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Pok Pok LA

PHOTOS: Holly Liss

I grew up in a rural area. My high school’s athletic conference consisted of nine high schools spread out over about 130 sq. miles. No matter how you do the math on that, that’s a lot of cornfield. And my high school absolutely dominated. In almost every sport, we were all but handed the conference title before the season even started. We were the enemies.

The big fish in the very small pond.

But then came State Championships. And our cocky little train would roll in and be promptly greeted by the powerhouse high schools of Chicago who didn’t spend their last three months stiff-arming soy farmers into oblivion. It never went well. By halftime, such chants as “F*ck you, St. Viators!” were quickly replaced by “just play for pride, boys!”. Welcome to the ocean, kids.

And hello, Pok Pok. At long last, the Portland Thai megastar and LA collide. Match made in Heaven right? Perhaps not.

Let’s start with the good. The space is great. It has a weird, kitschy aesthetic that screams you’re in the basement of an Asian Church except it's actually a two-story Thai restaurant. The fish sauce wings are excellent and that Khao Soi is comfort-laden heaven. The vibe is casual and comfortably trendy, with plenty of space for a big group dinner. But unfortunately, that’s where the party ends.

Because this is LA. There’s first-rate Thai food everywhere. And by placing your new digs in the outskirts of Chinatown (double the drive for most of us), you'd better have more than just solid wings and noodles and a decent vibe. And unfortunately, Pok Pok does not. While nothing on the menu is truly bad, nothing stands out either. It all sits at the same level and by the time the eighth dish hits the table, you’re wondering if you’ve been eating the same thing all night. The service is subpar and despite the cool space, there’s not much buzz in the air.

We’re worried for Pok Pok. Everything they’re doing has already been done here in LA. Pok Pok might have worked as the big fish in a little pond elsewhere. But this is the ocean after all.

And it’s far too early to be playing for pride.

Food Rundown

Ike’s Fish Sauce Wings

Probably Pok Pok’s most well-known dish and the hype is real. The fish sauce might be a tad overbearing for some but honestly, we don’t care. Order a couple for the table and then plan to order some more. They won’t stick around long.

Khao Soi

Yes. All of the yes. We would eat this dish rain or dish or any day we can actually get down to Chinatown.

Papaya Pok Pok

This is intended to be Pok Pok’s signature dish. And that’s unsettling. Because while it’s not bad, it absolutely pales in comparison to so many other versions around town.

Sai Ua Samun Phrai

This is fine. But we wanted sooooooo much more spice.

Kung Op Wun Sen

Something about this dish just was off. Served in a clay pot, the prawns and pork belly next to each other simply did not work and those noodles were quite pungent. Next.

Sangkhaya Thurian

The forbidden fruit that is Durian makes a cautious appearance here and we’re into it. This dish won’t blow you away, but it’s a nice cool down at the end of the meal.

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