THE FOOD Pad Thai is for suckers. Or at least that’s what just about anyone who eats at Andy Ricker’s temple of Southeast Asian cuisine for the first time will probably realize. Especially after they’ve just dug into a meal of spicy northeastern Thai minced-duck-breast salad with duck liver, cracklings, lime juice, fish sauce, mint, and lime leaf, followed by caramelized Vietnamese fish-sauce wings or a creamy Malaysian coconut-milk curry specked with delicate prawns, fish cakes, shredded chicken, and light, golden puffs of tofu. Pok Pok’s brilliant renditions of Southeast Asian street food lodge themselves in the recesses of your brain, such that you cannot go more than a day without returning for more. We’ve started referring to the Pok Pok initiation as “getting your umami on.”
THE CHEF In 2005, after more than 20 years spent exploring the back roads and street markets of Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia, chef Andy Ricker—a semiretired rock musician and former housepainter—set up a take-out shack in the driveway of his house on SE Division Street. Since then, he has opened a full-service restaurant in the basement and first floor, and he plans to open another Asian-inspired restaurant, Ping, in Chinatown next year.
THE ATMOSPHERE Sit beneath a heat lamp at one of the covered outdoor picnic tables and you’ll feel as though you just stumbled upon a night market in Chiang Mai. Or sit inside the wood-paneled, clandestine drinking den and choose from a menu of shared plates meant to be paired with whiskey and beer. All manner of Pok Pok diehards are willing to wait to get a seat, so don’t think that arriving early will save you. You’ll have to tap your feet with the rest of the diners at a nearby bar or out on the sidewalk.
THE SERVICE Ask a server about a dish at Pok Pok and they’ll likely be able to tell you where in Thailand Ricker learned the recipe, or whether the sawtooth root in the herbal salad is bitter. And once the food is brought to the table, they’ll be sure to check up on you, wholly excited to see you’re smiling while chowing down on those chicken wings.