For a very long time, I was not a chicken wings kinda girl. I thought them coarse, fuel for frat boys and beer-bellied sports fanatics, consumed by the heap at dens of digestive iniquity like TGIFridays and Hooters. But I was wrong, so wrong. Pok Pok’s intoxicating Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce chicken wings are fried to a perfect caramelized crisp and covered in a sticky sweet, spicy and tangy glaze sure to leave you licking, if not devouring, your own fingers just to get the last bit of sauce.
Pok Pok’s intoxicating Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce chicken wings are fried to a perfect caramelized crisp and covered in a sticky sweet, spicy and tangy glaze sure to leave you licking, if not devouring, your own fingers just to get the last bit of sauce.
Pok Pok turned me on to the wonder of the chicken wing much like how Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok shack and Whiskey Soda Lounge restaurant have revolutionized perceptions of what Thai food is with their wondrous, spicy, and decidedly foreign flavors and textures, the likes of which you’d be hard pressed to find outside of Thailand, which explains why Ricker is always jetting off to Thailand on exploratory food prowls and returning with yet more shockingly good recipes that keep even the most frequent of Pok Pok diners on their toes and coming back for more.
Once upon a time, Ricker served his exotic fare out of the little Pok Pok shack on SE Division, but now you can either eat shack food or you can wait for a table (you almost always have to wait) in the dark, mole-hole like, and slightly mysterious downstairs lounge. While you’re sitting there pining for your chicken wings, soothe your cravings with a Blood Orange Negroni or Tamarind Whiskey Sour. Or, tell the host you’re heading across the street to the Whiskey Soda Lounge, Ricker’s watering hole/holding pen, for cocktails and drinking snacks–they’ll call when your table’s ready.
As you knaw wing after wing, leaving a scattered pile of clean bones in your wake, you’ll have to answer a lot of difficult questions. Like, should I order the fresh whole two-pound Oregon Dungeness crab stir-fried with Thai curry powder, fresh chilies, and Chinese celery, or the minced buffalo salad with crispy fried shallots and garlic? The Carlton Farms pork loin skewers marinated in coconut milk and turmeric, or the clay pot Wild Gulf prawns with baked over charcoal with pork belly, whiskey, soy, ginger? Which waiter is cuter? Should we ask him if he’s single? Should we drink another Tamarind Whiskey Sour even after what happened the last time we had three Tamarind Whiskey Sours? Is it weird to order two whiskey soda floats with extra amarena cherries for dessert? Why is it that you simply CAN’T STOP EATING THESE CHICKEN WINGS?
Executive Chef: Andy Ricker
Atmosphere: Ultra-comfortable space—dark, cozy, warm, stylish but not overdone, a mixture of comfy booths and intimate tables (sometimes too intimate, don’t come here to break up with someone or discuss the details of your divorce)
Outdoor seating: Plenty of two-tops and picnic tables on the large Pok Pok patio facing SE Division.
Best Seat: A booth inside the lounge or a picnic table on the front patio
Noise Level: Boisterous
Bring the Kids: Yes, if they are adventurous eaters
Bathrooms: Inside the lounge, straight to the back and down the hallway to the right of the bar, try to make like Flat Stanley and hug the wall because you’re in the servers’ way as they scurry from kitchen to dining room
Parking: Parking is free but can be difficult to find during peak hours, you'll have to go deep down a side street
Cocktails: Yes, as unique as the food they are served with. The Tamarind Whiskey Sour is a surefire winner, and there is always something interesting on special.
Corkage: $10 per 750 mL
Teetotalers: Sober drivers, do NOT miss the drinking vinegars—sparkling concoctions of unusual syrups (yuzu, plum, Meyer lemon), sour vinegars, and sparkling water, a drinking sensation unlike any other, and oddly addictive.
Ideal Meal: At the shack, get the Kai Yaang (roasted game hen, and Pok Pok’s signature dish), and the Khao Man Som Tam (sweet shredded Carlton Farms pork). In the dining room, get the chicken wings, the chicken wings, and the chicken wings. And the spicy and sour grilled flank steak salad, and the whiskeysoda float.
Vegan Friendly: Vegetarian-approved dishes include the Het Paa Naam Tok (spicy Isaan forest mushroom “salad”), Papaya Pok Pok (Green papaya salad), Yam Makheua Yao (grilled Chinese eggplant salad), and Yam Samun Phrai (Northern Thai herbal salad).
Good for the following occasions: Casual Date, Out With Friends, Family Meal, Spicy Chicken Wings Obsessions
Group/Private Party Details: Pok Pok can handle parties of up to 28, in their upstairs dining room. Tables of up to 12 can be seated on the covered porch--my personal favorite, especially on a summer evening, although the powerful heat lamps can quickly warm up a chilly winter evening.
Reservations: For parties of 5 or more, call 503.232.1387 between 9am and 10pm daily.