Case took me to Phnom Penh way back when they still had a restaurant on West Broadway. She promised me the best Pork Chops I’ve ever tasted and some awesome Cambodian noodle soup. We were regulars until the Broadway location closed a long while ago. All that remains is the Chinatown location. It is a true hidden gem, garnering all sorts of awards, even getting a well-received visit by Anthony Bourdain, famed auteur and all-around foodie bad boy.
Phnom Penh is a Cambodian and Vietnamese restaurant that sits on Georgia Street, just east of Main in Chinatown. It is flanked with produce markets and Chinese herbal stores. Old newspapers and leftover pieces of cardboard boxes litter the streets; it’s not exactly first date material. But despite the less-than-savoury nature of the area, the parking lanes around Phnom Penh are generally packed in the evening, especially during the weekends — a testament to their popularity. I’d get there before 6 to avoid the line ups.
They serve a variety of dishes, some of which are familiar to regular Vietnamese restaurant patrons: lemongrass chicken, brochettes and roll dips on rice vermicelli, they even have the standard Pho. But these dishes aren’t what draw the crowds.
Phnom Penh serves a series of Cambodian seafood noodle soups. The flavours are more subtle than Pho, but it comes loaded with prawns, squid, and slices of pork and liver. The whole thing is topped off with fresh cilantro and fried garlic bits. I like my soup with a side of fresh hot chili peppers so I can savour the burn and let the hot soup tingle my tongue. You have a choice of egg or rice noodles or you can have both. Case prefers the egg noodles, while I usually opt for the mix.
The hype is true. Phnom Penh really does have the best fried chicken wings, which also happen to come in other flavours of meat: pork and squid. This signature dish is prepared with a uniquely sweet, salty and peppery seasoning. And the batter on the chicken wings is always light and less greasy than one would expect. It comes with a side of lime and black pepper sauce for dipping — straight up addictive.
Their Pea Tips also kick ass. I wouldn’t normally rave about a vegetable dish — especially one prepared as simply as this, but it’s that good. It’s like spinach, but less bitter with a more firm texture, and stir fried in all sorts of garlicky goodness. I still can’t figure out what other seasoning they use, but whatever it is, it’s dope.
So, strap on your bullet proof vest and pull out your pepper spray… I’m kidding, the neighborhood isn’t that bad. Really. Just follow the trail of parked cars along East Georgia Street and it’ll lead you to a gem of a hole-in-the wall called Phnom Penh.
244 E Georgia St, Vancouver