Phnom Penh’s history makes its restaurant scene incredibly interesting; decades of French colonial rule, millennia of Khmer royal culture, and the ongoing flux of modern influences have all created a culinary environment that’s every bit the equal of richer cities like Hong Kong or Singapore. As such you'll be able to find incredible noodles, drool-worthy French cuisine, and traditional Khmer dishes all in the same city.
Best Fine Dining (French): Topaz Restaurant
Topaz boasts a staff trained in Michelin-starred establishments, headed by a French chef whose ancestors served the Bourbon Kings. Its dining experience unfolds in an elegant dining hall filled with Baccarat crystal and Limoges dinnerware.
Yes, it’s expensive relative to other Phnom Penh restaurants, but you do get what you pay for—five-star takes on French classics like foie gras terrine and salade Niçoise with Mekong lobster; plus imported Sturia Oscietra caviar from Aquitaine.
Don’t miss their special “Les Étoiles du Topaz” dinners, if your visit to Phnom Penh coincides with one: Michelin-starred guest chefs create a whole custom menu for discriminating diners, served over one day only.
Best Fine Dining (Khmer): Malis
Generations of Khmer master chefs were almost wiped out by the genocidal Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Cambodian chef Luu Meng runs Malis specifically to show that the Khmer culinary tradition has some fight in it yet.
The white jasmine flower is called “Malis” in Khmer; you’ll find them blooming in the restaurant’s garden courtyard, a tranquil setting in which you can experience the full range of Khmer and Khmer-inspired food on offer.
Start with the traditional moringa soup, then proceed to more substantial mains like slow-roasted, lemongrass-infused hidden chreav duck and slow-grilled prahok-infused lake fish.
Despite the high-end appeal, Malis is surprisingly affordable, especially if you arrive for breakfast or lunch.
Best French Brasserie: Open Wine Restaurant
Open Wine started out as a French wine import business, until the owners decided to diversify into a brasserie-style restaurant. The menu balances authenticity and local sourcing, evident in its crispy frog legs and the crab ravioli enhanced with Kampot pepper.
The restaurant’s wine list perfectly complements the menu, with a solid selection hailing from France and New World wine-growing regions like Chile, California and Australia. Ask the waiter for a recommended wine to go with your order.
Open Wine’s location is just as big a draw as its wine list, as it’s set in an old villa near Phnom Penh’s Royal Palace and National Museum.
- Preah Ang Yukanthor Street, Phnom Penh, open-wine.com
Best Dining for a Cause: Friends the Restaurant
It’s a win-win proposition: experience Friends the Restaurant’s eclectic Khmer and pan-Asian menu in a breezy al-fresco environment, and your patronage helps pay for Phnom Penh students’ vocational education.
Located around the corner from the National Museum, Friends the Restaurant describes itself as “a training restaurant for marginalised youth”. The establishment is run by the Mith Samlanh NGO and affiliated with the TREE alliance of training restaurants; the chef herself is a Mith Samlanh beneficiary, and puts her training to good use producing Friends’ varied menu.
Order Khmer classics like grilled snapper with green mango, or try something more pan-Asian like their spicy seafood laksa. Many of their dishes are sized for sharing.
Best Khmer-Style Seafood: NESAT Seafood House
NESAT Seafood House’s look and feel conveys the seaside life: unvarnished wood finishes, decor consisting of an assortment of fishing gear, all in an al fresco setting. The menu stands out for its freshness and variety, with fish, crab, squid, lobster, mussels and more—all prepared in a rustic Khmer manner, or not at all.
Phnom Penh’s 80-mile distance from the sea is no issue: NESAT regularly ships the day’s fresh catch from the coastal province of Kep.
Top choices include white clams in a tamarind and basil sauce; inexpensive fresh oysters for US$3 per order of 10; and their “insane” sharing sets, like NESAT Madness (barbecued shrimps, squid, vegetable, crabs, white clams, tom yum soup and rice).
Best Tarantulas: Romdeng Restaurant
If the idea of eating fried tarantula off the street sounds like a no-go, might we suggest dining on the arachnids in an upscale setting? Romdeng set up shop in a French colonial villa, where diners can eat next to the villa’s pool and manicured gardens.
The menu curates an eclectic mix of Khmer home cooking, from the unique to the out-of-this-world. Kampot pepper crab, river fish with tamarind and mango salsa, and Muslim beef curry give some reassurance to less adventurous diners.
Daring eaters can try their selection of invertebrate-based dishes like tarantulas served with a black pepper lime dipping sauce, crunchy rice-paddy crickets, or beef fillet spiced with red tree ants.
Best Noodles: David’s Restaurant
The noodles and dumplings at David’s are all hand-made and created right in front of their patrons, in a show that enhances the dining experience. The proprietor himself works the dough into your dinner of choice—a spectacle that has made this humble “hole-in-the-wall” establishment a must-visit destination.
David’s compact selection includes shrimp dumplings, fried noodles with prawns, vegetable spring rolls, and Khmer chicken curry—ideally washed down with their giant bottles of 50-cent beer.
It’s all al-fresco, family friendly, and incredibly inexpensive to boot—expect to pay about US$8 to $10 per meal.
Best Vegan Cuisine: Vibe
Proudly 100 percent vegan, Vibe prides itself on serving GMO-free, ethically-sourced, and “clean” cuisine. Unlike other restaurants that offer vegan options on an otherwise meat-filled menu, Vibe uses absolutely no animal products.
Dig into your usual superfood suspects: pancakes made from gluten-free flour and garnished with chia seeds, bananas, mango compote, and maple syrup; a “ritual bowl” with GMO-free tempeh, organic quinoa, and steamed brown rice; and salads garnished with beetroot hummus and falafel.
Vibe’s spacious, airy interiors complement the menu: natural finishes like rattan and wood pair up with lush tropical plants at every corner. A plant-covered rooftop deck allows fresh air seekers a chance to dine al fresco.
Best Coffee: Feel Good Café
The coffee-making process at Feel Good will warm the coldest caffeine fiend's heart. The establishment sources its beans from small-holdings in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, then takes on the entire process on site: roasting, grinding, and brewing to exacting international standards.
The baristas at Feel Good can make your coffee exactly the way you want it, from flat whites to strong espressos. The menu perfectly pairs with the caffeinated items, from sugared butter buns to Phnom Penh’s best eggs Benedict.
The cafe’s expert staff also happen to be part-owners—Feel Good Cafe implements a profit-sharing scheme that allows its employees to benefit from the establishment’s success.
Best Craft Beer: Hops Craft Beer Garden
A 500-year-old German law governing beer purity is makes Hops Brewery’s product good enough to put a smile on the Holy Roman Emperor’s face. Using hops, wheat, and yeast imported from Germany, Hops’ brewmasters produce a consistent stream of excellent craft beers, from wheat beers to stouts to IPAs to lagers.
The beer is even used to cook some of the items on the Teutonic-inspired menu: they infuse their tom yum with lager, add wheat beer to the batter used for their fish and chips, and serve their Schweinshaxe with a gravy made from stout!
For a taste of Hops’ top hits, order a flight of four beers, arranged from light (lagers) to heavy (their full-bodied stout).