Picking a Cambodian restaurant in Long Beach is as overwhelming as choosing a sarcastic coffee mug in the clearance corner at TJ Maxx. Many of these restaurants are in Cambodia Town, a cultural district that formed in the '70s and ‘80s when thousands of Cambodian refugees fled the communist Khmer Rouge regime and landed in Long Beach. Now, this mile-long stretch is home to the largest Cambodian population outside of Cambodia. It’s also where you’ll find everything from a fancy banquet hall and a counter-service seafood shack to a 20+ year-old institution serving some of the best beef jerky we’ve ever had. Here are 10 of our favorite Cambodian spots to check off your list.
Cambodia Town is loaded with tremendous places to eat, but if you’re looking for the best entry point, make Sophy’s your first stop. The family-run restaurant has been in the neighborhood for 20+ years, and has a big menu filled with Cambodian staples. Inside, there are always at least a few groups seated in the big leather booths sharing Cambodian Khmer noodles and scooping hot and sour soup from a cauldron. It’s perfect for a casual weeknight lunch, but on weekends, expect to wait up to an hour for a table. Get the red curry, the beef lok lak, and their beef jerky, guaranteed to ruin all other beef jerky for you.
Phnom Penh is one of the best Cambodian restaurants in Long Beach, and also one of our favorite spots in the whole city. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 7am-3pm, this tiny place specializes mostly in breakfast dishes like rice porridge and meat pies, but it’s their house special noodle soup with pork bone broth that we’ll brave even the foggiest of mornings to eat. You can choose between rice or egg noodles, but we prefer doing a mix of both. It’s not really a place that can accommodate groups, so most people just stop in with a friend for a midday meal.
photo credit: Matt Gendal
A&J Seafood Shack
A&J is a tiny to-go window in a small strip mall parking lot about a mile away from Phnom Penh Noodle Shack, which happens to be run by the same family. As much as we like that spot for gamey soups, this place is our go-to for all things seafood: think salt & pepper shrimp, grilled oysters, and fresh spring rolls. You technically be sitting outside on the wraparound patio facing a huge intersection, but you'll feel like you're steps from the sea. Our top pick is the crispy fried salmon, which is pre-cut and fried into tender hunks with mango salsa and sweet tamarind sauce.
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This casual sit-down spot makes food from across Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia, but our favorite dishes are from the "Khmer Favorites" section of the menu. Order the intensely seasoned green papaya salad that's marinated with a ton of lime, chilis, and fish sauce. You can choose your own spice level, but even the spiciest option gets a balance out with herbaceous freshness from the handful of basil on top. Round things out with the prahok ktis, which is a spicy dip that tastes what would happen if someone rolled a few chunks of pork down a mountain of lemongrass and into a pool of creamy coconut milk.
Right across the street from Sophy's, Naga Cafe Khmer Street Food is much smaller and perfect for a grab-and-go scenario. The menu at this counter-service spot is mostly made up of sandwiches, skewers, and noodle bowls. And nothing on the menu costs more than $15. Their signature BBQ Pork sandwich comes on a freshly baked baguette loaded with the perfect amount of pickled vegetables to balance out the crunchy, sweet pork. Also, the creamy Cambodian congee might seem like a simple rice porridge, but it's packed with tons of herbs and has mastered the proportions of ginger and garlic in each bite. It's only $6, and if you’re looking for a casual lunch date spot, we highly suggest coming here and sharing a bowl with someone you hope to grow old with.
photo credit: Matt Gendal
Little La Lune
La Lune was a classic banquet hall in Cambodia Town, and, after a fire caused it to shut down back in 2014, it reopened as Little La Lune—a sit-down spot in a small stripmall on PCH. The legacy of the former La Lune lives on here, where big groups share platters of tender beef lok lak, slurp bowls of Phnom Penh noodles, and gnaw on skewers of charred beef. With its huge lantern-like pendant lights and deep red walls, the space works especially well for a celebratory meal. Just keep in mind that it closes at 5pm everyday, so that probably means a celebratory lunch is in order.
Since it’s a few blocks South of Anaheim Street on a mostly residential block, you’re probably not going to stumble into Crystal Thai-Cambodian Cuisine randomly. But you should make a point to come here for some excellent Thai boat noodles, green lemongrass curry with frog legs, and shareable entrees like fried catfish that’s perfectly tender and served with a side of mango paste. The menu is huge, but no matter what you order, you’ll probably walk out with leftovers having spent around $20 per person. It’s also cash-only, but there’s an ATM in the taco shop next door.
If you’re looking for a bowl of wonton egg noodle soup in Long Beach, go to Kim Sun Kitchen. It’s a casual spot on Cherry Avenue that serves a mash-up of Cambodian and Chinese dishes. This counter-service restaurant is perfect for weekday meals, and it’s also great for when you have the random urge to spend $1 on a carton of fresh soy milk. Other than the wonton soup, we especially like the rich bone marrow soup, spicy chicken rice porridge, and crispy fried tilapia served on the whole.
Right across the street from Monorom, you'll find Hak Heang Restaurant. It’s a massive banquet hall with crystal chandeliers and floor-to-ceiling drapes. And even on a Monday night, you might find it difficult to get a table. In addition to platters of giant lobster tails, cauldrons of seafood stews, and oversized desserts, Hak Heang also typically has live music on weekends. So if you want to sit in a crowded room eating beef skewers with your entire family and listen to jazz covers of Top 40 hits, this is the place to do it.
It's 12am and you're in Long Beach with a few friends who have decided that it's time for a late-night meal. No one wants to pay more than $20 and everyone is fine with sharing. Head to Koh Russei for beef skewers, lemongrass chicken, and an order of the sweet and sour deep-fried catfish. You'll know you've made it when you see the big red "Bamboo Island" sign on Anaheim Street calling your name. They're open till 2am on weekends.