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What To Expect From Pok Pok LA's Big Chinatown Opening
In just one day, chef Andy Ricker will be opening the doors to his much-anticipated Pok Pok LA restaurant in Chinatown, bringing along with him his style of Northern Thai and Southeast Asian cuisine, craft cocktails and addictive, crispy fish-sauce wings.
The James Beard Award-winning chef, who already has Pok Pok food and whiskey bar outposts in Portland and New York City, opened Pok Pok Phat Thai—a tiny Thai noodle shop in Chinatown's Far East Plaza—last December. His second L.A. eatery, Pok Pok LA, which is located in the Mandarin Plaza, will feature a much larger menu nearly on par with his Portland location's offerings. It will open on October 28 for lunch and dinner, five days a week from Wednesday through Sunday.
The menu is massive one, divided into categories of "Drinking Food" (dishes that people in Thailand and Vietnam pair with alcohol), shared plates, grilled items and one-plate meals. You can find everything from Ricker's popular Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings to Isaan flank steak, catfish marinated in tumeric and sour rice, duck salads, and Northern Thai sweet pork belly and pork shoulder curries.
Pok Pok LA's "Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings" (Photo via Pok Pok/Instagram)
While Pok Pok LA's opening menu is almost the same as Ricker's Portland menu, L.A. will eventually get a few different dishes that you can't find at his other locations. "For the L.A.-specific menu, eventually we’re going to take advantage of using things here that you can’t get anywhere," Ricker tells LAist. His future specials, which will change seasonally, will include items like hearts of palm and bamboo shoots.
Expect cocktails like a Tamarind Whiskey Sour, a Pok Pok Bloody Mary made with Thai chilies, and a Vietnamese coffee spiked with brandy. There's also a long list of bourbon, scotch and whiskey so you can get your tastings on.
Ricker says this menu is slightly smaller than what Pok Pok LA will end up with later on, and credits that to the crisis-level shortage of cooks around the nation and internationally, something the New York Times and Boston Globe have recently been reporting. Ricker has been trying hard to hire cooks and says he pays well, but even then, there aren't enough candidates applying.
Despite all that, there are still plenty of tested-and-true dishes to choose from. Don't expect Ricker or any of his waitstaff to just rattle off a list of recommended dishes for you to try. "If someone sits down, there’s no way to answer that," Ricker says. "What we do is we try to find out what people like. It’s a decent sized menu and there’s probably something there for everybody."
They'll instead chat to you about what you're craving, if you like spicy food, and what diet preferences you have before offering suggestions. "We have a pretty big menu," Ricker says. "The menu is something we’ve been working on for 10 years now. At this point nothing on the menu is a loser—it’s just a question of what people prefer."
Expect the vibe and design of this two-floor restaurant to be similar to Ricker's other restaurants. Similar materials and color palettes, like banquettes and vibrant-colored, oilcloth tablecloths, are used throughout the space of the restaurant, which he says was built back in 1933. He's kept some of the design elements of the original space, like the trellis work upstairs and downstairs, and added teak wood paneling throughout. "Basically, I'm the guy who does all the designing and I'm not a designer by trade, so i have my style," he says. "And while it’s not exactly the same as the other restaurants, there are certain design elements and feel that will be consistent."
Ricker was first drawn to opening his first two L.A. restaurants in Chinatown because he finds that whenever he goes to a new city—and because of the food he likes to eat—that Chinatowns in the U.S. and elsewhere are "the most interesting places to hang out." His good friend, fellow chef and restaurant proprietor Roy Choi, who runs Chego out of the same Far East Plaza as Pok Pok Phat Thai, helped make introductions for him with people like George Yu, president of the Chinatown Business Improvement District, to get things rolling.
Ricker says that people in L.A. have been exposed to Thai food for a very long time, and he doesn't need to teach anyone that Thai food is good. Rather, he wants to give folks a "relatively unique dining experience," and have them explore dishes that you might not find on all the menus of other Thai restaurants. His goal is really to "bring a convivial dining experience" with a place to get good, tasty food and cocktails.
While Ricker says they do have plenty of seats for walk-ins, if you'd like to reserve some seats, you can purchase tickets on the TOCK ticketing system valued at $15 per person for lunch or $20 per person for dinner. Those amounts will go towards food and drink.
Pok Pok LA will open to the public on Oct. 28, and will be open Wednesdays through Sundays, serving their full menu from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. They'll be offering a smaller menu of their favorites (including the fish sauce wings) midday and late night until midnight. Pok Pok LA is located at 978 N. Broadway in Chinatown.