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The Best Cambodian Restaurants in Los Angeles

Cambodian noodles at Sophy's | Photo by Clarissa Wei
Cambodian noodles at Sophy's | Photo by Clarissa Wei

Los Angeles County is home to the second largest population of Cambodian immigrants, (Paris is number one). The bulk of them live in Long Beach, where cafes double as community centers and people catch up over large platters of whole catfish served with tamarind sauce and a banana leaf. The area is called Cambodia Town, or Little Phnom Penh, and it sits on a one-mile stretch of Anaheim Street between Atlantic and Junipero avenues.

The story is that the first wave of Cambodians came over via an exchange program in the 1950s and '60s at California State University, Long Beach. Their residency planted the seeds for a larger wave of immigration in the 1970s and '80s, with arrivals composed of farmers from small villages and folks escaping the Khmer Rouge takeover. It wasn't until 2007 that the small stretch of Long Beach was designated an official Cambodia Town: first of its kind in the country.

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As for the food? Cambodian food is reminiscent of the fare from its Southeast Asian neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam. But it's less spicy than Thai food and there's a heavier focus on freshwater fish. And if you look hard enough, you might spot a lone baguette or pate on the menu. These are residual dishes from Cambodia's days as a French Indochina colony.

Here are four fantastic Cambodian (or, Khmer) spots in Los Angeles:

Lok lak from Golden Lake Eatery | Photo by Clarissa Wei
Lok lak from Golden Lake Eatery | Photo by Clarissa Wei

Golden Lake Eatery
Golden Lake opened in October 2014, taking over an old Vietnamese eatery in a busy plaza in Chinatown. It's also one of the few Cambodian destinations outside of Long Beach. We recommend starting off with a taro cake, a wonderful appetizer for those who aren't afraid of deep-fried things. The cake is made with glutinous rice, shaped into a disc, and stuffed with savory chunks of taro and pork mashed together in a juicy medley. For the main course, the beef lok lak is a good choice for those who prefer lunch with rice. Lok lak is simply the phonetic approximation of luc lac, which in Vietnamese means "shaking beef." Ask for a side of their beef knuckle soup, which is heavy with umami and wonderful on a chilly day. 424 W College St Los Angeles, CA 90012; (213) 509-4035.

Thai Boat Noodles | Photo by Clarissa Wei
Thai Boat Noodles | Photo by Clarissa Wei

Crystal Thai-Cambodian Cuisine
During lunch time, Crystal is packed with Cambodian locals and everyone is either picking off of the catfish at their table or slurping on a bowl of soup. "Everyone has their favorites," the owner tells me. For newcomers, he recommends something on their noodle menu, which has a mixture of both Thai and Cambodian selections. And if you're so inclined to spent the $18 for an authentic Cambodian experience, give the catfish a whirl. The fish is served whole with mango or tamarind sauce and plenty of veggies on the side. Pair with a spicy papaya salad and, if it all gets overwhelming, ask for a glass of complimentary iced chrysanthemum tea. 1165 E 10th St, Long Beach, CA 90813; (562) 591-7636.

Basil clams | Photo by Clarissa Wei
Basil clams | Photo by Clarissa Wei

Hak Heang Restaurant
The restaurant doubles as a banquet hall. Hak Heang is the prime destination for Khmer weddings around town and sometimes if you stumble in at just the right time, you'll be greeted by live and loud music. It's completely family-style here at Hak Heang, so if you plan on making an earnest stop here to eat the food, bring an open-minded and hungry group. You can just opt for their set menus, which start a $23 a table. It includes dishes like beef skewers, a curried fish, and basil clams -- sautéed with a garlic and chili sauce. 2041 E Anaheim St, Long Beach, CA 90804; (562) 434-0296.

Phnom Penh Noodles | Photo by Clarissa Wei
Phnom Penh Noodles | Photo by Clarissa Wei

Sophy's Thai Long Beach
Sophy's has been a Long Beach staple for 14 years now and though it advertises itself as a Thai and Khmer joint, Sophy Khut, the owner, is the latter. They specialize in rice noodles and porridges. Give the Phnom Penh noodles a whirl. Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia and its signature noodle dish sits in a light, clear broth with a nice mixture of ground pork, meatballs, shrimp, and cilantro. If you're looking for something a bit heavier, try the seafood noodles, They're brewed in a thick lemongrass broth and fortified with chunks of fish and shrimp. 3240 E Pacific Coast Hwy, Long Beach, CA 90804; (562) 494-1763.

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