Cleveland Dining: Phnom Penh (UPDATED)

Phnom Penh Restaurant

13124 Lorain Ave
Cleveland, OH 44111
(216) 251-0210

1929 W 25th
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 357-2951

Web Site:

I happen to be a huge Asian food fan — be it Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Indonesian, Chinese or Korean, I’m immensely attracted to the firey chiles, the fresh herbs, the strange vegetables and the confluence and exotic spices and strange condiments used in these cuisines. And when I get to try dishes from this region that I normally don’t have access to where I live in the New York Metro area, I jump at the chance to do it.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been travelling back and forth to Cleveland — a city that for the most part I would classify as sorely lacking in decent food. Cleveland is a meat and potatoes town, a city where chain restaurants reign and are even test marketed. But there are definitely pockets of great ethnic food in Cleveland, and you have to know where to find it.

One fine example of this is Phnom Penh, which is a Cambodian restaurant with two locations in Cleveland. Cambodian food is something that I have absolutely no experience with, as we don’t have any restaurants that I know of that represent the cuisine in New York or New Jersey. The best way I could describe Cambodian is it has all the herbal notes and heavy reliance on fresh produce and the funkyness of Vietnamese, but with all the explosive chili fire of Thai. Like Thai, many of their dishes are curry-like and served over rice or rice noodles like the Vietnamese do. Like the Thai, they use tamarind, galangal, and kaffir lime. Like the Vietnamese, they use Star Anise as well as Cilantro/Coriander. What sets Cambodian apart from both of these cuisines is its signature Khmer spice paste, Kroeung, which is used in many of their native dishes and made up of a combination of Lemon grass, Kaffir lime, Galangal, Turmeric, Rhizome, Garlic, Shallots, and Dried Red Chillies

Phnom Penh’s Lorain Avenue location. The restaurant is very small and barely has enough space for 3 cars to park in front in its tiny lot, so you might have to park around the corner or across the street.

The Lorain Avenue branch is not much to look at. But that’s not what you’re here for.

Ready for some seriously spicy and exotic food in Cleveland? Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

I got to sit next to the fish tank.

A Vietnamese-style Bun Bo Hue soup, although this is one of the spiciest versions I have ever had. Really warmed me up after walking in from the 14-degree weather.

Phnom Penh Salad — Chicken, cabbage, onion, bean sprout, carrot, red basil, green paper and peanuts served with a special chili garlic sauce. Spicy!

Chha Kroeung Ma Rass Prowt, a Cambodian dish similar to a Thai curry. This was a Chicken, Beef and Shrimp combination, spiced with the all-important Kroeung, which makes the dish unbelievably spicy because it’s key component is a multicolored red/blue/purple “ornamental” bird chili. The sauce also contains coconut milk, Ma Rass Prowt (a special vegetable from Asia) and is Stir fried with onion, green pepper, red pepper and chunky chopped roasted peanuts. Ordered extra spicy. My face was on fire after eating this dish.

I came back to the restaurant the following night and had a Seafood with Rice soup. A simple Asian-style chicken broth with Surimi and Shrimp in it with green onions and flecks of lettuce.

Nating is a stir-fried ground pork dish seasoned with coconut milk, chiles and tamarind. It’s served over crispy rice squares. I loved this dish.

Bayon with beef. Bayon is a popular Cambodian spicy curry-like dish flavored with garlic, lemongrass, chiles and other exotic spices. The vegetables are yellow squash, green beans, Asian eggplant and snow peas. Again, ordered extra spicy, and it nearly blew my head off.

I returned again the following week and tried a spicy eggplant with shrimp and pork dish. This sort of reminded me of a Middle-eastern style eggplant salad, but with Southeast Asian spices.

Samlaw Machou Kreoung, a very spicy and sour stew with Beef, Lemongrass, Tamarind and Spinach. The Kreoung flavor is very pronounced in this one.

Chicken Curry Soup. Another blow your head off spicy dish.

Here’s Phnom Penh’s “Pad Thai” which my co-worker, Nino, asked me to bring him takeout. He was back at the hotel catching up on his emails.

Nino enjoying his Pad Thai. “Holy crap, that’s spicy!”

11 Responses to Cleveland Dining: Phnom Penh (UPDATED)

  1. Alex says:

    When I read this in my rss reader, I got excited to tell you about Cambodian Cuisine in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, just near BAM. I left NYC at the end of 2001, but I used to go there frequently. They had this one dish that sounds kind of odd but was one of the most delicious things I have ever had: chicken steamed until it has a pudding like consistency. I can’t remember the name of it. Sorry to report though that in the course of looking up the particulars for you, I discovered that it closed down some years back.

  2. NancyH says:

    Jason – let me know when you will be in town and we’ll be happy to show you some of the amazing food that Cleveland has to offer. Run to Carrie Cerino’s if you will be here before 2/10/08, because that is Chef Dominic Cerino’s last day at the restaurant (his Norcian Lentils w/Red Pepper Gaunciale will knock your socks off). Also, Bar Cento (across the street from the W.25th Street Phnom Penh) is excellent. For spicy, Superior Pho is simple and good and Siam Cafe offers a huge and tasty selection. Trust me – I’m an exiled New Yorker, and I’ve learned to love Cleveland’s diverse offerings. And hey – I owe you one for helping me eat New Orleans in 2005!

    Happy and Safe Travels – Nancy

  3. ruhlman says:

    thanks for this post, jason. this restaurant began in a little house on cleveland’s west side by a guy named mang keo who escaped the killing fields of cambodia and refugee camps as a boy and wound up in cleveland of all places, offering one thing everyone values, food, the food he knew. this is one of the ways kaffir and galangal winds up in a meat and potato city and we’re very lucky. thanks for calling attention to it.

  4. Young says:

    Love your blog… but since when was Korea anywhere remotely near Southeast Asia?

  5. Okay, East Asia… my bad. Thats a tough geography to memorize.

  6. […] Phnom Penh Restaurant 13124 Lorain Ave Cleveland, OH 44111 (216) 251-0210 1929 W 25th Cleveland, OH 44113 (216) 357-2951 Web Site: I happen to be a huge Asian food be it Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Indonesian, Chinese or Korean, Im immensely attracted to the firey chiles, the fresh herbs, the strange vegetables and the confluence and exotic spices and strange condiments used in these cuisines. And when I get to try dishes from this region that I normall source: Cleveland Dining: Phnom Penh […]

  7. Does Phnom Penh serve amok (or ah monk, or ah mawk), sometimes described as “curry fish mousse”?

    Cambodian Cuisine in Fort Greene, here in New York, didn’t serve it, and even if that restaurant does manage to re-open on the Upper East Side, I don’t expect that they’ll be expanding the menu. Maybe I should be looking into a road trip to Cleveland!

  8. =R= says:

    Thanks, Jason, for the post. Lunch at Phnom Penh last summer was one of the culinary highlights of my trip to Cleveland. We absolutely loved it. It’s one of the few Asian cuisines which isn’t well-represented here in Chicago, so I find myself craving it occasionally and having to settle for Vietnamese and Thai when the mood hits.

  9. Randi says:

    I have to agree with Ronnie. I was at the same lunch he was and it was amazing. Everything had so many wonderful flavors.

  10. […] I discussed in my earlier post about Cambodian food at Phnom Penh in Cleveland, I’m a freak for spicy and exotic stuff. A local buddy of mine suggested that […]

  11. robert cooke says:

    First turned on to Phnom Penh by ex Plain Dealer food critic John Long. His favorite meal, Kreoung Ma Rass Prout is my favorite as well. I have since intoduced Phnom Penh to many of my friends and it is now at the top of their list for southeast Asian food.

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