Portland is 72.2% non-Hispanic White and only 7.1% Asian. Given those statistics, I was extremely skeptical of Portland’s reputation of having really good Thai food. This is especially given that Andy Ricker, the chef/owner of the highly celebrated Pok Pok, is not Thai himself. (That’s not to say that non-Asians can’t be expert in a specific cuisine, as Fuschia Dunlap has done with Sichuan cuisine). Because of this, I just had to eat Thai food on my business trip to Portland just to taste and judge for myself.
Pok Pok Noi
1469 NE Prescott St.
Portland, OR 97211
Since it was a bit far for us to go to the original Pok Pok in Southeast Portland late on a Sunday night, my friend and I went to Pok Pok’s second location in Northeast Portland instead. Situated in a fairly residential part of Portland, we took seats at the counter of the cozy restaurant digs.
It was hard to decide what item to get, as nearly every item sounded delicious (and this is a pared down menu from the original!), but I decided to get Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Chicken Wings. They were every bit as delicious as the raves on Yelp and other websites said they were. The skin was crispy and sticky with the slightly spicy fish sauce glaze. The meat inside was very juicy and infused some of the flavor of the fish sauce. There were some pickled vegetables on the side that helped to cut some of the richness of the wings. It’s not the only good chicken dish on the menu either, as the bites of chicken from my friend’s Pok Pok Special of Kai Yaang was just as amazing.
But Pok Pok isn’t just known for its food. It has more than 10 flavors of tasting vinegars as well. I got the ginger tasting vinegar, which was mixed with soda water, and it was a fabulously refreshing drink that had just enough gingery spice without being overpowering. The tasting vinegars are another good way to cut through the richness and fat of some of the dishes as well.
Nong’s Khao Man Gai
609 SE Ankeny St., Suite C
Portland, OR 97214
Pok Pok, however, isn’t Portland’s only well regarded Thai restaurant. Nong’s Khao Man Gai started in a very Portland way, as a food truck, and has since grown to a local mini chain that includes a brick and mortar store. Luckily for me, the brick and mortar restaurant was just a few blocks from my hotel, so it was a breeze to take advantage of that and grab a bite.
At the restaurant, like at a food truck, you order first. While there were a few options, I opted, of course, for the khao man gai, the Thai take on Hainanese Chicken Rice. I also got a side of steamed vegetables to make sure I got a balance of meat and vegetables. The khao man gai came out fairly quickly and it was delicious. The bits of chicken was poached excellently and balanced well by the spicy, gingery dipping sauce. While the chicken stock was a little saltier than I liked, it also provided a nice way to wash down the chicken and rice. The rice itself was cooked well too, with enough of the fattiness from the leftover poached chicken to have a nice, rich taste.
The steamed vegetables, on the other hand, were just alright. It consisted of both broccoli and Chinese broccoli bits that were steamed until just tender. While they were textually nice, they also lacked a little bit of flavor, but I suppose I shouldn’t expect more when I order just steamed vegetables. In any case, it was at least nice to have some greens to go with the chicken, rice, and sauce.
All in all, the Thai food in Portland, at least from my sampling, lived up to the hype and high expectations. While I still think there are cities with better Thai food like San Francisco and Los Angeles, Portland definitely gives those cities a run for its money. So the next time you’re in Portland, don’t just eat at their great New American restaurants like Tasty and Sons or Pine Street Biscuits, make sure to take a trip to their wonderful Thai restaurants as well.