For more than a decade, Pok Pok wasn't just the best Thai restaurant in Portland, but an unquestioned top-five spot in the city. That came from the ruthless focus of owner Andy Ricker, who started in a tatty little shack on then-sketchy Division and went on to build a bicoastal empire and establish himself as a worldwide expert on traditional Thai street food.
Ricker hasn't mellowed, but between opening spots in New York and Los Angeles, the original is starting to show signs of being trampled down by the parade of tourists circling the host station 12 hours a day, every day.
On a recent visit, the once-sharp contrast between crisp little rings of fried lemongrass and the tender rare beef in the citrusy, spicy steak salad known as Neua Naam Tok ($15.50) had grown fuzzier and the flavors of the curries had mellowed and gotten muddier.
It's even noticeable in the table water, which has long been flavored with pandan leaf to give it a light toasted rice flavor, not unlike soju. Attentive sipping revealed what seemed like pandan, though not definitely. It mostly tasted like the water at other Thai places.
Eat: I always order the Neua Naam Tok, sticky rice and sometimes off the specials board.
Drink: Pok Pok markets its drinking vinegars far and wide. Cocktails made with them are generally very good.
Most popular dish: Ike's Wings
Noise level: 64/100
Expected wait: Twenty minutes when it's empty, an hour and 20 minutes when it's full.
Who you'll eat with: Californians visiting, Californians who recently moved here, locals with California friends visiting.
Year opened: 2005
3226 SE Division St., 503-232-1387, pokpokpdx.com. 11:30 am-10 pm daily. $$-$$$.