There’s a new Cambodian restaurant open in Sacramento. Or, maybe, it’s opening soon. It’s called Taste of Angkor, it’s located at 4566 Mack Road, and it still had a “coming soon” sign draped above the door when we went on Saturday night.
We talked to the owner briefly on the phone, and it’s the family’s first restaurant. Over the weekend, Taste of Angkor did a soft opening with Friday and Saturday dinners from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. A comment card was placed at our table Saturday, on which we suggested a few things about service and some more dishes we’d like to see. They’ll be open on Thursday, March 19, for lunch, and a full day on Friday, March 20 (head to Facebook.com/Tasteofangkor to stay up to speed with their hours).
But before heading there, here’s a quick primer for potential Cambodian-food eaters in Sacramento, because it’s probably safe to say that most Sacramentans (and Sacramento food writers) have never encountered any Cambodian food in their life—or met a Cambodian person, or know where to find Cambodia on a map.
When one reads about Cambodian food, it’s usually an uninformed food writer lazily comparing it to Vietnamese or Thai food because Cambodia is located next to those countries. That’s not surprising. I’ve even eaten at a number of Cambodian restaurants from Long Beach to Paris that advertise themselves as Vietnamese or Thai, because those are the two Southeast Asian cuisines westerners are most accustomed to. There’s even a place in Sacramento’s Little Saigon (Bamboo Noodle House, 6070 Stockton Boulevard) that offers good Cambodian food but also features a huge amount of Chinese and Vietnamese dishes on the menu—we’re assuming—just to get people through the door. So it’s sort of a big deal to get a restaurant in Sac that’s actually billing itself as Cambodian.
A brief note about my personal history with the cuisine: I’ve eaten Cambodian food pretty regularly for the past 10 years in the states, and abroad in France and Cambodia. My wife is Cambodian, and unbeknownst to me when I started dating my wife 10 years ago, I’m genetically Cambodian (despite having often identified myself as a Chinese Jew). Yep, according to a recent DNA test my cousin took, part of my family (“the Chang side,” as we call it) which we previously thought was ethnically Chinese, has Khmer (ethnic Cambodian) DNA markers dating back to centuries ago. But I digress.
From my experience, Cambodians really love to eat: rice, freshwater fish, a fermented fish dish called prahok, a green spice mix called kroeung (lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal and some other stuff), baguettes (a relic from the French colonization of Southeast Asia), stews and soups. We got all of these on Saturday night at Taste of Angkor. For a soft opening, the restaurant impressed our party of five, which included somewhere between three and four Cambodians, depending on who you ask.
Here’s a quick look at what some of the dishes looked and tasted like:
Above: Plea sach koh (sliced beef with lime juice, fermented fish, assorted herbs and veggies). It’s sort of like a Southeast Asian dish you can find around town called larb, but a little fishier.
Slah machu kroeung (beef, tripe, eggplant, bell peppers and jalapenos): It’s a sour and salty stew with kroeung. It was pretty good on top of rice.
Sach koh tuch prahok (beef with prahok): This was an off-menu dish that we ordered. It’s a great summer dish—grilled beef (medium rare) with some fermented fish paste. It’s also good on top of rice.
Somlah kari sach koh (beef curry): Cambodia’s adaptation of Indian curry is somewhat sweet, with beef, taro and carrots in a coconut milk curry broth. The taro was really good, and so was the soft baguette to dip into the stew. Yep, we’ve got an Indian-French-Cambodian mashup here.
Amok trey: catfish baked in a pan with coconut milk, kroeung and Chinese broccoli. This was probably my favorite dish of the bunch, and it came with some pretty crazy hot Thai chili on top. It definitely does a great job of making the kroeung flavor shine.
TL;DR There’s a new Cambodian restaurant in Sac, yo (and an SN&R writer recently found out he’s genetically Cambodian)! Taste of Angkor is (sort of) the first Cambodian restaurant in town. Hopefully it’ll launch gracefully in the coming weeks, and will be running full steam soon enough.