Pretty much everyone told us that we just HAD to go to Phnom Penh. So even after a late afternoon poutine binge, give or take a few hot dogs (OH GOD), we had to cram in a visit to this renowned Cambodian/Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown on our second last night in Vancouver. Now you’d think with such a large Asian population the Chinatown in Vancouver would be a lively, colourful neighbourhood. For as long as I can remember it’s been a bit rundown and sad, next to a notorious drug-addled part of the city. But fans of gentrification can take note that it’s now firmly entrenched in the burgeoning hipster takeover of Vancouver and there are jam jar cocktails, beards and $7 cups of artisanal coffee to be had! We arrived at 7:30pm on a public holiday and there were clumps of people hanging on the sidewalk outside. So we weren’t surprised when she said it would be at least a 45 minute wait. A quick look inside told me that it was 98% Asian – that’s how you know an Asian restaurant is good. Hah!
After salivating like a pack of feral wolves at the door for almost an hour, finally we were seated. First thing we tried was their famous Marinated Butter Beef – rare, thinly sliced rib-eye marinated in a vinaigrette and covered in garlic and herbs. This was heavenly and unlike anything I’ve ever eaten at a Vietnamese restaurant. It doesn’t look like much but this is a must-order.
We refreshed our palates with the Green Papaya Salad with prawns. This had a bit of a spicy chilli kick to the fish sauce and came sprinkled with beef jerky on top which tasted a bit odd. The salad itself was refreshing and complemented our very meaty first course well. They also have Vietnamese dishes on the menu like Pho but I recommend sticking to the Cambodian food which is what they’re famous for.
Onto the other famous Phnom Penh dish – their fried chicken wings. I was pretty excited to try this as everyone knows it ain’t easy to make quality fried chicken. The seasoning is difficult to get perfect – one wrong shake and it just tastes salty, greasy and unsatisfying. The best fried chicken doesn’t taste heavy and the batter has to be the right consistency – a bit of crunch but not TOO much. These wings were the biggest hit at the table. They were perfectly done, just as fried chicken was meant to be! Don’t leave without ordering this one.
I hate to gush but this fried rice was to die for. I am a big fan of adding chinese sausage or “Lap Cheong” to fried rice as it adds a unique flavour that you can’t replicate any other way. This rice had a nicely soft and moist consistency without being too greasy. Fried rice is another dish that seems easy enough to make but is hard to get just right. The five of us were too stuffed to try one of their Moo Shakes – looking around pretty much everyone in the restaurant was drinking one. The Mango Moo Shake comes highly recommended – it looks like a similar consistency to mango lassis – so I’ll have to try that next time I’m back. Apparently you can make a reservation if you have a party of six or more – otherwise prepare to wait in line as I’m told this place is always filled to the rafters – for good reason!
244 E Georgia Street
Vancouver, BC V6A 1Z7