Dining Out: Thai flavors are tops at Ginger Pop

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

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Why: Ginger Pop is a new Thai restaurant owned by a family from Bangkok, Thailand, and offers an authentic interpretation of dishes from that city’s restaurants, food carts and homes. The chef uses locally grown, seasonal produce when possible to give dishes a Pacific Northwest twist.

My dining companion, Features Assistant Ashley Swanson, practically dragged me there when she saw that Ginger Pop offered Tofu Fries on the appetizer menu — that, and she thought its elephant logo was cute.

Atmosphere: Exposed industrial ceilings, fire-truck-red booth benches and counter stools give Ginger Pop the look of a modern diner. In nice weather, the front wall rolls up like a garage door to allow outside light and air inside.

If you go, take a look at the chandelier. At a quick glance it looks ordinary, but on closer inspection you’ll find it’s made of dozens and dozens of glass coffee cups.

What we tried: We each decided to try one of Ginger Pop’s unusual soda offerings.

I got the Lime Juice Soda, made with fresh-squeezed lime juice. I love lime, and could instantly tell how fresh the juice was. The drink also wasn’t too sweet. When Ashley tried it, the word “refreshing” instantly popped out of her mouth.

Being more bold than me, Ashley got the Sala Cream Soda. Described as “a popular pink drink in Thailand, similar to Italian cream soda,” it was certainly a sight to behold. Not only was the drink blazingly pink in color, it also tasted pink — if pink has a taste. Ashley described it as bubble gum and club soda with a sweetness that is not overwhelming. But I’m sticking to my original description. The stuff just tastes pink.

We got two appetizers, Tofu Fries and Khun Jo’s Split Chicken Wings.

The Tofu Fries were puffy, crunchy on the outside, and — like most tofu — took on the flavor of whichever dipping sauce we chose. They were served with a sweet chili sauce with a light heat to it, a sweet thick peanut sauce and a tangy salty cilantro sauce. Ashley described the fries as “like fried fluffy clouds.” We both gave our biggest thumbs up to the chili sauce.

The chicken wings were breaded and came in a dense, rich sauce that seemed a bit like marmalade. They were sweet, tangy, a little smoky with maybe a hint of fish sauce. They come with wet naps. You’ll need them.

For the main course, Ashley ordered Geng Pa Nang with Pork, made with pork tenderloin, green beans and coconut milk. The dish was lightly sweet, creamy with a hint of tomato. The bits of pork were huge and needed slicing, which was not a problem. Ashley’s comment: “I didn’t know I needed this until I tried it.”

I chose the Tom Kha Soup, a mix of chicken, coconut milk, cilantro, lemon grass and vegetables, which has long been one of my favorite Thai dishes. Ginger Pop’s version came with tomatoes and a small armada of mushroom caps floating on top. It was tangy, moderately spicy and rich. The soup was wonderful, but be careful if you have a delicate stomach — the coconut milk can sneak up on you if you have too much.

Highlights beyond what we tried: The restaurant had a decent selection of beers on tap, including Red Hook and Deschutes — and absolutely no Budweiser. At certain times during the week, Ginger Pop offers $2 pints, which could be a good reason in itself to go back. I’d also like to go back to try the Pad Ki Mow, one of my favorite Thai dishes, which is a combination of meat, wide rice noodles, basil and assorted veggies.

Other observations: The service was fast, and the servers were attentive, although it took a while to flag somebody down for the check at the end.

Cost: Lunch menu entrees range from $7.95 to $10.95; salads from $4.95 to $9.95; appetizers from $5.50 to $6.95; nonalcoholic drinks from $2.50 to $3.50. Dinner menu entrees range from $7.95 to $13.95; salads from $4.95 to $9.95; appetizers from $5.50 to $7.95.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon to 9 p.m. Sunday; happy hour everyday: 3 to 6 p.m.

Where: 2520 Columbia House Blvd., Vancouver.

Information: 360-699-7273, http://gingerpopthai.com.

Health score: Ginger Pop received a perfect score of 0 on Jan. 31. Clark County Public Health closes restaurants that score 100 or higher. For more information, call 360-397-8428.