Also known as om-nom-nom Phnom Penh. It should come to no one’s surprise that a restaurant that has won as many awards as Phnom Penh features a menu just overloaded with delicious food. To get at any of it, though, you usually have to get there during slower hours or make a reservation (I think this is only for large parties) as the place is packed at nearly all hours of the day. I went once at 3pm and I had to wait for a table! The only other real problem with Phnom Penh is that it’s located in a sort of sketchy part of town and parking is limited. My car was broken into as I had lunch there once so it’s a good idea to park where lots of people can see your car.
The outside of the restaurant isn’t exactly impressive and the inside isn’t very good looking either but the fact that Phnom Penh is packed at all times should be a pretty good indication of the quality of the food. While there are many great options on the menu, people who love Phnom Penh will probably tell you there are a couple dishes that are just a step above in deliciousness.
This thing that looks like an exploded alien egg is the marinated butter beef ($12.85), which is thinly sliced, very rare beef served with crispy garlic, cilantro and a special sauce. I didn’t believe it when people told me about this stuff before but it is absolutely delicious. Scrape some of that garlic and cilantro together and wrap it up in some of the tender beef. It’s an explosion of every kind of flavor…a little sweet, salty, sour and spicy from the mixture of soy sauce, fish sauce and lemon juice. It’s like a Vietnamese beef carpaccio. Not much chewing is required but there’s a lot of great textures in there too with the crunchiness of the fried garlic and cilantro with the extremely tender beef.
The other thing you absolutely must have at Phnom Penh is the deep fried chicken wings, which are the best fried chicken wings in Vancouver…possibly the world. There might be those in the city that believe Wu Fung in Aberdeen Center but they probably just haven’t tried the ones at Phnom Penh yet.
They’re fried to perfection and then tossed with a mixture of rock salt, pepper, garlic and green onions for a perfect blend of spice. They may also be sprinkled with crack cocaine or crystal meth because I can’t figure out why else they’re so obscenely addictive. I can polish off an entire plate by myself.
They come with a dipping sauce made with lemon juice and pepper, which make them even more explosively flavorful and delicious. The spicy lemon juice adds just the right amount of tanginess to each wing. For $12.50, you get 8 full wings including the tips. You can also get a half order for $7.95.
There are a variety of different noodle and rice dishes on the menu but the one I usually get is the Phnom Penh dry egg noodles ($6.00). There’s no soup but you can ask for a bowl of broth on the side.
Along with some nice bouncy egg noodles, you get a ton of meat including some shrimp, ground pork, sliced pork, liver and a special sauce. Some places such as Pho Thai Hoa make a very good version of this same dish but the best one is still at Phnom Penh.
There’s a lot of cilantro for freshness and you can add some bean sprouts for crunch and some veggies in an otherwise meatatarian dish.
If you are in Vancouver and haven’t been to Phnom Penh yet, run there…don’t walk…run. It is by far one of the best restaurants in town and while prices aren’t rock bottom, they’re reasonable for the amount and quality of food you get. It’s quite amazing that a little hole in the wall place tucked away in Chinatown is as amazing as this place is. There’s no illusion of fine dining here, just great homestyle Vietnamese/Cambodian food. You will not be disappointed.