Pok Pok LA - No...Just, No

Well, I thought Ricker might be pulling out the stops since he decided to come play in LA, but it doesn’t look like it.

I am stunned at how popular Pok Pok is, yet the chatter outside the place is mostly disappointed diners.

But wow. Coming in at easily 2.5-3x the cost of any of Thai in LA, the food is nowhere near as good. The famous chicken is just ok, sort of dry, and relatively flavorless. Compared to the miraculous version at Isaan Station for about 1/3rd the price, it’s impossible to understand the point of it. Without the Ricker name it would just be an extremely forgettable dish at a thai restaurant no one ever talked about in LA.

The same seems true of most of the dishes. Everything is just completely unremarkable. Maybe the only exception is his spin on cha ca la vong, which is at least kind of interesting with the fermented pinapple sauce, and unusually slick noodles.

The cocktail program is also just ok, it feel really limited overall, and the $12 cocktails seem really weak compared to, say, Osso’s wonderfully creative cocktails that are the exact same price, and Osso is in a pricier district.

The one redeeming quality of the place is that it is quiet enough to have a conversation in… but most LA thai restaurants outside of Night + Market Song are quiet anyway. (Night + Market Song, btw, feels like it’s light years ahead of Pok Pok in terms of their ability to elucidate thai flavors through their cooking, as I just ate there again last before this Pok Pok venture. A simple bowl of chicken noodle soup displayed more skill, and depth of flavor than anything at Pok Pok…).

Food also takes almost comically long to come out of the kitchen, which feels quite unusual for thai food in LA.

I left upset that I spent $50/pp for thai food, feeling sick for some reason (supposedly using better ingredients than average?), and scratching my head as to why Ricker opened in Los Angeles…

Anyone else feel this way?

Funny, because I pretty much wrote the exact same review when Pok Pok first opened in Brooklyn. Much ado about mediocrity.

My question is this: Was Ricker never actually making that good Thai food and the food world was just amused that he’s a farang chef or has quality gone down as he’s expanded his empire/starting making movies and hanging with Bourdain?

Was Ricker in house?

set0312: I’m not sure its either. Yes, I think that the fact that a non-Thai has spent all that time trying to master Thai street food and home cooking and was taking it very seriously contributed greatly to the support. And I’m not sure whether the quality of the food has gone down, since my own visits were back when he first opened in Brooklyn & I haven’t returned. And it was him in the kitchen almost every night back then. My opinion of the food was that, although everything seemed to be sourced well, was thought out very well & was even technically made very well, it tasted “ehh” to me. Nothing bad at all, just not impressive in any way to my taste buds. I enjoyed Ricker’s backstory, we sat in a table next to one of the sous chef’s girlfriends (just to be clear, he was one of the sous chefs, but I think she was his only girlfriend) & got an earful about how much training Ricker had put him through and how proud she was of his increased technical skills and knowledge of Thai ingredients… all this was nice. I just wished that what made it’s way onto the plate also impressed my taste buds. And I think that this is what Aestete was saying about the experience at the LA location. At first, I thought that I had had unrealistically high expectations of this type of regional Thai cooking, since my favorite Thai places in NYC at the time (Sripraphai & Ayeda) were serving different dishes from other regions. But then, other places opened here that are more similar (a relatively new place only 10 blocks from Pok Pok in Bklyn, named Chiang Mai is great) & blew that away. Oh well.

1 Like

Right, I enjoy Ricker’s backstory as well. He’s got the whole “Cult of Personality” thing down.

Also, as you say, you always learn about the extreme rigors that he puts his kitchen staff through to learn Thai cooking. But somehow it doesn’t translate to the plate.

I am just totally perplexed about it.

Ricker was in house.

But seemingly overseeing operations as opposed to in the kitchen, at least most of the time.

The only thing I can say is that having tried all 3 of them, the Portland one certainly seems like the best Pok Pok, but it’s not necessarily like I was blown away by it. For sure the kai yaang up there is far superior though. I think it’s made with game hens, though one would’ve thought Mary’s chicken would’ve been just as good…

It’s the Portland Syndrome.

People romanticize about the food from the PNW like a prisoner in solitary confinement fantasizes about contact with human flesh. Even if that human is a leper colony escapee.


Song > Pok Pok. It doesn’t hurt that I can walk to it as well.

thanks for taking one for the team.

That’s what I was going to say. The original place in Portland may also have benefited from the relatively lax restaurant regulations there.

That’s kinda what I suspected…

Your analogy wonderfully conveys the desperation by the way

Fascinating. Does he really go for it with the flavors or does it feel like he’s holding back a little bit?

By the way, I’m gonna try Chiang Mai in Brooklyn sometime this week. Sounds awesome!

To quote “Wolfgang” (Arte Johnson): “Verrrrrryyy interesting.”

I enjoyed the one in Portland – the only one I’ve been to – but prefer both LoS and Chada. Sounds like I don’t need to rush off to LA anytime soon . . .

Brings back my memory of when the owners of Lotus of Siam decided to partner with someone in NYC and open a branch in Manhattan. God awful and they left as soon as they could, with the place closing less than a year afterward. On the other hand, DiFara pizza (from Brooklyn) opened what seems like a very successful place in Vegas, with Dom’s oldest son running it. Go figure.

1 Like

Given LA’s large Thai community, there’s no reason its Pok Pok couldn’t have been better than the original.

I’m curious if actual Thais eat at Pok Pok though…

I just spent 3 1/2 days in Portland. I ate and/or drank at the following places:

Podnah’s BBQ
Clyde Common
Lotus Cardroom
Pok Pok
Bar and Tackle
Whiskey Soda Lounge
Apizza Scholls
Tails & Trotters
Nong’s Khao Man Gai

I respectfully disagree with this generalization. The quality of the Portland food and drink I had was as good as similar places in LA; prices were, generally, about 15% less and there’s no sales tax. The cocktails and beer available at many of the Portland restaurants I went to were better than what I’ve had at LA restaurants. The $6 Happy Hour Bourbon Renewal that I had at Clyde Common was better than most of the cocktails I’ve had in LA.

I also spent most of a day wine tasting in the Dundee Hills area of the Willamette Valley. The Pinots that I had there were almost universally superior to the Pinots of Santa Barbara county.

Sounds like we should all move to Portland…

1 Like

but… but the beards. and white people that the beards belong to. or, just all them white people, period.

Gonna have to keep paying that 20% LA diversity tax… :confounded:

1 Like