Located smack dab in the middle of H Street (remember when that was a party zone / bar crawl paradise and not a major Whole Foods / luxury apartment destination?), Pow Pow has embraced both sides of the neighborhood. Helmed by Shaun Sharkey (who you may know from his local music projects), the fast casual restaurant excels at making the kind of drunk food that will delight vegans, vegetarians and meat eaters alike. Want to grab some dancing fuel before you head to the Rock & Roll Hotel? They’ve got your back. Need to soak up some booze after a few to many tallboys at The Pug? Look no further.
While the original Chinese, Korean and Japanese fusion menu was created by John Yamashita (owner of Sticky Rice), Sharkey’s wife, chef Margaux Riccio has put her own spin on things. Drawing from the Asian cuisine of her hometown, San Francisco, Riccio shared some of her vegan dishes with Yamashita, Sharkey and the Pow Pow crew. She was quickly given free reign to construct a vegan menu filled with appetizers, bowls and even a dessert (more on that later). Soon enough, Pow Pow was a vegan wonderland (with some add on meat options for the hardcore carnivores). At the end of April, they decided to take it a step further, removing meat options from the menu and going full vegan / vegetarian. It’s a testament to Riccio’s recipes that the change has drawn good press and little fuss from their meat eating regulars.
When we visited at the end of the work day on Friday, the place was empty. The busy interior, complete with a hashtag neon sign that’s made for Instagram and a public transportation theme, felt too still considering the lively decor. Come 6 p.m. the place started to fill with people ordering Natalie Porkman bowls and vegan chicken fingers. The crowd, which skewed younger (shocker!) felt like regulars, but Riccio told us they often get visitors traveling just to order the dishes they’ve seen on the restaurants Instagram. The culinary version of “doing it for the ‘gram.”
If you happen to find yourself at Pow Pow (whether it’s because of us or Instagram), these are the dishes you really shouldn’t miss. Don’t listen to your friends, trust us, the strangers on the other end of your computer.
One of the more impressive things about Pow Pow is that unlike many of their fast casual brethren, they have a fairly diverse appetizer menu. Depending on your hunger level some of them are easily enough for a meal. Standouts to us included the Trolley Fries, which were one of our favorite things on the menu. It’s a simple combination of fries with a ton of sauces on top, but it works. They come covered with a flavorful kimchi (which is the real star of the show), a pretty tame spicy ketchup, a rich togorashi mayo and a sprinkle of melted cashew cheddar and nori. Most vegan cheeses taste like nothing to me (at least, the good ones taste like nothing) and this one is no exception, but the kimchi and mayo combo, with a little zing from the spicy ketchup and a tough of umami from the nori, made us come back again and again.
Want something a little more… fried? Go for the chicken fingers or the Disco Stick egg roll. The former is well breaded and covered with a sticky sweet Kung Pao sauce. It’s a little slice of fried heaven and the crisp exterior masks most any texture differences you’d notice with the soy base. The giant egg roll looks like it was made to be photographed, but inside the crunchy and light exterior you’ll find (plant-based) chicken, tangy pickled carrots, and bright pineapple kimchi / cabbage. The only disappointment with this dish is that I wish it had more of the pineapple kimchi.
While the Natalie Porkman bowl seems to be the most popular option, with it’s lightly fried riff on sweet and sour pork, the Yoga Dragon was our clear favorite. Made with a little more heat than anything else we tasted on the menu, it comes with grilled chicken that has been tossed in a peanut sauce and then covered with a cucumber, lime and sriracha sauce. Thrown in alongside it are black beans, edamame, carrots, tomato and sprouts, so you can kind of pretend it’s healthy. The sriracha nuts that are sprinkled on top add a necessary crunch are there to remind you it’s not that healthy.
Why stop the fried train now? The best way to end a meal at Pow Pow is to treat yourself to a Chimi Chimi Pow Pow egg roll, which is stuffed with bananas and Nutella.
Now go home and take a nap. After a meal like that, you need it.