Ethnic Eats: What to Eat at Phnom Penh

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Phnom Penh, named after the capital city of Cambodia, has a small outpost in Ohio City (1929 W. 25th St., 216-357-2951), but they sometimes can get lost among the many competitors in this popular, oft-packed foodie district. A spacious and inviting second location in North Olmsted (27080 Lorain Rd., 216-251-0210) might be a better destination in which to savor the many Cambodian and Vietnamese specialties, especially given the lack of quality options in the surrounding area.

The service isn’t always speedy here, because items are cooked to order with care, but the freshness of the ingredients shines, along with the smiles of the appreciative staff. If you're out and about running errands, the menu offers perfect-portion lunches. One of my favorites is the banh sougnh, a heaping bowl of rice noodles with lettuce, cucumber, bean sprouts, homemade whipped coconut milk and scallions, topped with chopped spring rolls, basil, ground peanuts and lemongrass in a flavorful curry sauce. I have trouble deciding between the beef and pork for this one, as both are immensely satisfying and priced under $8. I suggest ordering medium spiciness, which yields what I call “fun-spicy,” — a dish that’s quite spicy while you're eating it (and so delicious that you can hardly take a break between bites), but as soon as you walk out the door, your palate has fully recovered.

The restaurant offers many dishes that would be familiar to those used to Asian cuisine, but the Cambodian influence is unique and distinct. Try the Khmer-style hot pot for something different, a self-cooking pot of shrimp, beef, squid and scallops, or the bamh cheiv (Cambodian crepe), a rice flour/coconut milk crust stuffed with shrimp, pork, chopped carrots, mushrooms and bean sprouts and topped with lettuce, onion, cucumber and ground peanuts.

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