A few weeks ago, I saw an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. In this particular episode, he was traveling around Northern Thailand with Chef Andy Ricker, ‘the white guy who cooks awesome Thai food.’ After the episode, Kevin and I knew we had to eat at Pok Pok when we went to Portland. Turns out he owns quite a few establishments on the same street, SE Division St. – Pok Pok, Whiskey Soda Lounge, and Sen Yai. Yea, we went to all of them…and you know what? He seriously does cook awesome Thai food! I should call this post lisbeth eats… Thailand 😉
When we got to Pok Pok, the wait was around 30-45 mins for a table. The hostess took our name and gave us the option to go across the street and wait for our table at the Whiskey Soda Lounge. The website describes it as ‘a bar/lounge serving Aahaan kap Klaem, the drinking food of Thailand.’ Andy Ricker is a smart business man putting these two places right by each other. Both places were packed, and I could see why – great cocktails and atmosphere with a list of tasty appetizers that overlap with the Pok Pok menu. We ordered 2 cocktails – I had a Rhubarb blush (aperol, gin, lime, rhubarb bitters) and Kevin got a Southside (gin, mint syrup, lemon juice, soda). Awesome cocktails! I’ve never been to Thailand, but I can imagine that this is the kind of place foreigners would go for drink while on holiday. I overheard someone say they liked the fish sauce wings better here than at Pok Pok. We were tempted to order some wings and another round of drinks, but just then our server came over and told us Pok Pok was ready to seat us.
We closed out our tab and walked back over to Pok Pok, ready to eat. The place smelled so good! We ordered the Papaya Pok Pok (spicy green papaya salad), Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings (the famous wings we were just about to order at Whiskey Soda Lounge), Cha Ca ‘La Vong’ (a Vietnamese Catfish dish with vermicelli noodles and herbs), and Kaeng Hang Leh (Northern Thai sweet pork belly and pork shoulder curry with ginger). The portions looked like they were on the smaller side, but looks can be deceiving. We were thoroughly stuffed by the end of our meal and we even had left overs. Everything was so flavorful, best southeast Asian/Thai food I’ve had yet. If Thai food tastes this good in Portland, imagine how good the food will be in Thailand! To be fair, Andy Ricker did live in Thailand for a while, still travels there every year, was taught the cuisine by Thai people and he even speaks and understands the language. I’d say he’s pretty authentic. But if I ever do get the chance to travel to Thailand, I’ll let you know for sure! 😉
On our last night in Portland, before heading down to Salem for my friend’s wedding, we hit up Sen Yai Noodle. We ordered some cocktails – I had a Salted Plum Vodka Collins (salted plum, vodka, lemon juice, soda) and Kevin had a Tamarind Whiskey Sour (tamarind, lime juice, palm sugar and bourbon). Then we ordered a Phat Thai Ruam (Phat Thai with prawns and ground pork) and Mee Krob Lat Na (crispy wheat noodles with gravy, pork, egg). Mmm, I could go for a plate of Mee Krob Lat Na right now. Can anyone recommend a Thai restaurant that serves that in Maryland?
I don’t know if Portland is for everyone, but I really enjoyed my time there. There is something so unique about Portland food culture that just drew me in during my short stay. Portlanders know how to eat and appreciate good food. There were lots of restaurants that specialized in one type of food with a small menu, small menus done extremely well. One thing that struck me was the abundance of Asian restaurants that were owned and operated by non-Asians. Asian inspired dishes could be found on menus where you’d least expect it. Non-Asian servers were describing their adobo and kimchi dishes to me as naturally as they would describe say a burger and fries- pretty cool stuff! I remember as a kid, I’d be so nervous whenever my friends came over – afraid they’d smell the kimchi every time our fridge would open. I’d be embarrassed if I ate spicy Korean seafood stews or soups before meeting up with other kids in the neighborhood to play outside. Now people are ordering kimchi on their burgers or fish sauce wings and think they smell lovely. (Let’s be real, fish sauce and kimchi smell funky! 😉 HAHA.) I love that now there is an appreciation for different ethnic cuisines and flavors. Seeing Portlanders and tourists stand in long lines in front of ethnic food carts and learning that dishes like kimchi can be found on the menu of neighborhood restaurants really brought a smile to my face. I see this appreciation growing in Maryland as well, can’t wait for it to be as widespread here as it is in Portland!!
We’re always looking for new places to try, please let us know your favorite Thai restaurant in Maryland, in the comments section below. And don’t forget to subscribe after reading.
Khob Khun Kah! (Thank you in Thai)