The Pok Pok–ization of New York City has begun. Pok Pok Wing, which hawks the Thai-style fried chicken popularized stateside at hound hangout Pok Pok in Portland, Oregon, opened this month on the Lower East Side. Lau, who's put away his share of Asian-style wings, places Pok Pok's at the head of the pack.
Ike's Wings, as they're called, are marinated in fish sauce, garlic, and sugar, then deep-fried and tossed with more garlic and fish sauce. These big boys—way heftier than your average Buffalo wings—are sticky yet crisp outside and tender inside, "sweet and spicy at the same time, and you can definitely taste the garlic," Lau says. They're made regular or hot; Lau recommends hot.
For a nice tart counterpoint, try Papaya Pok Pok, an especially tangy take on som tam, the northern Thai–style green papaya salad. Lau ordered his Isaan style—with salted black crab, pla ra (fermented fish sauce), and an extra shot of dried chile—and was pleasantly surprised by a potent blast of heat. "I wouldn’t say it’s Thai spicy, but it’s way spicier than most Americans would want," says Lau, who finds it pretty tasty but not quite the equal of the som tam at places like Isaan specialist Zabb Elee. The brief menu also includes khao man som tam, a combo plate of tender shredded pork over coconut rice with a light, mild som tam. Lau loves the rice but finds the pork, which is cooked in black soy and palm sugar, overly sweet.
Among the beverages are Thai-style coffee brewed from Stumptown beans (Pok Pok's from Portland, after all) and unique fruit-flavored "som drinking vinegars," served straight or cut with soda water. Lau recommends either the tamarind or pomegranate flavor—the former's more tart, the latter more sweet (other choices are honey and apple). "I really liked it and found myself wanting more," he says.
New York hounds who want more Pok Pok won't have to wait long. Owner Andy Ricker, a James Beard honoree, is opening another outpost on Columbia Street in Brooklyn. Unlike the mostly-takeout Pok Pok Wing, this will be a sit-down restaurant with a full menu. This is huge news in a neighborhood where the Thai food "generally ranges from bad to mediocre," as fishermb puts it. Take it from Widmark, who visited the Portland original and found it "fantastic." If the new place is even half as good, he says, "Brooklyn is in for a treat."
Pok Pok Wing [Lower East Side]
137 Rivington Street (between Norfolk and Suffolk streets), Manhattan
Pok Pok [Carroll Gardens]
127 Columbia Street (between Kane and Degraw streets), Brooklyn
No phone available