25 years of noodles for the District:
PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES
Despite decades along Anaheim Street, Khmer cooking lacks the traction of some of its Southeast-Asian neighbors. Without a defining dish with which to colonize the American appetite (think of the crusty portability of banh mi or the spaghetti-like ubiquity of pad thai), Cambodian cuisine often feels overly foreign. But what can at times seem impenetrable—plates scattered with unknown herbs and preparations that have no Western analogs—is presented so plainly at Phnom Penh Noodle that it’s not just accessible, it’s endearing.
Stripped of the neon splendor of New Paradise and the dance-floor design of Siem Reap, Phnom Penh Noodle is one of Long Beach’s best entry points to a cuisine that, beyond a few familiar traits, is wholly unique. Although the house-turned-restaurant has never been destined for a spot along Cambodia Town’s main drag—it’s far too small and unassuming—this seems to be for the best, as it’s instead an eatery loaded with the kind of unfiltered local wisdom that can single-handedly power a place to 25 years of existence.
The restaurant reaches its capacity during lunch, when its two tiny dining rooms are filled with enough steaming bowls to approximate a sauna and a resulting chorus of constant slurps. Price is a powerful factor here—most dishes hover below $5—but the bigger draw is the menu that focuses almost entirely on noodle soups and porridges.
Although they share some common components, Khmer noodle soups aren’t built on broths as finely spiced as their Vietnamese counterparts. But this doesn’t mean they fall flat—at Phnom Penh Noodle, the soups have a bit more clarity, allowing most of the seasoning to be dispensed at your discretion.
There are five varieties of soup here, including beef and meatball, chicken, assorted seafood, fish and the house special Phnom Penh combo. Each option has its own charms, but the eponymous soup provides the most welcoming introduction, studding the customary rice noodles with shrimp and huge hunks of pork. (Order the soup “dry” for the best effect—doing so separates all the ingredients to be combined and controlled by your own hand.) Drop in some bean sprouts, squeeze in a couple halves of lime and add a squirt or two of hot sauce to complete a meal that possesses just the right amount of lightness.
The restaurant pays equal attention to its rice porridge. Like its noodle soup, the kitchen cooks up porridge in a number of variations, including chicken, pork, fish and fish with fat fried noodles. Phnom Penh Noodle makes the choice an easy one—pick the pork porridge, which is loaded with assorted pork parts and tiny blocks of coagulated blood that bob in the broth like beet-colored sugar cubes. The porridge is cooked to what’s almost a hot cereal-style consistency, a good sign that it’ll stick to your stomach. And it does—eaten with the requisite plate of buttery bread, the porridge can almost hold you the whole day.
Both the noodle soups and the porridges are extremely price-effective. Large bowls are a mere $4.25, while the medium size—enough to sate everyone except those with inhuman hunger—is only $3.75.
Phnom Penh Noodle also does pan-fried dishes. These aren’t the focus of the restaurant, but they’re available for variety’s sake, including the so-called “student” fried noodles (the restaurant’s equivalent of pad thai), fried rice and others.
Although dessert is left mostly to some prepackaged snacks near the cash register, you can drink your way to sweetness with an egg soda. A mix of yolk and condensed milk, it’s a combination that’s closer to crème anglaise than it is to your usual soda. And it leaves just the kind of lasting taste you’ll need—a reminder of Phnom Penh Noodle’s simple supremacy.
PHNOM PENH NOODLE 1644 CHERRY AVE | LONG BEACH 90813 | 562.433.0032 | CALL FOR HOURS | FOOD FOR TWO $8-15