Pok Pok in Portland
Lucky Visit in 2019
Today I'm remembering a unique dining adventure, that I failed to write up! Back in October of 2019, we lucked into a memorable meal at Pok Pok, in Portland.
Don and I were visiting our daughter and son-in-law, when Heidi managed to come up with last minute reservations. Little did we know, that exactly a year later, Pok Pok would close down. The pandemic was just part of the reason.
Heidi gave us the scoop before we arrived. Chef Andy Ricker opened Pok Pok in NW Portland, in 2005. Although he wasn't Thai himself, he specialized in Northern Thai cuisine, specifically from Chiang Mai.
There's much more to his story but basically, his food and authentic approach, became a hit quickly. Before long, Chef Andy opened other locations in Portland, as well as Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Vegas. There were James Beard Awards and he was featured on Anthony Bourdain's show.
The Original Pok Pok
Our visit in 2019, was to the original Portland location. The little eatery didn't look all that impressive when we arrived. There were colored lights and the lit up sign, with mortar and pestle image.
The patio was enclosed in plastic, long before the pandemic made that common. It looked like a place that might be featured on Guy Fieri's, Diners, Drive Ins and Dives show. And it actually was.
We arrived before 8 and there was no line. We'd heard a wait of two hours was not uncommon.
Memories of Chiang Mai
We 4 were excited to sample some popular dishes. Less than 2 years before, we had visited Chiang Mai and had been impressed with the unusual North Thai cuisine.
The photos above were taken on that visit. It was January 2017 and we had traveled from Bangkok, after the wedding celebration of our son and his new bride. It was wonderful having Chali's family, guiding us through many feasts.
Cozy Feast in Portland
Two years later, (just months before the pandemic) Don and I headed up the stairs with Heidi and Jamie and squeezed into a tiny room that I assume had once been a porch.
Our table practically touched the other 2 tables in the space. We wished we could have magically made the 2 dining couples disappear. Then we could have magically added Scott, Chali and her family to our gathering. It was sad not having them with us.
It was hard to believe we were in Oregon, not Thailand. Our server Matty, brought dishes that looked exactly like ones we remembered eating. Even the tablecloth reminded me of some we'd dined on. And the water tasted of coconut. Or was that my imagination?
Even the curious choice of music was memorable. It was full of surprises... like some of the music that amused us on our trip. Thai Pop? There were voices that sounded like high pitched Disney characters. Then suddenly we were listening to American Pop music. Elvis!? It was all part of the curious atmosphere!
My Khoa Soi
In a few minutes the other tables vacated and we were able to relax and push our chairs an inch from the table. Suddenly our hushed voices were normal voices, raving about our food.
We had a number of Khao Soi orders at the table. My bowl was filled with 2 pieces of chicken on the bone and slurpy, slippery noodles, all swimming in an incredible sauce. Cilantro and crispy noodles on top! The plate of lime, onion, bok choy, pepper paste, allowed me to dress it up, just like I remember doing in Chiang Mai!
A Photo from Chiang Mai
I dug out these old photos of our first Khao Soi feast, back in 2017.
The broth looks less thick, but oh how I remember the amazing flavors. And lucky for me I was born with genes that love cilantro! I was excited to add my own ingredients!
The papaya salad was a hit! Long beans, fried shrimp, peanuts, Thai chili, lime juice, palm sugar, tamarind... and papaya of course.
The fun bit, was how a mortar and pestle was used to pound the papaya with ingredients. The pounding sound of "pop-pok" is how the restaurant got its name!
Kaeng Hang Leh Pork Belly
Don made an impressive choice when he ordered Kaeng Hang Leh. This sweet pork belly and pork shoulder curry, is a rich and exotic Chiang Mai classic, also.
It came in its own little iron pot, with a container of sticky rice.
Matty was our wonderful server. She was from Bangkok, but said she had never been to Chiang Mai until after she started working at Pok Pok. She said Chef Andy had a very big house there.
Matty said she was happy to be in photo and offered a gracious bow. I'm not sure how I managed to blur so many photos!
Don did a decent job of saying thank you in Thai. Khop Khun Mak Kharab. I hope I got that right. Matty was delighted with the attempt. And she was even more excited when she heard we had all been to Thailand.
Sharing a Photo
I shared a photo on my phone of Chali and Scott's wedding and she smiled and studied the image for a while.
As we left the restaurant that night, we knew we'd have to return another time, when we had more family together in Portland. It's now sad to know we can't do that.
All the Pok Pok restaurants have closed, with no plans to reopen. I guess that means we need to pull this group together for another trip to Thailand! I'm game!
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The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.