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Jul 22, 2006 06:58 PM

Phnom Penh House, Oakland

Last week I dropped by Phnom Penh in Oakland Chinatown for a solo lunch after an appointment downtown. It's probabaly been at least 10 years since last visiting this Cambodian outpost. This time I was early enough to beat the crowds, and a not a moment too soon as all the tables were full by 11:55am on Thursday.

The downside of being an early arrival is that I didn't get a chance to see what other patrons were eating before ordering my own meal. Interestingly, it seems that more than half the customers were Filipino and the most popular order was what they called "sinigang". On the menu this is actually #13 Samlaw Machhou Phnon Penh, described as "soup cooked with prawn, pineapple, tomao, lemon and sauces". I asked my Cambodian-Chinese server if this had tamarind in it (like sinigang) and he said that it did.

I did less well ordering for myself, picking #44 Kary Bangkea, prawn in spicy green curry, $6.75. This was made with musty tasting green curry powder and lacked both freshness and richness. It had exactly 8 prawns in it, carrots, long beans, and undercooked eggplant. Not recommended.

Green curry -

What do 'hounds recommend here?

Phnom Penh House
Cambodian Food
251 - 8th St.

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  1. I've always liked the #16 -- hot and sour chicken soup. I think that's about it.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      Are you saying that's the only thing you've ordered or the only thing you've liked of the various dishes you've tried?

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        It's the only dish that stands out as something I'd order again. The grilled lemongrass pork is supposed to be good, but I haven't had it in years.

    2. I wandered down there once. I, too, had a curry, and was unimpressed. From where I was seated it was difficult to see what was on the other tables.

      2 Replies
      1. re: merle

        The other popular order seemed to be stir-fried rice noodles that looked very much like pad thai, perhaps a bit more red in tone from more tamarind and mixed with more egg and prawns.

        1. re: merle

          It may just be that you don't like Cambodian-style curry. Have you tried it elsewhere? The curry they serve at Phnom Penh is very similar to the curries I had when I visited Cambodia in the fall. While I enjoy it, it's certainly not my favorite thing that the cuisine has to offer.

          My favorite dish at Phnom Penh is the tofu and string bean dish that they wrote in by hand on the last page of their menu.

        2. My friend & I went for dinner, and asked the waiter to recommend a bunch of things. We went with his recs, and they were all great. What stands out in my mind were the beef crepes - an appetizer that resembled larb, but inside perfect crepes of egg, rice flour, and coconut milk (I'm guessing).

          1. I used to go there all the time back in the late 80's - early 90's when I worked in Oakland. I went back about a year ago and found that the quality of everything I tried had slipped quite a bit from my memory. I always got the bbq chicken and sauteed mixed seafood plate, and both were not up to par compared to previous visits. So it sounds like if I go back I will try some of these other suggestions.

            1. Six and a half years ago I worked in the restaurant dead zone near the Lake Merritt BART station. Phnom Penh was the most popular restaurant at my office, but much of that esteem was due to the fact that it was one of the closest.

              It developed quite a following among my co-workers for the Pad J and the barbecued chicken (I never understood this since the chicken was too fatty for my tastes). I liked the chicken with green beans and mint, but it was still nothing to write home about.