Restaurant Guide 2013: Pok Pok

3226 SE Division St., 232-1387,

[THAI HARDEST] If Pok Pok head chef Andy Ricker really is the "chicken wing messiah" that Eater NY dubbed him when he began proselytizing on the East Coast last year, then Southeast Division Street is his Jerusalem. When Pok Pok opened here in 2005, no angels heralded passersby from his little shack. Instead, he sent the chickens. The famous, fish sauce-marinated wings are technically Vietnamese-style, and Ricker owes the recipe to Ike, one of his cooks, but they've become the cornerstone of his religion and made converts out of all who have tasted. Pok Pok's approach to food is simple. We farang need not be babied with Chicken McNugget and spaghetti "pad thai." We can handle the real stuff, which in Pok Pok's source of inspiration, northern Thailand, means oddities like minced catfish, betel leaf, forest mushrooms and water buffalo. The menu, closely detailing each dish's ingredients and preparation, easily guides indecisive stomachs, while daily specials cater to the adventurous. On a trip to Pok Pok two years ago, one such special added fermented black crab and chili to the green papaya salad. The heat was overwhelming, the flavor difficult, but damned if I can't brag about that dish as if I'd been to Chiang Mai and back.

Ideal meal: The $14 wings are required as a starter. The menu claims it's drinking food, but the muu paa kham wan holds its own as an entree, pitting spicy, grilled boar against iced mustard greens for $14.

Best deal: It's by no means unique to Pok Pok, but the $14 khao soi is a rib-sticking hot soup made for both warm and chilly days.

Pro tip: Because of all the complex sauces in use, you can't really tell what allergens may be in any dish (gluten, shellfish, dairy) without asking for the special menu with a red frame. Just ask for the "leper menu."
11:30 am-10 pm daily. $$.


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