POK POK/WHISKEY SODA LOUNGE

THERE’S SEEMINGLY NO END to chef Andy Ricker’s imagination. First, he opened a modest little takeout shack on SE Division St called Pok Pok—named after the sound, in Thai, that a pestle makes when it strikes a mortar. Inspired by the street food he’d eaten during his dozens of travels to northern Thailand since 1988, he served a small menu of authentic Thai dishes such as charcoal-grilled game hen stuffed with lemongrass and a curry noodle soup made with pickled mustard greens, shredded chicken and house-pressed coconut milk. For many patrons, it was difficult to eat anything other than these bewilderingly satisfying and unfamiliar Thai specialties.

But then last winter, Ricker expanded his outdoor restaurant into the basement of the house next door. He called this new, funky, wood-lined dive Whiskey Soda Lounge and offered an expanded menu, but one still dedicated to the specialties of late-night outdoor markets in Southeast Asia. he began pressing his own sugar cane for his quirky cocktails.

He figured out how to deep-fry Vietnamese fish-sauce wings so that they caramelized in the hot rice oil and morphed into something undeniably addictive. He served a noodle soup with a broth rich with the meaty fragrance of lamb and the sweet, earthy scent of mint, as well as a salad of "crispy fried egg" with Chinese celery, Thai chiles and palm sugar that was hauntingly delicious. And among a dozen other entrées and desserts, there was a coconut-and-jackfruit ice cream served on a sweet bun with sticky rice, peanuts, condensed milk and chocolate syrup that sounded and tasted so odd, but was so curiously delicious that it became an instant hit.

And the lines kept growing longer, so Ricker expanded to the upstairs of the little brown house, even installed heat lamps and more tables and tents on the patio so that diners could sit outside year-round. In fact, on balmy nights, the ambitious little culinary complex Ricker has built for himself began to look exactly like the Chiang Mai night markets that inspired it. It would hardly be surprising if Ricker eventually just expanded out into the street, where hundreds of avid Pok Pok fans would surely mill about into the midnight hour, feasting on Gulf prawns baked in clay pots and green papaya salad and lamb kebabs, all wondering what Ricker could possibly come up with next. 3226 SE Division, 503-232-1387