Kep is famous across Cambodia for its fresh seafood, in particular its crab. Its signature dish, fried crab with local pepper, is spectacular -- if you're a crab fan, you won't be disappointed. The crabs are farmed in small cages just off the beach area from the crab market and are also caught further afield in traps. If you're happy to get wet, you can often wade out to the traps and pick which ones you want.
Outside of your guesthouse or hotel, there are two main places for crab in Kep. The first is a group of wooden deck restaurants by the crab market and the latter is a series of covered wooden platforms facing out over Kep's beach. All should be able to supply you with a basic English menu that spreads beyond crab and seafood. An important note for both venues is to be sure of just how much food you are ordering and what it is costing before you start eating -- just to avoid any unpleasant situations at the end of the meal. Crab is also available in a similar fashion on Koh Tonsay.
Of the strip of mostly rudimentary restaurants at the crab market, Kim Ly is most popular, possibly due to its Lonely Planet acclaim. For taste and price, La Mouette (Seagull) gives it a run for its money, with two barbecue-roasted crabs for $6.50, and Holy Crab also comes recommended by expats. Some shacks have smaller decks tucked away upstairs, for even better sea views. A more upmarket addition, La Baraka boasts an incongruously classy blue-lit bar and decor which steers away from the usual beer advert bunting. If you're feeling crabbed-out, the thin-based pizzas, croque monsieurs and well-provisioned salads make a pleasant change. An extensive cocktail list, including a B54 and a 666 (sambuca, Jack Daniel's and tequila), and the comfortable upstairs deck means this is a popular location for sundowners.
Away from crabs, all guesthouses have their own restaurants and bars. Veranda has the best views, the widest cocktail list, a yummy bakery and is resoundingly popular among foreign travellers. The $8 buffet breakfast is worth every cent, with an eclectic selection including cheese, delicious bread, noodles, freshly made omlettes, pastries and fruit. The Beach House is set beside the swimming pool, so ideal for a lunchtime break, while Kep Lodge has a good mix of Khmer and Western food -- and a pool table. Mr Mab's at Spring Valley Resort has a special menu or barbecue every day with an inventive street food buffet around the pool on Saturdays.
At the bus station, the Signature Cafe serves up sandwiches and shakes, while cheap eats can be found at Kep Market, if you're at that end of town. Noodle soup, pork and rice and fruit can be had for less than a dollar at the stalls outside or in the dingy cool of the market itself.
On the road east towards the Koh Tonsay ferry pier, Breeze's is well placed for dining views from a covered deck overlooking a small garden to the sea beyond. There's a distinct beach feel with blond wood and blue accents, and the advertising promises loungers and beach toys, although they weren't in evidence the last time we popped in late morning. Breezes offers seafood dishes from $6, sandwiches and wraps from $5, and interesting world fare like udon noodles with minced chicken ($7.50) and duck breast wrapped in a pancake ($6.50). Free pickup from your hotel if you call the Dutch-Korean owner Jeroeme in advance.
The Sailing Club transports you to summertime on Cape Cod, with its light blue clapboard building boasting a wraparound deck and a proper boat dock. This is one of those places that's not as expensive as it looks and feels. Food specials, with a focus on seafood and crab, are listed on the chalk boards on the walls, or there's a $12 set menu of 3 courses. Happy hour doesn't extend to weekends, but at $4 for a cocktail it's not going to break the bank to enjoy the lovely atmosphere, right on the ocean, with a sandy beach that's kept miraculously clean even in rainy season. Saturday beach barbecues and Sunday brunches are popular, so it's worth reserving a table for a waterfront spot. A range of sport is on offer, too, including volleyball, ping pong and water activities such as sailing, kayaking and windsurfing. Slightly fancier and pricier with a smart casual dress code, The Strand is within the Knai Bang Chatt complex next door. Complimentary tasters, a choice of 3 or 4 course set menus and beautifully presented dishes make this a foodie's delight.
The long-running Led Zepplin Cafe is now hillside at the beginning of the National Park, up the road from The Veranda. A wooden deck overlooks the hillside with views to the sea, accessed by quite a steep wooden walkway. They serve cheap eats, with sandwiches and salads from $3 and crepes from $2.25. A takeaway service is available for customers venturing further up the hill, aided by an exhibition of useful local information and detailed hand-drawn maps, with suggestions for places to visit, such as Sunset Rock. The owner has done a truly commendable job of marking out trails with yellow signs and encouraging more visitors to explore the park.
Beach House, Kep Beach, Kep T: (012) 712 750
Breezes, Road #33 (Seaside Road), Kep T: (016) 251 454; (097) 675 9072
Holy Crab, Crab Market, Kep
Kep Lodge, Pepper St, Kep T: (092) 435 330
Kim Ly, Crab Market, Kep T: (012) 435 096
La Baraka, Crab Market, Kep T: (097) 461 2543
La Mouette, Crab Market, Kep T: (012) 435 480
Led Zep Cafe: National Park entrance, up from The Veranda, T: (092) 450 602, (089) 763 865. Open 11:00-21:00
Sailing Club, Knai Bang Chatt Resort, Kep Beach, Kep T: (012) 349 742 Open 10:00 - 22:00
Spring Valley Resort, Behind the bus stop roundabout, Kep T: (036) 66 66 673; (017) 536 888 Open 8:30 - late
The Strand, Knai Bang Chatt Resort, Kep Beach, Kep T: (078) 333 686 Open 12:00 - 22:00
Veranda Natural Resort, Hillside, Kep T: (012) 888 619