Hot Pok-et

Andy Ricker's Pok Pok Phat Thai ups the noodle game in Chinatown

There's a new wave of restaurants arriving among the old-school tea parlors and knickknack shops of Far East Plaza—Roy Choi's Chego! and Scoops ice cream are already there; Ramen Champ is coming soon. And Andy Ricker's much-anticipated Pok Pok Phat Thai has finally opened, making it official: Chinatown is cool again.

Ricker is the Thai food savant behind Portland, Oregon's Pok Pok and its offshoots (Whiskey Soda Lounge, Wing, Noi, Sen Yai), which now include several locations in New York. If you don't know the name, just look to the queues to prove Ricker's street cred.

Phat Thai looks like your typical food court in Thailand: nondescript neon signage, a simple counter, communal picnic benches, Thai pop on full blast and a focus on one dish—phat thai, aka pad Thai.

Ricker's version ($8.50 to $11.50) is mercifully short on sweet sauce, relying instead on a toned-down, expertly balanced combination of sweet sausage, shrimp, squares of tofu and fried egg, peanuts and lime juice. Per house rules, add chile-laced fish sauce, vinegar, dried red chiles and granulated sugar to taste.

Another takeout standby, phat sii ew ($9), is given new life here—the wide rice noodles are wok-fired with just pork, Chinese broccoli, egg, soy sauce, black soy and a scant touch of sugar. There are more noodles still in the form of kuaytiaw khua kai ($9), charred strands fried in rendered pork fat and mixed with chewy slices of cuttlefish, chicken, scallions and green leaf lettuce.

Go early for quick-to-sell-out lunch specials like muu kaphraokhai dao ($15), minced pork and long beans stir-fried with holy basil, dark soy sauce, and chiles and topped with a fried egg, or the khao phat muu or kung ($8.50 to $11), fried rice with pork or prawns, scallions and egg, topped with cucumber slices and lime. This is Thai comfort food at its peak.

To drink, there's a classic Thai iced tea with sweetened condensed milk, or the slightly more adventurous drinking vinegars in refreshing flavors like tamarind or Chinese celery.

And, luckily, for those of us already smitten with Ricker's style, there's more to come: A larger-format Pok Pok will open later this year just a few blocks away from Phat Thai. Count us down for Chinatown.