In Foodie Alert

It’s on SE Division in Portland, but it felt more like a third world country. It was a hot night, edging on muggy. At 5:30 p.m. people were already lined up, milling on the sidewalk or drinking beer in the outdoor bar. Big black drum barbecue, exotic aromas, street noise.

We were ushered up an outdoor stairway and into a small room just big enough for our table. A curtain separated us from another small dining room. A small Buddha shrine jutted from the wall just above eye level, a mat with Buddhist prayers stuck on the wall behind it. Another land entirely.

The food is different from what we’re accustomed to in the U.S., at once earthier and more exotic. Pad Thai is not spoken here. That’s not a bad thing.

As this has become their favorite hangout, Helios and Lisa ordered. Here’s what we ate:

Papaya Pok Pok, a green papaya salad with tomatoes, long beans, dried shrimp, and peanuts in a Thai chili-lime dressing. This salad packs a savage bite, so have a cooling beverage nearby to put out the fire.

Yam Makheua Yao, charcoal-grilled eggplant salad topped with boiled egg, fried garlic, shrimp, shallots, and those nasty-hot little Thai chilies with sweet and sour dressing. Even the eggplant haters loved this one!

Neua Naam Tok, a spiced flank steak salad with lemongrass, chili, mint, cilantro, and toasted rice powder. We ordered some sticky rice to go with it. It’s light and long on flavor. I visualized eating the whole thing!

Muu Sateh, pork loin skewers that had marinated in coconut milk and turmeric and grilled, served with peanut sauce, cucumber relish, and grilled bread. The cucumber relish helps put out the fires, so we ordered extra.

Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings, natural chicken wings marinated in fish sauce then deep- fried and tossed in caramelized fish sauce. We’re talking four-alarm sodium here, but these wings are melt-in-mouth exquisite!

Kaeng Hung Leh, pork belly and pork shoulder slow-cooked in a rich, exotically spiced curry sauce. It’s bad for you-yes it is-and we cleaned it up in a flash. A couple bites for each of us was just right.

Khao Soi Kai, a northern Thai mild curry noodle soup, with chicken on the bone, tender egg noodles, and lush coconut flavor. It’s more noodly than soupy, and is topped with crispy yellow noodles and roasted chili paste.

Kung Op Wun Sen, gulf prawns baked in a clay pot with pork belly, whiskey, ginger, soy, cilantro root, and black pepper. Chinese celery and bean thread noodles are served atop.

We dined family style, and the portions were just enough for the seven of us to try a bit of everything and be quite satisfied. Most dishes are priced at $11-12. I am not going to wax ecstatic here about each dish. Everything was delicious, there were no disappointments, the flavors were spot on, and I can’t wait to go back and try all the things I missed this trip. We even gorged ourselves on sticky rice and mango in coconut milk for dessert.

The non-drinkers sampled various flavors of the “drinking vinegars” which tasted more malty than acetic and were deliciously refreshing. Aside from the usual fancy cocktails and Asian beers, the house specializes in an extensive list of Bourbons, Rye , blended and single malt Scotch, Irish, and Canadian whiskeys.

Reservations are available only for parties of five or more. A to-go menu is available, but the selections are quite limited. Find out more by visiting www.pokpokpdx.com

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