Whenever you visit a new city you’re always spoilt for choice when it comes to dining options, but the key is picking the right one. Every city has its rubbish restaurants, its average eateries and its ‘do not miss’ dining experiences, and when you’ve only got a limited time in a destination, you want to experience the best it can offer, right? Well that’s how I felt about choosing restaurants in Phnom Penh.
I love Asian food above all else so I was super keen to find restaurants in Phnom Penh that offered tasty, local khmer dishes that would sate my hunger. I’m pleased to say that although there were a few let downs, overall the city didn’t disappoint. Two places stood out by leaps and bounds and these I would recommend to visitors without a second thought if you’re looking for high quality Cambodian food in Phnom Penh. So, if you’re heading there, be sure to check these out!
The best restaurants in Phnom Penh
David’s Restaurant – Handmade noodles
TripAdvisor is my go-to research tool when looking for places to eat, but sometimes it’s worth taking a punt on somewhere different, as we learnt from our experience at David’s Restaurant.
We actually came across this restaurant purely by accident while looking for a entirely different place to eat. We’d found the original restaurant we’d planned to visit, but sadly nothing on its small menu took my fancy. Instead we left and went for a wander when we came across this small restaurant on a side street surrounded by closed shops. A man out front was spinning dough in the air so Justin wandered over to check it out.
As we were watching him work, an Australian family sitting at the front of the restaurant told us to just come in and sit down as this was the most amazing food they’d eaten during their stay – they weren’t wrong!
A family-run restaurant, David makes fresh noodles and dumplings in front of you. He personally recommended the shrimp dumplings, which can be boiled or fried (we went with fried, of course!) and these were simply one of the best things we ate during our two weeks in Cambodia – so much so that we ordered seconds!
The food itself was absolutely wonderful, but what makes this place extra special is the atmosphere and the people. David’s always there making the dumplings and noodles to request with his family serving the guests, but what we thought was wonderful was that he set up a community project and his family regularly takes in teenagers from the countryside who want to come to the city to study. They give them a place to stay and a job, plus as David explained to us, working in his restaurant helps them practice their language and people skills.
David’s’ is a wonderful place to get a taste of real Cambodia through the tasty fresh food and the welcome you receive from the people that work there. When not fulfilling orders David will wonder around the restaurant, pull up a chair and chat with his customers. We spent a good few hours here enjoying the food and company and it was only at the end of the night during our chat that we discovered that his restaurant ranks highly on TripAdvisor – at time of writing number 16 out of 1,000+ restaurants across the city. David’s’ is also a reminder that great food doesn’t always come from the most expensive restaurants – the best dumplings in Cambodia were a very reasonable price!
I wanted to pick somewhere special for our last night in Phnom Penh and so after a little research I picked Mok Mony, which is currently rated number five out of over 1,1100 restaurants in Phnom Penh on TripAdvisor.
A little out from the centre, it’s definitely worth a tuk tuk trip and although still cheap in comparison to western prices, was a more high-end khmer restaurant than our usual ‘basic’-looking restaurant choices.
Pretty white metal gates with a shabby chic feel greet you at the entrance, along with a friendly smile and welcome from a member of staff. We were brought in by the owner himself, a chatty, slightly camp gentleman that talked to you like you were old friends – I loved the place already!
He sat us down on a great spot outside where we able to people watch – we were very glad we booked as we quickly discovered that the place is always full and every 10 or so minutes people would rock up and have to be sadly turned away.
It was nice that whenever possible they tried to find a way to fit them in though, often looking around at current guests and estimating when they might be able to come back and find a table. And everyone turned away during our visit all returned. Definitely a good sign of what was to come.
Customer service is outstanding at Mok Mony and I loved their outlook. When the owner gave us our menus he then explained the ethos of his restaurant. They hope that their customers will come and try something new, perhaps something they wouldn’t normally try, and welcome this with open arms. He explained that if you don’t like anything you can order again at no extra charge and that none of the food is wasted and that anything disliked and left by customers is passed on to the poor or homeless – great, huh?
This made us feel much more up for trying something different and so picked a few different things to give a go.
We started with the crispy miniature shrimp cracker, teeny tiny shrimps coated in tempura batter and fried into a large cracker shape (think Asian fried whitebait). I’d not had anything like this before, and it went down pretty well.
I then chose to go with the restaurant’s signature dish, grilled betel leaf with marinated beef and Justin decided to try something different – pork ribs marinated in espresso, battered and deep fried with a savoury espresso sauce.
Just sadly wasn’t enamoured of coffee-flavoured ribs but was glad he’d given them a try and I fell in love with my beef. Tender little cubes rich with flavour, they were mouth-wateringly more-ish and I can see why everyone raves about this dish!
The one that got away…
These were my two favourite restaurants in Phnom Penh and if you get a chance to visit either of these places I highly recommend it. However, there was one other restaurant I would have liked to visit if we’d had enough time and I’d been willing to veer away from local food, which was Dine in the Dark.
Special restaurants where you eat your meals in complete darkness, there are several of these experiences found around the world, which are supposedly designed to heighten your non-visual senses and allow you to experience food in a totally different way. Here in Phnom Penh Dine in the Dark also raises awareness and provides work opportunities for the disabled by hiring visually-impaired waiters and waitresses called guides, all of which are past or present students of NGO Krousar Thmey – School for the deaf & blind.
Although I sadly didn’t get to visit myself (if I get to go back it’s, well third on my list lol!) several fellow travel bloggers have visited and written about their experience including Bernard the Traveler and Fun Food Travel, so if you’re interested be sure to check these out!
Oh, and if you’d like a more comprehensive list of the top restaurants to visit in Phnom Penh, I also recommend popping over to The Travelling Hams blog.
Have you been to Phnom Penh and visited any of these places? I’d love to hear whether you agree with me on my choices. Perhaps you have some other recommendations you’d like to share – please let me know!