Phnom Penh House in Oakland is a long standing institution for fantastic food and very reasonable prices - but you likely won't have to wait too long it there's a line. It's worth the wait.
The fragrances of lemongrass, curries, peanut sauce and the like create a wonderful chord for the senses when you walk in. And the food has been consistently satisfying, fresh, and perfect for some 20 years now. I've tried Cambodian restaurants in other cities and nothing comes close to this gem in Oakland for quality of food, flavors, cleanliness, and friendliness of the service. I no longer live in the Bay Area, but when I visit I always plan one or two meals at Phnom Penh.
I found rave reviews for this place online and decided to give it a try for a birthday dinner with a few of my friends. We followed some other reviewers' advice (and that of some happy customers we met who were leaving just as we entered) and ordered the justly famous #24 (eggplant stuffed with shrimp and pork), pompano fish, green papaya salad, a green curry with chicken, eggrolls, and minty noodles with BBQ chicken. Everything was scrump-diddly-icious. Each of us had our favorite dish, but most of us agreed that the eggplant and the fish were superlative. The eggrolls were piping hot and crispy--perfect. The gargantuan platter of minty rice noodles came with an almost startlingly generous serving of crispy-on-the-outside, moist-on-the-inside barbecued chicken. The eggplant, quite frankly, defied all earthly description. Just get it.
If there was a weak dish among our selections, I would point to the curry, which seemed to me a bit watery and mild, with the potatoes perhaps slightly overcooked. I was surprised at first by the non-spiciness of several of the dishes we ate, but then I remembered that in our haste to get food to our table we had forgotten to indicate we wanted our food spicy.
About that last point (being deliriously hungry by the time you order), be warned that a spontaneous Saturday evening trip to Phnom Penh House comes at a price: we had to wait for quite a while to get in. I'm not certain whether the restaurant takes reservations, but if you arrive without one, there is no sign-up list and you'll have to vie for a spot in the queu. We must have waited about 45-55 minutes before we got a table for five, but boy was it worth it. Once we had our seats, the service was exceedingly prompt and friendly, and though the place was packed, they managed to keep our water glasses full all evening. The ambience is what some would call quaint or dated; I would call it homey, comfortable, fun. Anyway, once you get some of that food into you, everything else just fades away into the background. I just cannot say enough good things about this restaurant. My brother's visiting from out-of-state this weekend, and I have the sneaking suspicion he's going to be eating Cambodian food.
I have been eating there since I was a kid. now I am 28. Can you believe it? Their business is still busy as ever after 20yrs. Try bbq beef, eggplant with shrimps and pork, organge noodle, sweet and sour soup #13, and green bean with tofu. YUM YUM!
Here's what you should get:
1) #14 Seafood soup
2) Squid salad
3)Eggplant stuffed with pork and shrimp
6)Beef with peanut sauce and spinach (hopefully the whole spinach e.coli thing will clear up -- because this one is good!)
Fried Banana with icecream
We've been eating here since 1992 and the food gets better and better. We've taken all our friends here and they keep coming back. I highly recommend the bbq chicken, orange noodles with prawn, eggplant with ground pork and shrimp, fried shrimp and the deep fried bananas with coconut ice cream. It may be difficult to find parking or sometimes you have to wait for a table.
I promise it's worth the wait.
My memory may be hazy. I used to frequent this restaurant when it was called New Phnom Penh. I discovered there that Cambodian cuisine, unreminiscent of Chinese or Vietnamese dishes, was unique unto itself. The place was pretty and pleasant, staff was helpful and more to the point, the food was spectacular and affordable. They made a chicken stew with potatoes and green beans in a coconut milk broth that I can still taste. I'm coming back to the Bay Area soon and this will be my first stop.
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