Andy Ricker's back, baby. The Pok Pok chef-owner has had a weird few years, opening and closing restaurants in New York and Los Angeles and struggling to translate his signature fish sauce wings to quick-service at his new wing spot off Southeast Powell Boulevard.
But the new Pok Pok Northwest might be his best-ever project. In fact, this year I'm not sure I had a single meal better than an early-summer visit to to the former Bent Brick, where we encountered the classic menu along with some fun new appetizers like lemongrass-spiced, chopped smoked catfish salad, and a sour-cured pork sausage served with a creamy coconut dip with citrus that you scoop up with fried betel leaves and rice crisps. My favorite find was the miang kham, betel leaves rolled into cones and filled with peanuts, toasted coconut, diced ginger, lime and Thai chilis. They also do a great job with my all-time favorite Pok Pok dish, thin strips of flank steak doused in fish sauce then body-slammed with fried shallots, lemongrass, mint, cilantro, lime and chili powder. The wings, too, have returned to form.
Just as impressive as the food is the atmosphere, which is more welcoming than at Ricker's previous spots. To build his original location, Ricker erected a shanty village of tents and tarps. Here, he's had to go the opposite direction, livening up a dark-and-bricky former gastrolab with Christmas lights, plastic tablecloths and loud Thai pop music. It's decidedly west side, but in the good way; if you're paying $15.50 for wings, why not enjoy temperature control?
Pro Tip: You know what you never regret having on the table? Those glorious little baggies of sticky rice ($3 each). So, so long ago, the way people reacted to the no-such-thing-as-free-rice phenomenon was interesting. Now, it's how you show you're a pro, since savvy consumers order at least one rice baggie per dish.