Phnom Penh has a truly staggering selection of places to eat. From munching away in traditional markets through to fancy pants afternoon tea at colonial hotels there are no shortage of options. Then there are the bars—Phnom Penh has to have one of the highest concentrations per square kilometre of excellent bars in the region. Read on for a brief selection of places to eat and drink in the Cambodian capital.
Cambodian food doesn’t receive quite the accolades that far better known fare from its neighbours Vietnam and Thailand receive, but that is not to say it isn’t worth sampling. What follows is a very brief primer on some of the most accessible dishes for newcomers to Phnom Penh. If you’d like to get a better understanding of the local fare in the city, we highly recommend a street food tour with Phnom Penh Food Tours.
While umtpeen takes on noodle soup and conjee are common for breakfast, something a bit lighter on the lips (though perhaps not on the hips) and just as common, is bai sach chrouk (pork with rice). Finely sliced pork is slowly grilled on a wire grill over charcoal. Pork can come unbasted, or slathered in a variety of marinades, then is served atop steamed white rice with a side of pickled cucumber, carrot and ginger, a small plate of fresh chillies (handle with care!) and often a bowl of clear chicken broth. Expect to pay 3,000 to 5,000 riel for a plate. Wash it all down with a piping hot local coffee.
Be it for breakfast, lunch or dinner, when it comes to a classic noodle soup dish, Cambodia’s top take is kuy teav. A hot and steaming noodle soup, kuy teav’s stock is in pork or beef bones, served with rice vermicelli, often atop a base of lettuce leaves and beansprouts, topped with fried shallots, green onions and, depending on the version you are scoffing, fish, pork or beef balls. Sides include fresh chillies to add some oof to your bowl, vinegar and chilli paste. Another take on the dish, kuy teav Phnom Penh, or hu tieu Nam Vang (in Vietnam—the dish is very popular in the Mekong Delta) adds liver, bricks of congealed blood and offal, delivering a far richer texture than the original. Expect to pay between 4,000 and 6,000 riel depending on the options that you choose and where you are eating it. Be warned, the servings can be quite large.
A quintessential Khmer dish, nom banh chok is similar to Thailand’s khanom jeen and is one of the most accessible street food dishes you will encounter in Phnom Penh. Consisting of rice noodles topped with a fish curry (red or green offered) and heaps of fresh green beans, bean sprouts, banana flower, cucumbers and other greens, the servings are large—you will need to spice it yourself to get the flavour right—those limes are there for a reason! The dish is most typically breakfast fare, and you’ll find nom banh chok being sold in the early mornings at stands on the street all over Phnom Penh for around 4,000 riel. It also works just as well for lunch or dinner—so don’t feel you’ve missed out by sleeping in. The method for making the noodles is laborious to say the least—see this explainer on Eating Asia for a primer—appreciate those noodles as you slurp them up!
If you’ve spent anytime at all researching Cambodia online, you’ve most likely seen photos of travellers eating deep fried tarantulas. These largely hark from Skoun, a town on the way to Kratie in the country’s northeast, but they, along with a selection of other critters you may not have thought of as food, are available to eat in Phnom Penh. You’ll encounter them most often in the Khmer BBQ restaurants along with a few stalls which set up on the riverfront. Personally we’re not big fans of eating deep fried hair (of any species), so while we’ve tried the tarantulas, we’re not quite as the point of having a side of them with breakfast daily.
There are, however, plenty of other insects to sample. Beetles and crickets are like the crabs of the insect world—they involve a considerable amount of peeling and dissecting, often with a tiny payoff, and are not really a first date meal. The impatient can just pop them in and munch it up, but picking cricket exoskeleton out from between ones molars is also not a cracker for a first date. We say skip these, and go with the deep fried bamboo worms. There is no peeling required, they are salty as, and, well, they go extremely well with beer. Think of them as nature’s french fries.
In or on the periphery of just about every traditional market in Phnom Penh you’ll find dessert sellers—and while icecream and apple pie won’t be in sight, that’s no reason not to slow down. Look out for jelly—a gelatin-like substance made of agar-agar, which is obtained from red algae then dyed all manny of luminous colours (seriously some look like they glow in the dark), then cut into shapes, with fat squelchy noodles being especially popular. Sago is similar to tapioca and used interchangeably, generally thrown into an ice-laden dessert with a handful of other ingredients. As in neighbouring Thailand, sticky rice is the base of many delicious desserts, often topped with fruit and drenched in coconut milk and/or condensed milk.
These are oft used as a base, then laden with more shaved ice (the ice will be safe to eat don’t worry), more condensed milk and then a random scattering of mung beans, taro, often pumpkin or a choice of fruit. Then the whole lot is handed over in a bowl or cup to scoff on the spot. Look for large metal bowls with a range of colourful and pre-mixed combinations, so it is easy to point and pick. Expect to pay 1,000 to 2,000 riel a pop.
Fresh, organic, locally sourced, healthy and incredibly tasty food: it’s here! ARTillery has built a menu around delivering the best food that they can find, adapted to suit different dietary needs, such as vegetarian, vegan and raw, and has somehow managed to wrap it up in a range of delicious dishes that are guaranteed to have you coming back for more. Recently renovated in 2019 (it reopened the day before we swung through) this is a great little spot. Tucked down a little dog-leg lane on Street 240, ARTillery boasts a light Mediterranean feel (think lots of blue and white), helped along by the rugged white walls, cerulean blue window fixtures and lovely shattered porcelain wall outside. More hipster than hippy, the vibe is endlessly comfortable. Moving away from the decor in the direction of the menu, we went with the totally satisfying mango and vermicelli noodle bowl ($6) alongside a latte ($2.75), but others may be tempted by the macro bowls ($6), wraps and sandwiches ($5.50–6.50), or the gluten free sesame falafel for $5.50. ARTillery also offers a bunch of translated flash cards for eating preferences (include gluten, chilli and nut allergies)—well smart. Like the restaurant, the laneway is a great little hideaway home to a fair trade outlet and some photogenic street art. Do swing by.
Feel Good was so good they had to make it twice, so now we have Feel Good II, a small and simple, unassuming cafe on leafy hideaway Street 29, where you’ll find arguably some of the best coffee in town accompanied by honest, straightforward food, and radically fabulous service. Feel Good started up in 2013, with their far hipper outlet on Street 136. It’s a social enterprise—the staff are given shares in the business after working there for 18 months—that aims to create the best coffee in Cambodia, using beans sourced from the region that they roast themselves. There are few who would suggest that they have failed in their mission; the coffee is amazing. Strong, full flavoured, with a dense, silky mousse on top. They use fresh whole milk for the foam on your cappuccino too, so that comes out a treat too.
If you’re looking for a grazing option near Wat Langka, Lot369 is a hole in the wall (well an open–aired hole in the wall) a little down from Villa Langka. We tried their Lort Cha ($4) which according to their menu is short rice noodles with pork, bok choy, bean sprouts and a poached egg. Their description is accurate except they forgot to note it is also bloody delicious. Poke the poached egg with a fork, watch it flood, mix it up and eat. Yummo! You can pick this up at market stalls for half the price, but we’d say our bowl was well worth the premium. The latte ($2.50) was also great and came with some crunchy thing about which we forgot to ask for more details about.
Java Creative Cafe is centrally located just two minutes’ walk from the Independence Monument, with views over Sihanouk Boulevard park. We love the mid-price tasty beverages and food, the competent service and the different seating areas which double as exhibition spaces. Popular with a mixture of middle-class Khmers, creative types, tourists and freelancers tapping away on laptops, choose between the downstairs air-con lounge, with its minimalist decor, sofa seating, WiFi and air-con, and the upstairs open–air deck. We prefer upstairs, (accessed via stairs around the side), leading to the airy fan-cooled terrace overlooking Sihanouk Blvd. Breakfasts, like our ham and shitake omelette, start at around the $5 mark, and while well regarded for their coffee, the coffee machine was broken the day we dropped by so we made do with a lime and mint smoothie ($3.25). A stalwart of the Phnom Penh cultural scene, Java Cafe serves up art alongside the caffeine, with rolling exhibitions featuring Khmer artists and international guests. See their website for details on what will be on show during your visit.
Phnom Penh is no slouch when it comes to expat-cafes and The Shop, on Street 240, has been a stalwart of the scene for over a decade (since 2001 to be exact). Almost genetically engineered to appeal to families and Phnom Penh’s NGO crowd, The Shop is a safe byword for fresh, healthy and delicious food in a stylishly informal setting. The look is defined by soft butter yellow walls, natural wood and a rather magnificent but welcoming bar overlooked by a spinach green chalk board sporting the menu. While popular for all day grazing, we think it shines the brightest for its breakfasts, with simple eggs dishes kicking off for between $3 to $5, while their signature Eggs Benedict The Shop style goes for a hefty $7.75. Smoothies, bowls and pancakes hover around the $4 to $5 mark. For lunch, we loved our lamb, basil and pesto wrap for $6.50 with a glass of red ($4.50). The airy front room gets busy quickly, but there are a few more tables out back. If you have a sweet tooth, swing by The Chocolate Shop, a couple of doors down and under the same ownership—think splendiferous Belgian chocolate and great coffee—try one one dusted with Kampot pepper! Finish off your decadence with a session at Bliss Spa—you’re on holiday right?!
Backyard Cafe combines super-healthy food, and a scientific approach to nutrition with some fantastic flavours and portions that would satisfy even the heartiest of appetites. On Street 246, the smart, relaxed, open-spaced restaurant with an almost Mediterranean feel, creates everything from scratch for a menu with a strong focus on healthy, vegan, gluten- and sugar-free foods, that also happen to be delicious. Breakfasts are healthy portions of healthy food, including warm coconut quinoa porridge ($6.50), which comes packed with pumpkin and sunflower seeds, coconut, cashew milk, cinnamon, ginger, banana, raisins and homemade coconut yoghurt. This is not a place that does anything by halves, especially flavour. Check out the veggie zucchini fritters ($6.50), which are made and served with zucchini, egg, roasted red pepper, cucumber, mint, cashew cheese, chilli chia jam, rocket and lime. The real delight though is lunchtime, when they turn out salads with big, bold flavours that are as colourful as they are tasty. Loaded with goodies like roasted pumpkin, quinoa, goat cheese, nuts, avocado, red pepper hummus, lentils, brown rice, roasted cauliflower, seeds, and so much more, the vibrant salads are actually almost hard to finish, and you don’t often say that about a salad. You won’t need to eat again for the day.
Tucked away on one of the streets running off the Russian Market is Tini Cafe and Bar: tiny by name, and of course, tiny by nature. The little two-storey, all-white outfit was our stop for a quick morning latte ($2.50). Also on offer are fresh juices, teas and sodas. By evenings, we can imagine this spot filling with the neighbourhood’s design and creative types rubbing shoulders on the little balcony upstairs overlooking the street, lounging at one of the half-dozen tables or so low-slung wooden tables and chairs, or jostling for position in the little front courtyard. This is an easy air-conditioned spot to make a beeline towards if you need a break from the Russian Market.
Farm to Table offers a small and unfussy but satisfying range of healthful, tasty food and is set in a chilled-out garden with a relaxed atmosphere. You’ll almost feel like you’ve popped around to a friend’s for brunch or afternoon tea here, with wooden tables scattered around underneath jackfruit and other trees. From the crew behind ARTillery (see above), Farm to Table brings the same philosophy to this venture, serving organic and seasonal local produce where possible. They have juices, teas, coffees and softies, while breakfasts are in the $4-$7 range—think standards such as simple eggs your way, french toast, Bircher muesli or a burrito. Overall it’s not so much adventurous, but rather nourishing and comforting. It’s the sort of place to come to get your balance back.
ARTillery Cafe Alleyway of 240 1/2, No. 82E0 St, St 244, Phnom Penh; T: (078) 985 530; http://artillerycafe.com/ Mo–Su: 08:00–20:00.
Backyard Cafe 11B Street 246, Phnom Penh; T: (078) 751 715; https://backyardeats.com/ Mo: 07:30–16:30 Tu–Su: 07:30–21:00.
Farm to Table 16 Street 360, Phnom Penh; T: (078) 899 722; https://www.facebook.com/FarmToTablePP Mo–Su: 08:00-22:00.
Feel Good Cafe II Coffee Roasters 11 Street 29, Phnom Penh; T: (017) 497 538; http://www.feelgoodcoffee.com.kh/ Mo–Su: 07:30-22:00.
Java Creative Cafe 56 Sihanouk Blvd, Phnom Penh; T: (012) 833 512; https://javacreativecafe.com/ Mo–Su: 07:00–22:00.
Lot 369 14 Street 282, Phnom Penh; T: (012) 797 802; https://www.facebook.com/Lot-369-Cafe-Bar-BKK-1985941905002400/ .
The Shop 39 Street 240, Phnom Penh; T: (092) 955 963; http://theshop-cambodia.com/ Mo–Su: 06:30–19:00.
Tini Cafe and Bar Street 450 near Street 135, Phnom Penh; T: (017) 555 450; https://www.facebook.com/TiniPP450 Mo–Fr: 08–23:00 Sa–Su: 09:00–23:00.
Just down the road from the national Museum you’ll find Friends Creative Cuisine—a small, fun and bright space serving up a range of delicious Asian and Western tapas with a light emphasis on local ingredients, plus refreshing smoothies and cocktails. Expect a range of vegetarian and meat dishes, such as zucchini and cheddar fritters with Thai sriracha mayo ($4.75), seared sea bass fillet with salsa verde on tomato cucumber salad ($6.25) and buttermilk chicken burger with mustard slaw and chipotle mayo ($7.00). We went with the Khmer prawn and glass noodle salad with fresh herbs and chilli lime ($5.75) accompanied with a green mango and mint smoothie—both were delicious.
Friends is more than a restaurant—it is one of the best known social enterprise training restaurants in Southeast Asia (one the original of what is now a number of restaurants in the region) run by Mith Samlanh. The staff are former street children who are being trained so they can find work in the hospitality industry—you might think you’d need extra patience to dine here, but in our experience staff have always been exemplary and you absolutely wouldn’t know they are beginners. Prices are ever so slightly upmarket but still very reasonable and it’s for an excellent cause. Flyers on site explain some of the excellent work they do and donations are always appreciated. Please see their website for more information on how you can help.
The same organisation runs the slightly fancier Romdeng under the same ethos, in the leafy garden of a villa on Street 174. There is a bit of crossover between the two, and the fare at Romdeng is a bit more involved—on our 2019 visit we tried the chargrilled eggplant with pork and corriander ($6.75), but we’re partial to the original on account of the more fun atmosphere.
While Phnom Penh is absolutely littered with Khmer BBQ joints, it can be a challenge to find one which has great food and an English menu but isn’t a bit sketchy and doesn’t have karaoke. Hey yes, we can be a bit picky! but the stars align at 54 Langreach Sros and it is such a place. Don’t expect to be the only foreign face here—this one is a popular spot with some of the food tours in town, but that shouldn’t detract from the food. We’re big fans of both the bbq pork (14,000 riel) and bbq beef with big black ants (15,000 riel), the latter in particular is delish—don’t be put off by the ants as they are better than it may sound—all washed down with a few iced beers (from 5,000 riel a bottle). There is live entertainment most evenings and also sports on TV. All up it makes for a fun night out with a few friends. They have a second branch on Street 370.
As we mentioned up top, nom banh chok is a quintessential Khmer dish, and while you’ll find vendors selling it in and around markets across the city, if you’re prefer something slightly more upmarket (well, with chairs and tables), Sophath at the corner of Street 7 and Street 264, overlooking Wat Batom Park is an excellent choice. We were actually turned onto to this as a part of our food tour with Lost Plate, and enjoyed it so much we headed back the next day for another bowl. No English is spoken (other than “green” and “red” asking you which version you want) and the price is right—5,000 riel.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming the only place to eat authentic Khmer fare is in the market or an open to the street hole in the wall, and diagonally across the park from Sophath lies Kravanh—an excellent outlet for a mid-priced and absolutely delicious Khmer meal. Kravanh offers fancy pants Khmer cuisine in a comfortable setting at two locations in the city—we tried the Sothearos branch (the other is near the Russian Market on Street 450). The menu along is not just encyclopaedic, but filled with beautiful photos of what could be headed your way, along with short descriptions to give you a better idea of what is coming. We started with the pan fried mushrooms ($7.50), which came with lashing of Kampot pepper that just exploded in the mouth and then graduated on to an enormous bowl of Som Lor Kor Ko ($7.50) which the menu described as the national soup of Cambodia. Both dishes were delicious, but be warned, the servings are very large! The menu also has a wide variety of sharing plates and some of the salads looked excellent—the Cambodian ceviche with bitter cucumber... OMG. This is a restaurant that you’re almost wasting yourself going alone—come with a friend or four so you can try more.
With a menu that just goes on and on ... and on, Tinat Restaurant, on a busy corner in the heart of downtown, as it is open early and closes relatively late and isn’t far from a bunch of bars, this is a great one stop shop for breakfast, lunch, dinner or all three. The menu covers plenty of Khmer staples along with a vast range of other dishes they we’d broadly classify as generally Southeast Asian—prices are very reasonable. Most dishes are available in three sizes—small, medium and large—and priced accordingly. A small one plate dish will set you back $2-$3, add a couple of dollars if with beef, chicken or seafood. The location is great for people watching and the service prompt. As with any streetside place in Phnom Penh, be wary of leaving valuables on your table if you are sitting on the pavement part of the restaurant.
If you’re just looking for something cheap and cheerful in a shophouse setting close to the national museum and so on, there are two tourist–friendly spots on Street 13, almost opposite the above-mentioned Friends the Restaurant, which work well for an affordable sit down meal. When walking down from the National Museum, David’s Home Made Noodles is first off the rank. As you may surmise, David (or a staffer) makes his own noodles out front, and if you’ve never seen noodles being made before it is worth slowing down for—think making pizza bases, but noodles instead, sort of. Inside you can get a plate of, you guessed it, noodles for between $2 and $3 ($0.50 for a fried egg on top). Their mango shake ($1.50) is slurp-worthy. A few doors further down the road is Kabbas, a similarly affordable hole in the wall. We’d read some truly astonishingly great reviews of the Khmer food here, and all we can say is the reviewers clearly ate nowhere else, but, for the money this is an good spot for a mid-priced meal—our grilled meat salad ($4.50) certainly filled a hole. We found the staff here to be particularly friendly.
54 Langreach Sros Khmer BBQ 15A Street 178, Phnom Penh; T: (017) 455 454; Mo–Su: 15:00-24:00.
David’s Home Made Noodles 168 Street 13, Phnom Penh; T: (012) 351 890; .
Friends Creative Cuisine 215 Street 13, Phnom Penh; T: (012) 802 072; http://tree-alliance.org/our-restaurants/friends.php Mo–Su: 11:00–23:00.
Kabbas 166 Street 13, Phnom Penh; T: (012) 807 979; .
Kravanh 112 Sothearos Blvd, Phnom Penh (Second branch at 67 Street 450, near Russian Market); T: (012) 539 977; Mo–Su: 11:00–14:30 & 17:30–21:30.
Romdeng 74 Street 174, Phnom Penh; T: (092) 219 565; http://www.romdeng-restaurant.org Mo–Su: 11:00–23:00.
Sophath 78 Street 7, Phnom Penh; T: (092) 250 778; Mo–Su: 07:00–20:00.
Tinat Restaurant 70 Street 51, corner Street 154, Phnom Penh; T: (010) 885 252; https://www.facebook.com/Tinat.Restaurant/ Mo–Su: 06:00–23:00.
The name is pretty descriptive, and accurate, but doesn’t come close to conveying just how good this place is. Mama Wong’s Dumpling Noodle House sits near the end of the row of lively bars and restaurants that make up trendy Bassac Lane, and from this vantage point serves up a richly flavoured, beautifully prepared array of dumplings, cooked any way you like them, soups, noodles and small bites, all perfect to share or devour on your own. At $4.50 for eight, the dumplings are pricier than elsewhere, but damn they’re good. These small parcels are beautifully rich, and so full of flavour, you’ll be going back for more. And more. If you’re looking for something a little more substantial, there are enormous bowls of noodle soup, flanked by glistening slices of pork belly, or plates of stirred noodles, all also for $4.50. Big Angkor $4, Cider $3, Coffee $2 Tea $1.50.
The surroundings might not be salubrious, but Chinese Noodle Restaurant dishes up delicious hand-pulled noodles and homemade dumplings, and prices are about as cheap as you’ll find anywhere in town. The joint is popular with just about everyone—a typical mealtime sees mostly locals tucking in for specialties from the no-fuss menu, along with a sprinkling of travellers and expats—and there’s no standing on ceremony at the stainless steel tables set under fluorescent lights inside, where strangers may slide up a chair to join you when it gets busy. Along with the noodles, the other house specialty is the divine pork and chive dumplings, either boiled or fried, which go for the bargain price of 12 for $1.50 (you can also grab them frozen to take away). Twelve might sound like a lot, but speaking from experience, yes, you can do it! While this spot is a touch away from the tourist centre, it’s worth the diversion.
Tucked into a slightly difficult-to-spot shophouse on Street 178, within spitting distance of the National Museum, Warung Bali’s interior is not quite redolent of Bali, which is fine, because what the menu says, loud and clear, is cheap ... and peanut sauce. There’s enough variety to suit a fussy group of eaters at this halal restaurant, with soups, chicken, deep fried fish/prawns/squid, tofu and nasi goreng. All main dishes are 8,000 to 12,000 riel (that’s about US$2-$3) and we’re yet to find something that’s not tasty. On our most recent visit in 2019 we went with the rendang daging, or stewed beef in spicy coconut sauce with steamed rice (the most expensive item on the menu at 12,000 riel) and it was excellent. Don’t make the mistake of turning up too near to the 21:00 closing time—the good stuff will have gone or the rice will be finished. Seriously!
This close to Thailand, we’d generally say wait till you cross the border so you can eat the real thing, but if you can’t wait any longer, the long running Chiang Mai Riverside will probably keep you going till you reach the frontier. The menu covers all the favourites, and while it is toned down for a foreign palate, the food is generally reasonable. We went with a pork larp ($4.75) which wasn’t too bad, but the morning glory ($3.75) really had the texture of being cooked in a washing machine, so not sure what happened there. Drinks are reasonably priced (Large BeerLao $2.25) and you are right on the riverside, so if you’re staying in the area, it is convenient.
For many, Vietnamese food starts with pho and with that in mind, Fortune Pho at the junction of Streets 51 and 242 is a solid spot. The simple little restaurant offers solid, low black wooden tables and stools and no nonsense service. With beef, chicken, fish and pork balls, and “special” at $3 a bowl, this is not the cheapest in town—though it’s not far off—but the rich, flavourful broth, abundance of noodles and great pile of fresh green herbs, onions and bean sprouts easily settle the question of why. The staff are friendly and helpful, and while they don’t all speak English, the menu does, so let your fingers do the talking. Fortune Pho used to be on Street 178, just behind the FCC and opposite the Rising Sun, where there is now a new pho restaurant—they are not the same—this one is better.
While Fortune Pho diagonally across the road from here does pho and just a handful of other Vietnamese dishes, the deservedly very popular Magnolia does, well, more than just a handful. The PhD length menu covers a raft of Vietnamese bases but, eating alone, we restricted ourself to just two—the cha go Ha Noi (Hanoi style fried spring rolls $4), and ca kho thit ba roi (braised fish with pork belly $6.50), all washed down with a $1.25. BeerLao. The menu stretches far further than this though, and another Travelfish writer insists the banh xeo here are the best in Phnom Penh. Both indoor and outdoor seating is available, Magnolia attracts a mix of foreigners and well to do Khmers.
Chiang Mai Riverside 227 Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh; T: (011) 811 456; Mo–Su: 10:00–22:00.
Chinese Noodle Restaurant 545 Monivong Blvd, Phnom Penh; T: (012) 937 805; .
Fortune Pho 128 St 51 (corner of St 242), Phnom Penh; T: (092) 767 432; Mo–Su: 07:00–20:00.
Magnolia 55 Pasteur (Street 51), Phnom Penh; T: (012) 529 977; Mo–Su: 06:30–23:30.
Mama Wong's Dumpling Noodle House 41 Street 308, Phnom Penh; T: (097) 850 8383; https://web.facebook.com/Mama-Wongs-276382452520022/ Mo–Su: 11:00–23:00.
Warung Bali 25 Street 178, Phnom Penh; T: (012) 967 480; https://www.facebook.com/warungbali Mo–Su: 09:00–21:00.
One of the longest-running French restaurants in town, La Marmite owes much of its ongoing success to an unadorned approach to setting, service and cooking. If anyone tells you French food is pretentious, send them here and you won’t need to say another word. At La Marmite, you’ll find all the traditional dishes such as French onion soup ($4.75), which is highly recommended, hearty croques-monsieur ($7 including salad and a drink), and mussels stuffed with butter, parsley, garlic, breadcrumbs and Cognac ($7.50). We’re told that the grill offers some of the best steaks in town and you can tuck into a fillet ($9.25) or entrecote ($16) along with sauces and sides of your choice. We’re big fans of their charcuterie plate ($6 small, $12 large) and their Toulouse sausages—get them with a side of green beans, which are out of this world. And there’s plenty more on the huge menu, with a changing plate of the day. One blackboard menu is in English, the other in French. Read the French one—it all sounds better in French.
Set on Street 15, a block back from Phsar Kandal, according to their business card, Chez Gaston offers up “friendly French cuisine” and we’d say that is pretty much on the money. The owner (not Gaston, who apparently moved on some time ago) is a particularly welcoming chap who talked us through the menu and chalkboard of daily specials. A few items were awol thanks to the Xmas/New Years rush, but most of the French mains are around the $10 to $13 mark—we went with the three course set menu (around $12 including a glass of wine), which pretty much hit the spot and the children of the French Canadian family we were dining with were especially taken with the dessert. This is not fancy dining, but welcoming and not unreasonably priced for the standard. Solo diners can save a few dollars by eating at the bar.
If you’ve been cavorting around the Bassac Lane bars and are looking for a curry to settle things down, you could do far worse than slipping into the air-con Namaste Indian, perched right by the beginning of the bar strip. The smart interior is classic Indian restaurant fare and while the menu is surprisingly flash, the prices are very down to earth. We satisfied a South Asian craving with a platter of tandoori chicken (half chicken $5.80, whole chook 10.80) and a couple of plain nan ($1 a pop) and had no complaints—the menu covers most of the standards, with a reasonable vegetarian section as well. Too lazy to get out of bed? They deliver—see their website for details.
If you’re up the other end of town when you start craving tikka masala, Taj Mahal on Street 136 could be the ticket. The venue, its decor and the menu (which explains four spicy volumes are available) are all a step down in appearance from Namaste Indian, but Taj Mahal has it where it counts and the prices are good value. No alcohol served.
Long-running (since 1999) Irina’s, once popular with the town’s diplomatic crowd, is a Phnom Penh institution. Expect delicious Russian food—and vodka. The menu traverses the greatest hits of Russian food, but we always come for the selyodka ($5.50), a plate of sliced and salted raw mackerel with boiled potatoes and pickles, plus a shot of chilled vodka on the side. Not keen on the fish? A 50 mL vodka shot starts at $2 (up to $5 for the better stuff) served in cut-glass crystal (or near enough). Got a crowd or a drinking problem? A litre of vodka starts at $20. This is a good spot to keep in mind if you’re heading to the bars of Bassac Lane. Because nothing lines the tummy better than some starch, right?
Oskar Bistro is one of those places that you could slip into either the restaurant or bar section and nobody would complain. Oskar wouldn’t look out of place in an inner-city suburb of Sydney, instead it sits on Sisowath Quay and people queue to get in. Seriously! Despite the riverside setting, there are no great views to speak of, but the food and drinks are excellent. We spent a few hours perched at the bar, initially just working through some of their excellent cocktails—including an espresso martini ($6.50), a vesper martini ($6) and a Hendrick’s (with dried rose, Kampot pepper, juniper berries, coriander and thyme) $6.50, then when we felt like a bit of grazing, opted for a platter of the mixed cold cuts and cheese ($17) which made being a glutton every bit of worthwhile. They also have marinated skewers, salmon ($8), lok lak ($7.50), a range of pastas floating around the $10 mark, mains between $10 and $20 with the serious steaks starting at $24. The crowd was humming and we found the staff to be excellent. A very worthwhile splurge if this is your kind of thing.
Chez Gaston 76 Street 15, Phnom Penh; T: (077) 910 945; Mon-Sat 18:00-23:00..
Irina's Russian Restaurant 22 Street 29, Phnom Penh; T: (010) 833 524; Mo–Su: 11:00–23:00.
La Marmite 80 Street 108 (on corner with Street 51), Phnom Penh; T: (012) 391 746; 08:00-22:00.
Namaste Indian 15 Street 308, Phnom Penh; T: (023) 223 585; https://www.namasteindia.asia/ Mo–Su: 10:00–23:00.
Oskar Bistro 159 Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh; T: (023) 215 179; http://www.oskar-bistro.com Mo–Su: 17:00–02:00.
Taj Mahal 125 Street 136, Phnom Penh; T: (016) 961 833; https://www.facebook.com/tajmahalphnompenh/ Mo–Su: 11:00–23:00.
The FCC, around whose semi-horseshoe bar hacks of old once shared their more unprintable tales, has achieved legendary status. The hacks are elsewhere now (where the drinks are cheaper), but the handsome three-storey building continues to draw large numbers of tourists looking to at least get a shadow of the vibe, and also take in the fantastic views down the river from the breezy rooftop terrace over a happy hour cocktail. They have a full restaurant menu, with a lot of tasty pizzas and well-turned out “international” standards, including fish and chips, Caesar salad, and plenty of local specialties. The setting is lovely and we’ve always found the service here to be excellent. Yes, prices are a little high (for Phnom Penh) but avail yourself of the happy hour to keep the spend under control. The food is also good, but similarly a bit pricey. If you want something more down to earth (literally and figuratively) The Rising Sun is just around the corner on Street 178 and is a typical English pub style set up with reasonable prices and plenty of affordable pub grub.
In a city now awash with chic and trendy bars, the iconic Elephant Bar at Raffles Hotel Le Royal remains known for its bygone-era sense of sophistication, and it makes for a perfectly glamorous start to an evening. The Femme Fatale cocktail, a heady mix of creme de frais de bois, Cognac and sparkling wine, was developed specifically for former American First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy by the royal household’s own barman, and is still served at the Elephant Bar—there is also a suite in the hotel named in her honour, though she never slept in the bed. The bar is adorned with old photographs celebrating the hotel’s role in Cambodian history. Choose from a selection of 40 carefully crafted cocktails (the bar boasts 110 different gins), or request your favourite tipple from the talented bar tenders. Cocktails start at $12++, but they are half-price between 16:00 and 21:00 every day. Raffles Elephant Bar also offers up afternoon tea, a tradition that goes back to the hotel’s 1920s origins. Designed to bring people together, these are sumptuous feasts of sweet and savoury bites and cost $15++ ($29++ with a glass of champagne). You can pick your way through (for example) a selection of European or Khmer style cakes, scones, fruit and sandwiches made with bread baked in hotel’s own bakery, all washed down with a free-flow of tea and coffee. If we were you though, we’d do it with a classic martini, or two.
Set on the 12th floor of the Point Hotel on Street 130, Juniper Gin Bar shares the same owners as Sundown Social Club (see below) and a third bar, Long After Dark (a whiskey bar which we never quite got to), and while the views from Sundown are really interesting, the views from Juniper are simply spectacular. Perched just a few steps back from the riverfront, the views out and over both the Tonle Sap and the Mekong will have your jaw dropping through the floor. And better still, the drinks are great. As indicated by the name, gin is a focus here, but there are all sorts catered for and the prices, while a little high for Phnom Penh are all the more reasonable across happy hour. A glass of wine should set you back $4 to $5, with gin and tonics coming in between $4 and $6.50—try the Rokku Japanese with cinnamon and fresh lime. Can get very busy in the evening, but the views are great all day.
In a town with so so so many hole in the wall bars (not even counting the sketchy ones) it can hardy to pick just one, but Garage, with its regular custom made up of journalists, photographers and the occasional travel writer, along with a whole bunch of other interesting characters, is a personal favourite. Think “friendly bar where it’s easy to end up in long, happy and involved conversations with total strangers”. We like it for the music (if you were born in the 70s so will you), for the friendly staff and for the cheap drinks. Look for the yellow banana on the sign on Street 110, and no it’s not a metaphor despite what the neighbours get up to—that would be far too subtle for this area. It’s Warhol’s banana, from the Velvet Underground days, and that’s far more in tune with this laidback blues/rock bar that is the antithesis of all the super-slick bars popping up like well-dressed mushrooms in smarter parts of town, and all the better for it.
We wandered into 5 Drunk Men just before sunset and found well, well over five drunk men. There were actually about fifty extremely hammered travellers here, many availing themselves of the gin and tonic icy-poles “So delish” one patron remarked as she dribbled it down her top. Not a place for a quiet drink, the thumping tunes and interesting dancing keeps the crowd moving and/or amused, but it makes for an solid contrast to the far more staid Le Moon bar across the road atop the Amanjaya. Either bar is a good low rise sunset point, though 5 Drunk Men goes late and can get pretty messy. Reach it via the swivelling Budweiser can on the alley right beside the Asiban Quay Hotel.
It seems you can’t throw a olive in Phnom Penh without hitting a new cocktail bar, but we were taken with Sundown Social Club, a rooftop rum bar, which, at least for now, is the only joint directly overlooking the Russian Market. Spacious and well decorated, the highlight here is a long bench bar that fronts over the drop to the market. Pull up a high stool and swig back on a moderately sized martini ($3) or linger over Le Grand Fizz ($3) and watch the streetside fresh produce section of the market hum below you. Get there by 17:30 to enjoy the sunset. Prompt and friendly service, recommended if you are in the area. Its sister bar, the whiskey focussed Long After Dark is just a short walk from here if you’d like to mix up your drinks a bit.
Not to be confused with Oskar (the fancy pants bar and restaurant down on the riverside strip) Oscar (“Best Damn Bar” reads the signage) is a live music pub close to Post Office Square (near Wat Phnom) in the northern reaches of town, and perched atop a sketchy hostess bar. With live music just about every night—we scored an Elvis tribute band the night we passed though—Oscar attracts a mixed crowd up for a fun night out. Depending on the talent, it can be very busy, but invariably makes for an interesting night out. The bar is just a short walk from Phnom Penh night market, so the two can work well together.
Sitting on Street 308, Red Bar is as straightforward as it gets in this part of the world, and a favoured hang-out for Phnom Penh media junkies. Beers and margaritas are cheap, and we’re not saying that has anything to do with it. A slow-paced though very long evening upstairs was more to our liking than the nearby Bassac Lane scene (see below), but they are within spitting distance of one another, so why not try both?
The narrow lanes around the leafy residential area of Tonle Bassac are home to a slew of cool bars and hot restaurants that are sleek, intimate, modern and buzzing, and the coolest of them all are to be found on Bassac Lane. On a narrow little off-shoot from the leafy, once mainly residential Street 308, 2015-minted Bassac Lane is a neat little enclave where a motley collection of what can only be described as boutique bars sit shoulder to shoulder. Think hipster, very hipster and you’ll probably be half way to the actual hipster level. We tried to mind the fact that it almost looks like someone opened up a bar design catalogue and randomly decided on “that one, that one and that one”; these places are so highly conceptualised they virtually squeak. You’ll either love it and be here every night, or turn and walk away never to return. You may be surprised to learn they are all owned by the same two people.
Set in an abandoned house down an alley running off Street 51, Battbong is a hip speakeasy reached by opening a coke vending machine and walking through (you’ll see what we mean when you get there). Known for its cocktails, good food and live entertainment, the place was so jammed the night we swung by, we moved on so can’t comment personally till we return to try it again.
Bassac Lane Off Street 308, Phnom Penh; Tu–Su: 17:00–23:00.
Battbong 132Z Street 51, Phnom Penh; T: (069) 291 643; https://www.facebook.com/battbongbar/ Mo–Su: 18:00–24:00.
Elephant Bar at Raffles Hotel Le Royal 92 Rukhak Vithei Daun Penh, Sangkat Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh ; T: (023) 981 888; http://www.raffles.com/phnom-penh/dining/elephant-bar/ Daily midday to midnight .
FCC Phnom Penh 363 Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh; T: (023) 724 014; http://fcccambodia.com/fcc-hotel-phnom-penh/dining/ Daily 07:00-00:00. .
Five Drunk Men Level 3A, 317E Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh; T: (076) 611 1104; https://www.facebook.com/5drunkmen/ Mo–Su: 17:00-late.
Garage 9 Street 110, Phnom Penh; T: (092) 271 349; Mo–Su: 16:00–late.
Juniper Gin Bar 12th floor The Point Hotel, 10 Street 130, Phnom Penh; T: (086) 445 901; https://www.facebook.com/Juniper-Gin-Bar-235208207126478/ Tu–Su: 16:00 till late.
Oscar 31 Street 104, Phnom Penh; Mo–Su: 17:00-late.
Red Bar Street 308, Phnom Penh; Tu–Su: 17:00–24:00ish.
Sundown Social Club 86 Street 440, Phnom Penh; T: (015) 526 373; https://www.facebook.com/sundownsocialclub/ Mo–Su: 12:00–23:00.
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.