Pok Pok NY's Papaya Pok Pok, One of Our 100 Favorite Dishes
No. 31: Papaya pok pok from Pok Pok NY
The simple papaya salad is a good measuring stick for the quality of a Thai restaurant--and at Pok Pok NY, the dish is a standout on the menu.
It's usually the curries, laaps, and charcoal-grilled meats that we come away from a Thai restaurant babbling about, but we use the green papaya salad as our measuring stick for the place. This dish is ubiquitous in Southeast Asia--albeit you see it in many subtly different forms, since each region makes its own version--often cobbled together on the side of a road in a mortar and pestle. Here in the States, we order it at every Thai restaurant we set foot in because if it's good, it's usually a harbinger of what's to come. The green papaya salad at Pok Pok is very good (that the eatery is named for the mortar and pestle should make this no surprise), and its success, we suspect, comes from its made-to-order simplicity: Fresh, snappy strips of green papaya, long beans, and firm chunks of tomato go into a just-muddled bath of fish sauce, tamarind, garlic, dried shrimp, peanuts, and fresh lime, which coats the produce thoroughly but not so much that your papaya wilts by the time you take your last bite. Achieving that elusive balance between tart, umami, spicy, and sweet--a combination that'll entice you to polish off an entire dish even if you're supposed to be sharing with your table--the salad is plated with a substantial chunk of a head of cabbage, which adds more crisp textural contrast if you eat it with or between bites. Pok Pok owner Andy Ricker is clear that Thai heat should not blow your face off, and this won't--but it's got enough of a spark that sticky rice is a welcome addition. And besides, that gives you a way to soak up remaining juices after the rest of your food is gone.
Later this year, we'll pen our Best of New York issue, our annual love letter to what's great in this town. When that paper hits the streets, you'll find our picks for the very best this city has to offer when it comes to dozens of cuisines, restaurants, dishes, and drinks. Until then, you can get a taste of our contenders as we count down, in no particular order, our 100 favorite dishes from around the boroughs, a list of laudable eats worth tracking down right now.
No. 100: Taqueria Lower East Side's carnitas No. 99: Tartine's steamed mussels No. 98: Malu's Cookie Monster ice cream No. 97: Coppelia's Havana salad No. 96: Falansai's clay pot catfish No. 95: Uncle Boons' Khao Soi Kaa Kai No. 94: ABC Cocina's salted caramel "impossible" flan No. 93: Shu Jiao Fu Zhou Cuisine's peanut noodles No. 92: Distilled's country-fried duck and waffles No. 91: Calliope's octopus salad No. 90: Charlie Bird's diver scallop crudo No. 89: Silver Moon Bakery's fig and pepper bread No. 88: Stage Restaurant's egg, cheese, and sausage on a roll No. 87: Manzanilla's Marbella's Full Moon No. 86: Bia's Cary Ga No. 85: La Newyorkina's pineapple jalapeño paleta No. 84: Empellón Taqueria's skirt steak tacos No. 83: Sugar Sweet Sunshine's pistachio cupcake No. 82: El Chivito d'Oro's skirt steak No. 81: Saro Bistro's satarash No. 80: Oda House's adjaruli khatchapuri No. 79: Hill Country Chicken's pie milkshake No. 78: Fletcher's Brooklyn Barbecue's chili mac No. 77: The Musket Room's steak and cheese pie No. 76: Battery Harris' Baked Patties No. 75: Legend's Dan Dan Noodles No. 74: Pure Thai's Nakorn-Patom duck noodles soup No. 73: Melt Bakery's Morticia No. 72: Calexico's Baja Fish Taco No. 71: Sushi Dojo's Omakase No. 70: Bear's smoked whitefish No. 69: Locanda Verde's corn ravioli No. 68: Ghenet's Ghenet Combination No. 67: Ample Hills Creamery's ice cream No. 66: Burger & Barrel's Burger No. 65: Radegast's Munich pretzel No. 64: Mighty Quinn's Burnt End Baked Beans No. 63: Cho Dang Gol's spicy galbi jjim No. 62: Tacos Mexico's chorizo taco No. 61: Pork Slope's loaded nachos No. 60: Pine Box Rock Shop's bloody mary No. 59: Franny's antipasto plate No. 58: Num Pang's curry red lentil soup No. 57: Khe-Yo's Jurgielewicz duck salad No. 56: Dough's doughnut (any doughnut) No. 55: King Noodle's ma po tofu fries No. 54: Terri's green power smoothie No. 53: Estela's beef tartare No. 52: Pho Grand's pork chop pho No. 51: Stella 34 Trattoria's chocolate gelato No. 50: RedFarm's spicy crispy beef No. 49: Bhojan's daal tadka No. 48: Pig and Khao's khao soi No. 47: The Grand's handmade pierogies No. 46: Dominick's Deli's Dante's Inferno No. 45: The Queens Kickshaw's deep-fried squash blossoms No. 44: Black Tree's squash blossom sandwich No. 43: Nan Xiang's xiao long bao No. 42: Jones Wood Foundry's bangers and mash No. 41: White Bear's wontons No. 40: The Harrison's toasted couscous and farro salad No. 39: Katja's sausage sampler No. 38: Magpies' strawberry-balsamic magpie No. 37: Bunker's pho ga No. 36: Fritzl's Lunch Box's burger No. 35: Biang's lotus root salad No. 34: BrisketTown's brisket No. 33: Bronx Ale House's alehouse nachos No. 32: Shinobi Ramen's mabo ramen
Know a dish we shouldn't miss? E-mail us.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to New York dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.