What if I told you there's some really good Isaan-style Thai food to be had in Portland. And that it can be found not in Downtown, but in Southeast Portland, served out of what is either a dressed up shed or converted garage. Wait it gets better, it's a White Dude making the food! Not just any food, but Thai street food. And not just any ordinary "Chef", but an honest to God, Bass playing Rock-n-Roller! I'm sure you think that this is a product of one too many Bridgeport IPA's, but it's true, cross my Kanom Krok!
The place goes by the catchy name of Pok Pok; and is located in Southeast Portland on SE Division.
The Bass playing Chef is Andy Ricker, who plays in a local band called The Quags. According to what I gleaned from posts in Portland Food and Drink, and the message boards on Portlandfood.org, Andy was a Sous-Chef at a popular restaurant called Zefiro's, but His true love is Southeast Asian Cuisine; specifically the cuisine of Chiang Mai. So what's a Bass playing sous-chef, who loves Isaan food to do? Well, open a little hole in the wall serving Thai street food in Southeast Portland.
The story's so fascinating, that I could just stop right now, and I'm sure this post would still be interesting. But one must eat, right? In spite of the larger than life story; doubts were still swirling through my head as I made the 20 minute bus ride (#4 Division), from Downtown Portland, sitting next to an older gentleman who kept muttering "Timmy, Timmy, get over here, get over here" during the duration of my ride. I got off at my stop, well not really, I missed the stop, and got off down the street and walked a few blocks to Pok Pok. And yes, it was true, next to a house being renovated(I later learned that Andy lives there, and hopes to move Pok Pok into the basement)there was a small shed with a window.
The menu is small, just 6 items, along with a grease board with a "special" and a dessert written on it.
To term the few patio furniture tables, and covered shed with a few tables a dining area, would be a stretch. But on this mild, sunny Portland evening, it's heaven. Don't fall into the ditch, though!
I decided to order the Pok Pok Special($8.50):
It consists of a half of Charcoal Rotisserie Game Hen, called Kai Yaang. The Game Hen was flavorful, slightly garlicky, and very moist. Saffron wishes it could do it so well. I understand that Andy brought back a special rotisserie from Chiang Mai to make his game hen, which is stuffed with lemongrass and garlic for additional flavor. Andy, learned how to modify the rotisserie while "hanging out" at a Restaurant in Chiang Mai. A mild sweet chili sauce was served with the game hen, I really didn't need it though. The game hen had that much flavor. That stuff in the plastic wrap is kao neuw; sticky rice which went pretty well with chicken, though I've had better sticky rice.
The special came with a Papaya Salad. Man was this good! The best Thai style Papaya Salad I've had since our visit to the Wat Thai Temple in North Hollywood in January. The papaya was fresh and crisp, the shredded shrimp added a nice salty-oceany flavor, the green beans added a nice crunch. The sauce was a near perfect balance of sweet, sour, and salty. The heat was bit on the mild side, but of course I'm used to pretty spicy stuff. I thought there was one thing "missing" from this papaya salad.
So after devouring all of that food, I opened up my belt a notch, hiked up my pants and walked on over to the window. I had a short chat with Andy, a really nice Guy. And when I mentioned how I really enjoy my Papaya Salad with salted blue crab, and perhaps a little spicier, he said; "No problem, I'll make that".
So here's the Papaya Pok Pok with Salted Blue Crab(salad $4.95 + $1 for crab):
The best salted crab I've ever had in a papaya salad. Salty, sweet, and mildly fishy, so delici-yoso!!! In most instances I'll not order my salad with salted crab, mainly because it's a terribly fishy, gummy, off flavored mess. But in this case, an excellent Papaya Salad with perfect Salted Blue Crab.
So it's true, here on SE Division is a taste of good Isaan style Thai Street food. Pok Pok has instantly become a "must visit" restaurant for me. I'm hoping that on my next visit to Portland, that the Restaurant in the basement of the House will be ready. I know I will. Run, don't wok, to Pok Pok........
3226 SE Division St.
Portland, OR 97202
BTW, "Pok Pok" is a little play on words mimicking the sound that a mortar and pestle makes while preparing papaya salad.
So how did I work up an appetite? Earlier in the afternoon I made an abbreviated trip to Washington Park, a 129.5 acre city park that hold the Oregon Zoo, The Portland Japanese Garden, Hoyt Arboretum, World Forestry Center, and The Oregon Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I had intended spending most of the day on Friday at Washington Park, but the rain nixed that plan. So I just decided to make one stop at Washington Park.
Washington Park is also home to the Deepest Underground Transit Station in North America(260 ft):
My destination? The International Rose Test Garden. After all, I'm in the City of Roses, right?
The are over 400 varieties of roses in this fragrant 4 1/2 acre garden.
Without a doubt an obligatory stop in Portland.