What a hidden gem (quoting Snake) Phnom Penh happens to be in the darker regions of Vancouver's Chinatown. If you are a foodie in the GVRD, you must know about Phnom Penh. There used to be another location on Broadway near Oak, but it was shut down more than 5 years ago. Now we are left with their one location which is endlessly busy. Phnom Penh seems to fill a niche in the Vancouver restaurant scene. There are plenty of Vietnamese restaurants around, but what sets Phnom Penh apart is that it is also a Cambodian restaurant too. Therefore, the menu is an eclectic mix of foods not usually found anywhere else.
Rich Guy and Vandelay have frequented Phnom Penh a lot over the years, but not recently. So we make the trek into Chinatown for some grub. The restaurant itself is very non-descriptive on the outside, you can easily miss it driving or even walking by. It's not a very big place, and that makes for long waits if you come during dinner time. The one signature dish at Phnom Penh is their fried chicken wings. We order it every time and it was delicious as usual. It's fried perfectly with a crispy coating over the juicy meat inside. The lemon pepper dipping sauce is an excellent accompaniment to the dish. Somehow with the addition of a bit of acidity to the wings, it comes alive. We also ordered the Butter Beef and although it's one of the more popular dishes, it was a definite miss. The beef is essentially raw and is exposed to high heat only slightly before serving. For raw beef to be good, it must be awfully tender and sliced thin. However, the beef was sliced a bit thick and it wasn't too tender. Also, it could be just me, but there is way too much cilantro on the beef, it kills any other flavour that is supposed to be present. It's the same idea as a beef carpaccio, you wouldn't kill the delicate flavours with loads of herbs and sauce. One more appetizer-type dish we ordered was the Banh Cuon or steamed rice noodles filled with ground pork and wood ear mushrooms. It is served with a side of Cha Lua (Vietnamese ham) and Nuoc Cham, which is sweet fish sauce with a touch of lemon/lime or vinegar. The rolls tasted good, but the rice noodles were a bit stiff compared to other Banh Cuon that I've had.
We ordered the Luc Lac Beef with Egg on Rice, which is cooked tender beef on a bed of rice with a fried egg. The dish is a little different than how I remembered it, since the beef seemed to be in smaller slices and it was swimming in sauce. Don't get me wrong, it still tasted good, but just seemed a bit different. We also had the dry egg noodles which are topped with shrimp, minced pork, dry shrimp, sliced pork, sliced liver, cilantro and green onions. It is served with a side of pork bone soup and that in itself is delicious. The noodles are just the right texture, being the right level of chewiness. The ingredients work well together and it's actually one of my favourite dishes at Phnom Penh. Lastly, the Deep Fried Squid is prepared similarly to the chicken wings served with the same sauce. The squid is tender and fried really crispy.
The service at Phnom Penh is efficient; but just like any other Asian restaurant of this class, it's impersonal. One major problem I have with Phnom Penh is that it really needs to be cleaned up. The dining room itself is pleasant enough, but the hallway to the washrooms and the washrooms themselves are unappealing. I realize that it's quite typical of Asian restaurants to have nasty washrooms, but it is an observation I won't ignore. Overall, it was another satisfying visit to Phnom Penh. I think Phnom Penh is a definite "must-visit" if you are in Vancouver.
- More hits than misses in terms of food
- Unique dishes
- Not the most appealing location; sketchy area at night
- Washrooms and hallway are just bad
- Long waits during peak hours
244 East Georgia Street
10:00am - 9:00pm (Mon - Thu)
10:00am - 10:00pm (Fri - Sun)