place to drink in delicious flavors while waiting for your table, but usually the tasty Som drinks just make me hungrier and more impatient.
The solution: Pok Pok Noi.
Not only is this restaurant located just a few blocks from my apartment, but it’s also quicker and easier than the original Pok Pok. Billed as “a counter service and take away restaurant,” Pok Pok Noi offers a much more limited menu than the original restaurant, but still includes Pok Pok favorites like chicken wings, papaya salad and, my favorites, the drinkable vinegars. There are some stools for quick eating and drinking inside, but if you can snag one of the few tables out there, the back patio is the place to be.
I start every meal at Pok Pok Noi with a Som, or drinkable vinegar, and a bag of shrimp chips. Not only are the shrimp chips tasty, but they also snap, crackle and pop on your tongue, giving you minutes, if not hours, of entertainment and a whole roll of ridiculous pictures to share on the interwebs. Just be sure to save a few in case your dish is super spicy – they help soothe your tongue.
Usually just about the time the novelty of popping chips wears off, the friendly waiters bring my dishes, which, in my experiences, is about half the time it takes them to bring you dishes at the original Pok Pok.
Digging in to the feast, Pumpkin and I both started with the Khao Man Som Tom, or Carlton Farms shredded pork, fried shallots and cilantro served over coconut rice with Papaya Pok Pok (green papaya salad) and a slice of cabbage on the side.
The shredded pork and shallots were both caramelized to perfection, enabling them to be crispy and melt in your mouth at the same time. The subtle yet delightful coconut flavor of the rice complimented the sweet pork and helped cut the burn of the delicious, yet spicy, papaya salad sprinkled with dried shrimp, peanuts and cilantro.
On this trip, we decided to skip the usual delicious famous Ike’s chicken wings and instead went for the Kai Yaang, roasted game hen stuffed with lemongrass, cilantro garlic and pepper and served with sweet and sour and tamarind dipping sauces.
As we easily pulled the chicken right off of the bone and dipped it into both flavorful sauces, we both commented on how glad we were that we gave this dish a try. While the hen doesn’t have the high-impact flavor or the chicken wings, its subtle spice and sweet sauce is a nice departure from the other often overpowering dishes Pok Pok offers.
Moving on to steak, we tried the Neua Nam Tok, spicy flank steak salad with chili, lime, garlic, cilantro, lemongrass, mint and toasted rice powder.
As our server recommended, we served this salad over their sticky rice, which complimented the texture of the meat and helped soothe the spice in the dish. Believe the menu when it warns that this dish is very spicy. I highly suggest having something like the game hen above or even a Som drinking vinegar to help cut the spice. When your tongue isn’t on fire, however, the flavors in this dish blend well together and the texture is superb.
To soothe my burning tongue and quench my sweet tooth, I finished my meal with some mango sticky rice covered with coconut cream and sesame seeds. I’m sure some places ruin this dish, but I’ve yet to meet a mango sticky rice I don’t like and Pok Pok Noi is no exception.
On a subsequent visit to Pok Pok Noi, my friends and I tried a completely different spread, with Ike’s chicken wings with fish sauce, Muu Paa Kham Wan boar collar meat rubbed with hot spices, grilled over charcoal and served with chilled mustard greens to help cut the spice, green Papaya Pok Pok salad and Het Paa Nam Tak the vegetarian version of the Neua Nam Tak above served with mushrooms instead of steak.
Every single one of these dishes was absolutely superb. No really, every single one. The only complaint I would have is the spice. When visiting any Pok Pok restaurant, it’s important to get a few less spicy dishes to even out the spice, or you really won’t be able to fully enjoy the splendor and uniqueness in each of these dishes.
You also should have one of their fabulous cocktails or virgin mixed drinks, preferably with their homemade Soms, or drinking vinegars. They help cut the spice and are delicious. Try a gin and celery for something savory or a vodka and lychee or pomegranate for something sweet. Or, as we did the second time around, get one of their Manhattans served in awesome metal martini glasses that I definitely need to own. The best part about these glasses: can’t break them when you’re drunk! Or when you’re just a klutz like me and knock over your friends drinks all the time.
Overall, Pok Pok Noi is exactly what you expect from the Pok Pok family: delightful deliciousness. While the prices are a bit more than your average Thai restaurant, the food at Pok Pok Noi is well worth every penny.
- Location: 1469 NE Prescott St., Portland, OR
- Gotta try: Ike’s Chicken Wings, Som drinkable vinegars, Khao Man Som Tom, pretty much everything
- Price range: $$ – nicer date night
- Overall rating 5/5 stars:
- Food: 5/5
- Drink: 5/5
- Atmosphere: 4/5
- Staff Friendliness: 4/5
- Go there again?: all the time