Phnom Penh 金邊小館 (Vietnamese/Cambodian)

Restaurant: Phnom Penh – Post 3
Cuisine: Vietnamese/Cambodian
Last visited: December 28, 2011
Location: Vancouver, BC (Chinatown)
Address: 244 E Georgia Street
Train: Main Skytrain
Price Range: $10-20

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!

Food: 5 (6 for the famous items)
Service: 3 (Is what it is, but it’s fast)
Ambiance: 2
Overall: 5
Additional comments:

  • Family owned
  • Vietnamese & Cambodian fusion
  • Some Chinese dishes
  • Extensive menu
  • English/Chinese/Vietnamese menu
  • Busy at all hours/line-ups
  • Local/tourist favourite
  • Famous for chicken wings
  • Hole in the wall
  • Quick/Casual
  • Moderately priced
  • Award winning restaurant
  • Dine In/Take Out
  • Reservations for 8+
  • Mon-Thurs 10am – 9pm
  • Fri-Sun 10am – 10pm

**Recommendations: Most famous: Phnom Penh Deep Fried Chicken Wings/Squid/Prawns, Marinated Butter Beef, Filet Beef Luc Lac on Rice with Egg (ask to get the rice replaced with fried rice) and Mango Moo Shake! People also like the Phnom Penh Two Kinds of Noodle, Steamed Rice Rolls, Phnom Penh Hot & Sour Soup and Trieu Chau Fried Oyster Cake.

Kicking off the New Year with something most of us already know and love! I’ve already blogged about it twice (see here and here), but it’s a place that never gets old. It’s Vancouver’s most beloved hole in the wall serving Vietnamese-Cambodian cuisine. If you haven’t tried it yet, you’re either out of the loop or severely deprived. I actually named it as one of the dives Guy Fieri missed when he came to Vancouver to film Food Network’s Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives – see here.

Over the holidays I brought almost every out of towner here, either upon request because they’ve tried it, or my suggestion if they haven’t. I get the same orgasmic response every time and it never fails to disappoint. However part of the reason is because I never venture too far away from the signature menu items. I’ve tried some of their not so popular items, and they’re either okay or better elsewhere, so it’s only a guaranteed experience if you know what to order.

It doesn’t matter what time you come, along with your guaranteed experience will be your guaranteed line up. As a local, it’s one of the few places I’ll wait 20 minutes for. They recently had renovations, but you can’t even tell, and to be honest if they ever renovated to a “nice restaurant” with new tables and chairs etc., it just wouldn’t be the same.

If you’re a table for 2-3 it’s likely you’ll have to share a big round communal table, so it’s really not a place for socializing. Mind you, I suggest coming with a group of at least 3-4 because the portions are pretty big and you can’t miss any of the “must try” items. It’s really only famous for a handful of items, but those handful of items have become iconic to the restaurant and in Vancouver.

On the table:
**Phnom Penh Deep Fried Chicken Wing 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • 1/2 order (4 wings) $7.95 Full order (8 wings) $12.50
  • This is the claim to fame.
  • They’re not “just chicken wings”. So far, nobody has made better ones than these and the dipping sauce is really what makes it.
  • I actually prefer the deep fried squid or prawns, which are made the same way as the chicken wings, but it’s all about personal preference.

  • They’re lightly battered, crispy, juicy and seasoned with rock salt, white pepper, a little sugar and what I think is MSG.
  • They’re salty, peppery, very slightly sweet form the sugar or MSG. (MSG is actually sweet and salty, not just salty.)
  • They come with lots of sauteed garlic and green onions too. I wish it had some deep fried crispy garlic as well.
  • They’re very garlicky and it’s like a Greek meal after you finish. Pah!
  • If you like chicken wings I’d also recommend Wo Fung Dessert House for their famous chicken wings – see here.

  • This is what makes all the difference. The dipping sauce for the chicken wings. It makes it that much more addicting.
  • It’s basically lemon juice with white and black pepper. It’s not spicy but white pepper is always so aromatic and with the lemon it’s an intense combo.
  • It’s super tangy and the citrus brightens up the wings and helps cut through the grease.
  • The combination of salt, lemon, garlic and pepper is undeniably delicious and flavourful!
  • Eating meat dipped in white pepper and lemon/lime juice is something some Vietnamese people will do at home, especially with beef. The lemon pepper sauce is actually a condiment used for many dishes, like hot sauce, so the idea isn’t necessarily that new.
**Marinated Butter Beef 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)
  • Thin sliced specially prepared (medium rare) beef on a bed of brown garlic, cilantro, served with our special sauce $12.85
  • I love this dish and it’s my favourite thing here. It’s a must every time I come.
  • This dish does not exist in Vietnam, so it is unique to the restaurant. It is a take on Phnom Penh’s Bo Tai Chanh though! (Thanks to @wisemonkeysblog!)
  • It’s like the Vietnamese version of beef carpaccio or Japanese beef tataki.
  • It’s super tender like the texture of butter, and it’s almost raw slices of beef. The slices are a bit thicker, but they don’t require much chewing.
  • It’s quite a large plate and I can eat it alone, but I do recommend ordering it with rice to soak up the sauce or the sauce can be a bit overwhelming, salty and tangy.

  • The tender beef is intensely covered with nutty crispy garlic, perhaps some ginger and loads of fresh cilantro. It’s almost like a cilantro raw beef garlic salad.
  • It’s a super aromatic and saucy dish and I love the texture of soft raw beef, crunchy fresh cilantro, nutty garlic chips and the savoury tangy soy based vinaigrette.
  • The special sauce is a very sharp and bold vinaigrette and they just pour it onto the beef and let it absorb.
  • I think it’s made with soy sauce, fish sauce, and lemon juice with perhaps some sugar. It’s definitely predominantly tangy and salty though.
  • I could drink the sauce, although I’d be coughing from the acid and dying of thirst afterward.

**Filet Beef Luc Lac on Rice with Egg 5/6 (Excellent)

  • $9.50
  • Another famous Phnom Penh phenomenon. It’s their most popular rice dish and it’s Vietnamese comfort food.
  • I’ve ordered it once at another Vietnamese restaurant before so I don’t have much to compare it to, although this one was much better than the one I had.
  • Don’t even think about ordering the version without the egg… unless you’re allergic.
  • It’s a traditional Vietnamese beef stir fry dish and it actually tastes really Chinese to me.
  • There’s a popular Chinese dish called “Minced Beef with Raw Egg on Rice” and it’s very similar and I actually like them equally. It also reminds me of a sauteed version of Korean Bulgogi beef.
  • The beef is generously coated with a thick sauce and it’s savoury, sweet and nutty from sesame oil.
  • The beef is tender and has probably been marinating for a long time, and they give you a lot of slices.

  • From what I could taste I think the sauce is soy sauce with Oyster sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce, garlic and maybe some honey or sugar. It’s not sticky, but it’s almost creamy and very flavourful.
  • It is very good, but I’m pretty used to this flavour so it wasn’t anything spectacular for me. It’s simply well marinated, savoury and sweet, tender beef stir fry.
  • You have to break the egg yolk into the beef. It’s the traditional way any Asian person would eat it.
  • The raw egg yolk just blends in with the meat and it adds a richness and creaminess to the overall dish. It’s like a”natural sauce” and I only wish the fried egg was even more raw.
  • For the Chinese version they literally crack a raw egg on top of the minced meat before serving it. The heat of the meat is supposed to “cook” the egg, but it doesn’t… and no one cares. It’s delicious.

**Filet Beef Luc Lac on Rice with Egg (With Fried Rice upgrade) – 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • $9.50 + $3 (Fried rice upgrade) $12.50
  • If you think the Filet Beef Luc Lac on Rice with Egg is excellent, try upgrading the rice to fried rice and it’s trés excellent!
  • The dish as a whole is 6/6.
  • The fried rice is their “Trieu Chau fried rice” with finely chopped Chinese sausages, carrots, egg and green onion.
  • The rice is fried really well here and it’s not clumpy, dry or wet. It’s moist and full of ingredients and I got that earthy smoky “wok aroma”.
  • The Chinese sausages are a bit chewy and sweet like jerky so they make for great flavour and it’s also sauteed with some soy sauce or fish sauce.

Phnom Penh Hot & Sour Soup with Prawn3.5/6 (Good-Very Good)

  • Small $12.25 Large $24.50
  • This is a Vietnamese-Cambodian style of Hot & Sour Soup, and I prefer the Chinese or Szechuan kind which is almost incomparable.
  • This is popular in Southern Vietnam and Cambodia and it’s the most popular soup at Phnom Penh.
  • It’s a huge pot served boiling hot.
  • The broth is lighter and more clear than most Chinese versions and it has more acidity to it too.
  • It’s savoury from the fish sauce, sweet from some sugar, and sour from the lemon/lime/tamarind (?), acidic from some tomato stock and it has a good kick of chili spice.
  • It had chunks of tomatoes, taro stems, pineapples, some peeled shrimp, bean sprouts, basil leaves, onions, cilantro and dried/fried brown garlic so it was full of ingredients.
  • The soup had depth, great flavour and balance, but I couldn’t taste the prawns infused in it. I liked it, but it’s not something I’d have to order again.

Trieu Chau Steamed Dumplings – 3.5/6 (Good-Very Good)

  • Clear dumpling stuffed with Jicama nut & pork $8.25
  • They take 15-20 minutes to make. They were huge and each one is a 2-3 biter.
  • I usually order these at dim sum (aka Chiu Chow Fun Guo), but for a non dim sum restaurant these are pretty good. I still prefer dim sum ones, but the style of these are different.
  • It is served with a tangy malted vinegar for dipping and topped with cilantro and dried/fried brown garlic.
  • They’re made fresh upon order and I’ve had several versions of these before, including Trieu Chau ones, but never with these ingredients.

  • The skins are the chewy clear glutinous rice flour skins you see on prawn dumplings, but these were thicker.
  • They are stuffed with jicama, ground pork, Shiitake mushrooms, Chinese sausage, baby shrimps, I think some dried shrimps, and the most unusual was the hard boiled eggs. Everything else is quite standard, but the hard boiled eggs are different.
  • Each one had a 1/4 of a hard boiled egg, and I liked it, but I just wished it was mixed up with the mixture so it wasn’t so random.
  • The outside is soft and chewy and the inside is crunchy and meaty with tons of ingredients, but without the dipping sauce they are on the bland side.
  • Texturally I liked them, but here are a few other versions of them that I prefer: 5 Spice Swatow Style Dumpling with more of a gravy, Steamed Diced Pork & Vegetable Dumpling “Chiu Chow Fun Guo”, and Steamed Pork Dumplings with Peanuts.

Phnom Penh Dry Rice Noodle (No broth) 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)

  • Rice noodles with seafood, pork, ground pork, dried shrimp, and special sauces, served with bean sprouts (soup on the side upon request) $6
  • This is pretty good and enjoyable, but also not that special.
  • It could have been better if the meat wasn’t so dry too. The pork slices were really hard to chew, and since it was a dry noodle dish, it didn’t help.
  • The only liquid is some dark soy sauce and I think they add a little oil so it’s not so dry.
  • The noodles are just the standard Vietnamese rice noodles they serve in pho. Here, they are served luke warm and they’re nice and chewy.
  • I liked the freshness of the cilantro with the addition of steamed bean sprouts which were served on the side.
  • The heat just brings out the nuttiness of the fried garlic which I wish had been crispy. I could have used some more salty dried shrimp as well.
  • The “special sauces” it’s served with is the standard Vietnamese spring roll dipping sauce (Nuoc Cham) and a chili bean paste. Mixed in with the noodles it’s all sweet, tangy, spicy and savoury especially with the already added soy sauce.

Pork Soup 2.5/6 (Okay-Good)

  • This is their signature soup that comes as a side. It’s usually served with a pork bone in it, but they probably ran out since it was late in the evening.
  • It tastes like chicken soup to me and it was light, but flavourful, and I didn’t find it anything special.

Phnom Penh Special Jumbo Rice B (with Fried Rice upgrade) – 4/6 (Very good)

  • BBQ Lemon grass pork chop, shredded pork, ham and egg on rice $10.50 + $3 (Fried rice upgrade) $13.50
  • This is definitely shareable and well worth it.
  • It comes with a side of orange Nuoc Cham vinaigrette which you pour over top and mix everything together.
  • It comes with a few slices of Vietnamese ham, a fried egg, a generous amount of pork chops, a dry fried pork rind (which tasted like vermicelli noodles) with chopped Vietnamese ham and browned garlic, and a salad.
  • The garlicky pork rinds kind of tasted like something you would use to fill vermicelli noodle spring rolls with.
  • They seem like they’re coated in bread crumbs, which are dried/fried brown garlic flakes, so it has that crumbly texture and they’re not crispy and intentionally not saucy.
  • The pork is tender and juicy, but I could have used more lemongrass on the rub.
  • It has a nice sweet glaze on them and the quality of the meat is a bit higher than a lot of Vietnamese places. It isn’t just all gelatinous fat or wimpy chewy pork cutlets.
  • I enjoyed the variety in the dish and you get some of everything.

Beef Fillet Anchois 4/6 (Very good)

  • Very rare beef specially prepared with smashed fillets of Anchovies, fresh lemon juice, sliced lettuce, green peppers & onions $16.50
  • I was hoping this was going to be a Butter Beef 2.0. I was hoping it was an undiscovered item just waiting to be ordered.
  • I did enjoy it, but I wouldn’t want an entire plate. This is good for groups of 4. It’s a very crunchy and a refreshing salad.
  • And you thought the Butter Beef was rare!!? Take a look at this one! It’s almost still bleeding! There’s a lot of super rare and pretty much raw beef pieces tossed throughout this salad. It’s almost like ceviche. They’re incredibly tender and each piece only took a few chews. It doesn’t taste fatty or tendonous.
  • The beef fillets are so pounded and tenderized. It’s probably marinated overnight in anchovy lemon juice as well as maybe some ginger that comes unnoticed.
  • Each piece was incredibly flavourful with juicy tangy savoury marinade, however it was to the point of loosing that natural beef flavour. For that one reason, it’s not really for hardcore carnivores who love meaty flavours. I still enjoyed it though. I’m not a major carnivore nor am I vegetarian.
  • The salad itself reminded me of Subway sandwich toppings. I wanted way more herbs in it, like mint, cilantro and basil etc.
  • It was generously dressed with a very tangy and sweet lemon vinaigrette that’s slightly spicy. The sharp dressing is required to “cook” and kill all the germs in that beef! I couldn’t see or really taste any anchovies, but it’s in the marinade giving it sharp savoury flavour.
  • All the veggies were also tenderized with the vinaigrette so the onions weren’t spicy, but the sauce kind of has a slight kick.

Green Papaya Salad3/6 (Good)

  • $14.50
  • This is a huge papaya salad, but I prefer the Thai papaya salads.
  • Usually this is an appetizer, but with the added prawns and beef it would be considered a main.
  • It comes with lots of shrimp, freshly shredded crunchy green papaya, mint leaves, some shredded carrots, toasted peanuts, crumbled beef jerky, and chilies.
  • It’s a very refreshing and crunchy salad with lots of different textures.
  • The papaya is green papaya so it’s not your typical orangey yellow one. It’s tart, not sweet and almost like crunchy daikon.
  • It’s sweet from the sugar, tart and citrusy from the papaya and vinaigrette, savoury with the beef and very aromatic overall.
  • It comes with a side of orange Nuoc Cham vinaigrette which just brings everything together and gives it more salty, sweet and sour flavours.

Vietnamese Crepe or Bánh Xèo 3/6 (Good)

  • Crisp bean pancake wrapped with bean-sprout, shrimp, ground pork, pan-fried to perfection $12.95
  • This takes a while to prepare. It’s actually a French inspired Vietnamese dish popular in Saigon.
  • I had the honour of trying a homemade one from a good friend. I won’t compare them, but I learned that traditionally the crepe is used as the filling for lettuce wraps. You fill romaine leaves with the crepe and top it off with a variety of fresh herbs. It’s then wrapped and rolled and dipped into Nuoc Cham (Vietnamese spring roll dipping sauce) before eating. It’s so much better that way!
  • This crepe was MASSIVE. It’s actually pretty good, but just very bland and I do wish they would serve it authentically. There’s not many places making this though.
  • It was a super crispy thin crepe and similar to a chip. It was almost deep fried and pretty oily.
  • It’s nice and crunchy and the batter has some sliced garlic pieces, chives and frozen baby shrimp cooked into it. Fresh prawns would obviously be better, but I understand.
  • It’s yellow from Tumeric, but it’s still bland.

  • It was well stuffed, but I wish the variety of stuffing was more spread out. It was almost like clumps of toppings rather than an incorporated mixture.
  • There was a lot of steamed bean sprouts, which is actually quite standard for this crepe. But since these were previously steamed they tasted a bit watery and lost their flavour. It didn’t help since everything else was already bland.
  • It’s also stuffed with bland ground pork, and some yellow starchy bits that tasted like hard boiled duck egg yolks, but not salty. They were almost like coarse lentils and they were bland as well.
  • The orange stuff is the shrimp and it was the only decently salty part. I wanted way more of it. It was a combination of dried and cooked shrimp and it had the texture and slight taste of sweet pumpkin, salty shrimp flavour followed by a slightly spicy note. It sounds gross, but I liked it. It’s a bit mushy and bitty.
  • Eaten together it’s all crispy, crunchy and almost like a salad filled with bean like starchy textures.
  • Texture was interesting, but it was very bland without the orange Nuoc Cham vinaigrette dipping sauce they served on the side. It also needed more fresh herbs.

**Mango Moo Shake6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • $4.25 (Mango flavour is seasonal)
  • It’s found in the “desserts” section and it’s almost like a bubble tea, but better.
  • The Moo Shakes aren’t as well known, but people who know about them will always order them. They’re amazing.
  • It’s not a milkshake, but there is a tiny bit of milk in it. It tastes like it’s made with fresh mango sorbet and it’s like a frozen mango slushy.
  • It’s very naturally sweet with a little bit of added sugar syrup and it’s made with 100% real mangoes! They’re probably frozen but you can tell it’s real.
  • It’s like a frozen fresh fruit puree of mango and it’s super thick and better than any fresh fruit mango bubble tea type drink I’ve tried to date.

Lychee Moo Shake5/6 (Excellent)

  • $4.25
  • I’m assuming the lychee is canned because they have it available all year.
  • It’s full of lychee flavour and again it’s better than most bubble tea places making lychee bubble tea.
  • It’s thick, refreshing and blended with ice like a slushy. There could be a splash of milk too.
  • I find it a bit sweet, and I still prefer the mango, but I still liked this.

Assorted Handmade Chocolates – not from Phnom Penh, but it was dessert after dinner.

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