In the 1970s Cambodian refugees, who arrived at Camp Pendleton, began settling in Long Beach and quickly built a community base for themselves. By contrast, L.A.'s Cambodian population is relatively small. Chinatown has about 600 Cambodian residents, which was enough to convince Johnny Yee, who also owns a nearby donut shop, to open a Cambodian restaurant last October. As the first Cambodian restaurant in the City of L.A., the cuisine remains massively underrepresented on this side of the county, but with other under-appreciated Asian cuisines starting to get recognition (see: new-wave Filipino food), it's only a matter of time before Cambodian food gets its spotlight too.
While we wait, Yee's Golden Lake Eatery is a stellar entry way into one of Southeast Asia's culinary stars.
At first glance, Golden Lake Eatery doesn't seem different from the handful of Vietnamese restaurants that have occupied the Chinatown location for the past 20 years. The layout is the same as it has always been, except for a few more tables and chairs; and a counter where steam tables used to be. $2.50 rice paper and rice noodle snacks, that are ubiquitous to casual Vietnamese eateries, crowd the register stand. There's a paper menu with about half a dozen banh mi sandwiches that aren't called by their Cambodian name, nam pang.
While the sandwiches here are indiscernible from their Viet cousins, they are delicious and as good as the best places in the San Gabriel Valley. Priced at $3, they are cheap too. But the real specialties of the house are inside an album like menu with a thick cover and photos of almost all the dishes.