The Best Siem Reap Cambodian Restaurants – Our Picks
Best Siem Reap Cambodian restaurants include everything from home-style cooking in a traditional wooden house to contemporary experiments in Cambodian-European fusion. They’re not on Pub Street and most aren’t on Trip Advisor’s top ten, but here’s where you’ll sample the best Cambodian food in Siem Reap.
Best Siem Reap Cambodian Restaurants
In Cambodia‘s ‘Temple Town’ of Siem Reap, where there are literally thousands of hotels, including many five-star resorts and boutique hotels, it’s surprising that there aren’t more outstanding Cambodian restaurants. Sadly, like any city, there are scores of mediocre restaurants, and it can be very hard to have a truly great meal of authentic Cambodian food if you don’t know where to go – or pay too much attention to Trip Advisor.
That abundance of mediocrity can partly be blamed on tourism, on tourists’ lack of knowledge of Cambodian cuisine and expectation that it should taste like a mild form of Thai (see our story Dispelling Cambodian Cuisine Myths) and chefs’ willingness to adapt dishes to meet tourists’ expectations rather than educate diners (see our story on Ruining Amok, Cambodia’s National Dish).
On the other hand, there are some interesting restaurants where chefs, Cambodian and foreign, are experimenting with their cuisine. While these restaurants, which we’ve filed in the ‘also try’ category, can be hit and miss, they warrant a meal to get an inkling of the future of Cambodian food.
If you only have a few days in town, give priority to the very best Siem Reap Cambodian restaurants, below. But if you have more time in the city and are settling in for a while, also sample those on the list beneath it. Make sure you also graze on Cambodian street food and try some of the more rustic, local, neighbourhood eateries. Here’s our guide to the best Siem Reap Cambodian restaurants…
Siem Reap’s Best Cambodian Restaurants
The first Malis restaurant in Phnom Penh was considered the country’s finest Cambodian restaurant until Cusine Wat Damnak opened in Siem Reap five years ago and landed on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2015. The new Malis in Temple Town is truly outstanding, and is even better than the first.
This is easily one of the best Siem Reap Cambodian restaurants for refined renditions of traditional recipes, some with more modern plating, and dishes from around Cambodia that you won’t see on other menus. We call executive chef and co-owner, Luu Meng, the David Thompson of Cambodia, as he is the authority on Cambodian cuisines, making an effort to travel the country every few weeks to towns and villages he’s never been, seeking out old dishes that might otherwise be lost otherwise.
While Luu Meng travels frequently between his restaurants in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh (he has a few), he has capable teams of chefs in both cities – and an impressive front of house team in Siem Reap, many of whom have worked at the city’s finest hotels and restaurants. The chef is committed to using local produce and working with farmers, however, he’s always seeking out premium quality stuff, so will make concessions with things such as beef (he has an exclusive deal with Blackmore from Australia).
The new Siem Reap restaurant is in a very grand, elegant riverside building, with a dramatic interior inspired by the Angkor temples. It has undoubtedly raised the bar in the city. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so for those anxious about getting sick from street food, this is the safest spot in the city to sample Cambodian breakfast soups and noodles (in the morning) and snacks (in the afternoon). While lunch is more relaxed (smart casual clothes are appreciated), it’s fine dining in the evening, so dress up.
Everything on the menu is absolutely wonderful, so if you’re settling in to Siem Reap we recommend you plan a few meals here. This is still food that should be shared amongst the group so order a handful of dishes for the centre of the table. This restaurant can easily handle large groups but you’ll need to arrange well in advance.
Cuisine Wat Damnak
Voted #43 on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list for 2016, and named the Best Restaurant in Cambodia, this intimate restaurant in a traditional wooden house remains one of the best Siem Reap Cambodian restaurants, despite the arrival of Malis – and having a French-born chef at the helm. This is the restaurant that foodies make a beeline for when in town. In fact, Cuisine Wat Damnak is the very reason many gourmands even make it to Siem Reap.
The often inventive, contemporary Cambodian cuisine is rooted in authentic Cambodian flavour profiles. While some dishes are traditional, even in their presentation (a Saramann curry appears no different to any other – but just wait until you taste it), the petite and often more elegant starters tend to be more creative in their flavour combinations and plating. While others dishes are traditional in essence, they’re prepared using European technique with more refined ingredients as a replacement to those used in the home, or they might simply feature a twist.
The French owner-chef, Joannès Rivière, who has lived in Cambodia for many years, written a Cambodian cookbook, and speaks fluent Khmer, only uses Cambodian ingredients and mostly local produce, which he sources from farmers and co-operatives close to Siem Reap.
There are only two 5 or 6 course degustation (tasting) menus offered, which since April 2016 have changed every two weeks (it used to be weekly), and they’re an absolute bargain. A six-course menu (a must for foodies) is just US$28 a head and a decent bottle just US$26. There’s an amuse bouche to start and Cambodian fruits follow desserts.
We suggest ordering one of each menu and sharing dishes. Not fond of sharing? Then you better book two meals here. We recommend making this the last evening meal of your Siem Reap trip, as the Chef Jo’s cuisine makes better sense after an understanding of the traditional cuisine.
Note that the restaurant closes for one month during monsoon and the European summer. Cuisine Wat Damnak is open for dinner only and closed Sunday and Monday. Also see my story on Fine Dining Lovers.
The Sugar Palm
Set on the first floor of a charming traditional timber house with wide covered wooden verandas, The Sugar Palm is one of the very best Siem Reap Cambodian restaurants when it comes to more home-style, traditional Cambodian cooking. Delicious, hearty and generous in size, the dishes are the kind you find in middle class homes in Cambodia.
While some of the dishes have been made a little bit more accessible for foreigners they still remain authentic in flavour. This doesn’t mean the food has been dumbed down or fused with Thai flavours, as it has at most of the more tourist-driven restaurants. It simply means that some of the pungent, sour and tart flavours that Cambodians love are more subtle in taste so that they’re a little more palatable to foreigners. This makes Sugar Palm a fantastic first restaurant to dine at if you’re new to Cambodian cuisine.
The Cambodian-born New Zealand-bred owner-chef Kethana Dunnett is the go-to for chefs visiting Cambodia, and has advised the likes of Luke Nguyen and Gordon Ramsay when they were here filming television shows. She even makes an appearance in Ramsay’s Southeast Asian series.
While the restaurant is more atmospheric in the evening, when it gets packed with visitors and expats, it’s also a pleasant spot for lunch, when it’s a lot quieter (everyone is out at the temples). Chef Kethana’s fish amok is the most authentic and most delicious in town.
We also recommend the prahok k’tis, Cambodian curry, and smoked eggplant and pork. This is food that is made to be shared, so order an appetiser, a salad, and a couple of mains and a side. It’s ridiculously affordable for the quality. Open for lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.
One of the city’s most stylish restaurants, as well as another of the very best Siem Reap Cambodian restaurants, Chanrey Tree is set in a traditional-inspired house that has a gorgeous front courtyard garden and a contemporary minimalist design. Chanrey Tree is lovely for lunch but also delightful in the evening.
We like to describe Chanrey Tree’s food as a more refined version of Sugar Palm’s. The flavours are authentic, but like Sugar Palm have been made a tad more palatable to Western tastes, without compromising too much. Their prahok k’tis, a pork mince dip made with the Cambodian fermented fish called prahok, is authentic, whereas many tourist restaurants will tone the prahok right down.
Unfortunately many foreign tourists to Siem Reap often ask not to share food that is intended to be shared family-style. Chanrey Tree has given in to this, serving dishes individually, Western-style. We still ask to share when we dine here, so don’t be afraid to tell them if you wish to also. For diners who are happy to eat Asian family-style they’ll provide extra plates, however, (one of my only gripes) they’ll still serve individual mounds of rice on each plate.
The menu features dishes not seen on many other menus, including the owner Kaan Soann’s mum’s recipes. I highly recommend starting with the rice crackers with Natang sauce, prahok k’tis, and Cambodia ’tempura’, including delicious deep-fried frangipanis.
Ask for the waiter to follow up with char kroeung (a stir-fry with Cambodian kroeung, a herb-based spice paste made with lemongrass, turmeric, kaffir lime, and galangal) which can be done with either frogs legs, river fish or beef (we recommend the frogs legs) and the roasted Khmer chicken (a free range chicken roasted with honey, rice brandy, young jackfruit and lemongrass, served with a prahok dipping sauce). Open for lunch and dinner daily.
Another of the best Siem Reap Cambodian restaurants, Marum is another must. While it’s enchanting sitting in the leafy courtyard garden in the evening, this is also a lovely spot for lunch when umbrellas provide shade and fans offer some cool relief from the heat.
Marum is a hospitality training restaurant started by Friends International and operated by local NGO Kaliyan Mith, a member of a group of restaurants Friends founded that form the Tree Alliance. The menu here offers a combination of creative, contemporary Cambodian and pan-Asian tapas – both finger-food and appetiser – as well as more traditional, generously sized mains. Once again, everything is made for sharing. The ‘tapas’ are continually changing as the trainee chefs experiment with new dishes, the popular dishes staying on the menu, while the not-so-well-received are struck off.
When we last dined the menu include such oddities as lotus, jackfruit and coriander hummus with a toasted baguette, along with really delicious starters such as the pumpkin and roast duck croquettes with citrus hoisin sauce, and BBQ pork ribs with apple and radish salad. Marum is the spot for you to be a bit adventurous. Try the stir-fried red ant salad with beef, lemongrass and chill, and the crisp and creamy silk worms with spicy green mango salad.
More traditional mains include kor ko, a hearty vegetable and fish stew, and stir-fried Kampot pepper beef. We can’t recommend Marum enough. The NGO was ground breaking when they started the first Friends the Restaurant in Phnom Penh and have been highly influential, providing an excellent model for hospitality training-focused social enterprises regionally and around the world.
The shy, sweet, and very earnest trainee students come from impoverished backgrounds in rural villages, and if it wasn’t for Marum probably wouldn’t have this opportunity. For most, this is the first time they have been in such a sophisticated environment, so do be sensitive to their limited experience, and be patient and helpful. If you feel there’s a misunderstanding, quietly clarify your order with the instructors, who are nearly always at their side.
Don’t miss the Frends’n’Stuff shop, which sells cute gifts and souvenirs, many made from recycled materials. Open for lunch and dinner.
Easily one of the best Siem Reap Cambodian restaurants, Mie Café is set in a traditional Khmer timber house and is not a café at all. It’s a lovely restaurant owned by Cambodian Chef Pola Siv, who trained in Switzerland, where he worked in a Michelin-starred restaurant, and also cooked at five star hotel restaurants on the Arabian Peninsula.
Expect original Cambodian-European fusion, with Cambodian dishes prepared using classical French technique or presented in a modern style, reflecting the chef’s fine dining experience, or European dishes with a Cambodian touch. Sometimes this can be as simple as a chocolate molten cake with a hint of spice.
One of the finest dishes we’ve sampled here has been a delicious pan-fried Tonle Sap fish fillet with a crust of wild herbs, tamarind and ginger, and a tender duck breast cooked in a rich Cambodian vegetable stew (samlor kor ko). Friends I’ve sent here have enjoyed the Cambodian glazed BBQ pork ribs although I personally don’t like that they’re served with French fries and would much prefer rice.
Our advice is to make a night of it and order the inventive 5-course gastronomic menu. There’s also a good value lunch menu that includes two appetisers, a main and dessert. Take a tuk tuk from the centre. It’s on Phum Treng Khum, between the Temple Road/Charles de Gaulle and River Road. Open Wednesday to Monday, lunch and dinner. Book ahead and book a table downstairs to watch the chef at work or upstairs for more atmosphere.
Diagonally opposite Mie Café, in another lovingly refurbished traditional timber house with lamps made from woks illuminating the path after dark, Mahob Khmer opened not long after its neighbour and also remains one of the best Siem Reap Cambodian restaurants.
Owner-chef Seng Sothea, who also co-owns Palate on the Siem Reap River, offers a modern take on traditional Khmer cuisine. Sothea started his career at the age of 17 at the luxurious Sofitel and Meriden hotels in Siem Reap before moving to Dubai where he worked in most of the Grand Hyatt’s best restaurants, including its impressive Manhattan Grill, which is where he learnt to cook a perfect steak. The lok lak at Mahob Khmer, made with Australian beef, is the most tender, melt-in-your-mouth lok lak that you’ll sample in Siem Reap
Expect to find refined renditions of traditional dishes, such as the most delicious skewers marinated in kroeung, which here are served as a set of three (prawn, chicken and beef) served in individual bowls. This is also the place to taste Cambodian dishes that I don’t recommend you sample on the street, such as the local clams. Here they are done with tamarind and basil, but most importantly they are safe to eat.
Also recommended are the crispy frogs legs, and, if you’re adventurous, prahok (fermented fish) with vegetables. Guests I’ve sent here have also loved the caramelised pork shank. Strangely enough, they also offer ‘hot stone’ dishes and I can’t fathom why.
Chef Sothea also offers hands-on cooking lessons at his small organic farm and these are the best cooking classes we’ve done in Siem Reap. Open for lunch and dinner.
Chong Phov Khmer Restaurant
An up-styled version of the humble neighbourhood restaurants with charming decorative touches such as graters for lamp shades, this impressive newcomer, which opened in July 2016, is easily one of the best Siem Reap Cambodian restaurants for authentic local Cambodian food. There’s no air-conditioning, but there are plenty of ceiling fans, and one side of the restaurant is open to the elements, allowing a cooling breeze to waft through.
The menu is a manageable length compared to many local Cambodian restaurants, with around 7-8 choices in each category of appetiser, soup, roast/grill, main, and sides. If you really want to go local, order one of each. The prices are ridiculously cheap for the quality, from US$1.50-$10, with the average dish costing $3.75. Fortunately, there are no Western dishes on the menu, which shows that the chef is taking his Cambodian food seriously. The drinks list is short with a handful of beers and a couple of bottles of wine but don’tlet that deter you.
What you’re here for is the genuine Cambodian food. There’s a wonderful prahok k’tis, a super-tasty char kroeung with frog’s legs, a rich Saraman curry, and one of the most heavenly soups I’ve ever eaten in Cambodia, a samlor machou kroeung sachko (a spicy sour beef soup). There’s a reason why, or rather two.
Owner-chef Eng Im was executive chef at Malis, and prior to that cooked at Shinta Mani, before going out on his own. There is also another notable chef working alongside him in the compact kitchen. A cook for 15 years, Chef Eng’s aunt was a village cook, which meant she cooked at the pagoda and took charge of feasts for ceremonies, weddings and funerals, a respected position in Cambodia, and also worked at Banteay Srey Restaurant in Siem Reap for many years. It’s not on Trip Advisor, however, if you asked any well-to-do local what the best Cambodian restaurant in Siem Reap was, that would be the one they named.
It’s this combination of two culinary talents, from two very different experiences, that has resulted in such delicious food with an authenticity and depth of flavour that you won’t find on many restaurants listed on Trip Advisor.
Sala Lodges Road, Wat Damnak Village, Sangkat Salakamreuk, Siem Reap, 012 462 807 / 092 739 906
This sleek restaurant was opened in early 2014 by Lee Ing, the daughter of Chep Por, who started Siem Reap’s first noodle soup stall and restaurant after the Khmer Rouge were ran out of Siem Reap. The humble family-operated eatery has survived him, continuing to feed locals breakfast each day, while his daughter’s minimalist restaurant serves up Cambodian set menus to tourists nightly, along with a traditional Apsara show.
This is the most touristy of all the venues on this list, however, it’s easily the best of the Siem Reap Cambodian restaurants with an apsara show and everyone wants to see an apsara performance when they’re in Temple Town. If you prefer not to dine in a room full of tour groups and traveller couples, then head here for breakfast or lunch when locals eat here, including many of the players in Siem Reap’s tourism and hospitality industry. (Lee Ing’s hotelier husband is director of a hotel corporation).
The menu features Cambodian dishes presented elegantly in a European style, along with some Thai and Western dishes that are popular with the local clientele as much as the less adventurous tourists. We recommend sticking to the Cambodian dishes, which are delicious. The head chef worked at both Marum and the Sofitel and it shows. The spring rolls and green papaya salad are some of the freshest you’ll find in Siem Reap, while the beef lok lak and amok are favourites.
The apsara show starts at 7pm each evening, which is when you’ll be dining mostly with tourists, however, set in the most civilised surroundings of any of the dinner shows it’s actually a terrific opportunity to see an apsara performance. Take tuk tuk as it’s a little out of the way.
Tea Chamrat Street, off Wat Bo Road.
UPDATED: November 2016.