For years, the only way to get a table at the original Pok Pok on Southeast Division was to get there early, or spend your evening sipping a tamarind whiskey sour at Whiskey Soda Lounge while waiting your turn. In April, Pok Pok opened its fifth Portland location with one big change: this one accepted reservations. The newest iteration, which took over Northwest Portland’s former Bent Brick space with a menu of new appetizers and daily specials, feels like it should have always been Pok Pok. The curved, steel bar inside the red-brick building shelters a line-up of Som Drinking Vinegars and a slimmer selection of liquor. Those familiar with Bent Brick will remember the airy patio, now charmingly overgrown but well-groomed, shading a host of tables covered in bright, floral oilcloth tablecloths. The dishes here are almost identical to what you’ll find at the flagship restaurant on Division, but the new plates are worth a try, too. Pok Pok is no longer the most exciting Thai restaurant in town as the city’s scene has grown to include tasting menu counter Langbaan, fried chicken spot Hat Yai and the new Issan nights at the beloved PaaDee, but you know what to expect at Pok Pok NW, which might be exactly the night you’re looking for.
The dish: It’s hard to fathom visiting any Pok Pok restaurant and not ordering Ike’s fish sauce wings. But with the chainlet’s less expensive Southeast Portland wing shack, Pok Pok Wing, it’s easier to persuade yourself to save room for one of the new appetizers that are available only at Pok Pok NW. We started with the lon naem, a spicy and creamy coconut cream dip speckled with crumbled sour-cured pork sausage and bits of prawn, then sweetened and spiced with tamarind, palm sugar, galangal and mandarin zest. The soupy “dip” is served alongside tempura-fried betel leaves and rice crisps, though we couldn’t figure out how to eat it and took to just spooning it into our mouths. Other dishes like the laap plaa duuk yaang isaan, a chopped smoked catfish salad spiked with lemongrass and dried chilies, and neua naam tok, a spicy Issan-style flank steak tossed with mint, cilantro and fish sauce, were both fiery and herbaceous, though they quickly tasted almost identical after several bites. The popular kaeng hang leh, a pork belly and shoulder curry, was sweet and gingery enough to cut through the similarities. The muu paa kham waan, a garlicky, charcoal grilled boar, was our favorite of the night, best eaten Korean ssam-style, wrapped in the iced mustard greens meant to soothe the burn.
The takeaway: The experience at Pok Pok’s newest Northwest restaurant isn’t much different from the original location, but we like the new drinking snacks and cozy patio.
Sample menu: Lon naem ($14), boar collar ($15.75), steak salad ($15.75), catfish laap ($17.50), pork belly curry ($15.75), affogato ($8)
Drinks: Southeast Asian-inspired cocktails ($12), bottled and on-draft beer ($5-$6), non-alcoholic sodas, drinking vinegars, teas and coffee ($3-$5), wine by the glass (ask server)
Go: If you’re craving Pok Pok on the west side of town.
Details: Dinner daily, weekend lunch; 1639 N.W. Marshall St., 971-351-1946, pokpoknw.com
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