Street 07, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
Located on a lively lane called The Passage, parallel to Pub Street on the Old Market side (there’s an entrance on the lane and another opposite the market), this stylish, air-conditioned restaurant and wine bar is an excellent choice for a sophisticated lunch, casual dinner or pre-dinner drinks. The sleek, contemporary lines of the interior design by local architects ASMA, come as a surprise to many. As does the delicious, modern Cambodian ‘tapas’, which allow you to taste a number of different specialties, some with creative twists. There are more substantial meals if you’ve worked up an appetite after a morning at the temples and decent wines by the glass as well as a good selection of international wines by the bottles. The wine bar section is a fantastic spot to sit and chat if you just want a drink.
To many gastronomes, the subtle flavors and spicing of Khmer cuisine makes it one of Southeast Asia’s great food secrets. That’s certainly the view of French chef Joannes Riviera, who has taken inspiration from Cambodia’s unsung culinary traditions to create one of the region’s biggest restaurant success stories. Cuisine Wat Damnak has received numerous accolades since opening for business in 2011. Using only the freshest local produce (think juicy tropical fruit, bamboo shoots, and fish from nearby Tonle Sap), Riviera devises regularly changing tasting menus that burst with creativity. Recent hits include a fish sour soup with green banana and rice paddy herb, and a duck confit curry with fresh rice noodles. Dinner is a steal at just $27 for five courses or $31 for six.
opposite Pannasastra University, Street 27, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
The Sugar Palm restaurant is the first Cambodian restaurant that many visitors to Siem Reap try, and it often becomes a favorite. The food is some of the most delicious, traditional, home-style Cambodian food in the country. It also happens to be served in a very traditional, Khmer teak-wood house, with high ceilings and wide verandahs—oozing atmosphere. Everything on offer is scrumptious, from the amok trei or fish amok, to the hearty Cambodian chicken curry. If you’re not a fan of pungent and sour flavors but want to try one of Cambodia’s quintessential ingredients, prahok (fermented fish), then this is the restaurant to do it. The prahok k’tis (a minced pork dip made with prahok) is a fairly tame albeit still very tasty iteration of the dish. The owner-chef, Cambodian-New Zealander Kethana Dunnett, is often around if you have questions about the cuisine. Kethana is the go-to person for celebrity chefs -- from Gordon Ramsay to Luke Nguyen -- when they are in the country filming food programs, and she certainly knows her stuff.
Siem Reap sees a lot of Koreans visiting throughout the year, both tour groups and independent travelers. This means the city has a large number of Korean restaurants to cater for them. My favorite is Dae Bak, on busy Sivutha Boulevard. This simple place with stainless steel tables that get packed with groups of tourists, as well as off-duty guides and Korean expats, does deliciously authentic Korean food. There’s a fairly long menu of specialties, including everything from dumplings to kimchi soup and bulgogi to seafood pancakes. A few dishes to share is enough for a couple, as also serve half a dozen tiny dishes of starters, from kimchi to various pickled and fermented vegetables. Dishes start at $5 and a bottle of soju goes for $4. My only gripe is that the Korean BBQ is done outside and not at the table.
Pari's Alley, 16 The Lane, Krong Siem Reap 63000, Cambodia
There comes a time for everyone on a Cambodia trip when, no matter how much you’re enjoying sampling the local food, you’ll get a craving you need to satisfy. Fortunately, Siem Reap has an abundance of restaurants serving cuisines from around the globe, and many of them are very good. Filling pastas are fantastic if you’ve been cycling or scrambling the temples all day and a plain Margarita pizza is a terrific choice if you’ve been a tad sick in the tummy. Of Siem Reap’s handful of Italian restaurants, I love Il Forno, on a narrow alley off Pub Street, just down the lane from Asana and around the corner from Miss Wong. The pizzas come piping hot from the traditional Neapolitan wood-fired oven and many of the handmade pastas are made fresh daily on the premises. While some of the products, such as the Parma ham, are imported from Italy (as you’d hope!), others are local and seasonal, like the beautiful fragrant basil. They also offer decent Italian wines by the glass and carafe. Check the blackboard for daily specials. If you can’t get a table, I also like Little Italy on the parallel lane on the other side of Pub Street. The specialty there is their excellent carpaccio and house-made charcuterie.