On the southbound 710, as you drive toward the cranes and office towers that comprise Long Beach’s skyline, there's a freeway sign heralding the proximity of the city’s only designated ethnic neighborhood: Cambodia Town. If you take the Anaheim Street exit and head east, you’ll find a rare flurry of Khmer-owned bridal shops, jewelry stores, restaurants and temples.
But “Cambodia Town” is a bit of a misnomer as well — the area is so much more than just a cultural hub for the largest Cambodian population in the United States. In reality, the mile-long stretch of Anaheim Street (which is part of the Eastside Long Beach romanticized in ‘90s rap) is as diverse as Long Beach itself, reflected in a stockpile of restaurants that span from Southeast Asia to Mexico and back to the States. In the last few years, the variety has increased even more.
Today, eating your way through Cambodia Town means eating more than lok lak, amok trey and kuy teav (though of course that’s the coolest part). From west to east (plus two off the main drag), here are eight places to get a true taste of Cambodia Town.
Bringing the all-waffles-everything craze to Long Beach, Qrious Palate opened last August, taking over the home of a greasy rotisserie chicken and burger spot. With a renovated interior and new paint job, the place is still a cheap, counter-service eatery for the neighborhood but, instead of boring burgers on regular buns, the new menu has sandwiches, burgers and dinner plates that utilize the new owner’s house waffle recipe. If you’ve never had mash-ups like waffle bulgogi burger, a salmon-and-waffle platter with honey butter or a waffle-bound chicken sandwich with spicy maple syrup, this is the place to remedy that lack. 955 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; (562) 599-5088; qriouspalate.com
This sit-down Mexican restaurant has too-sweet red sauce and smelly oysters that would never fly in the rest of L.A. But in taco-truck-lacking Long Beach, El Sauz is able to redeem itself by running a late-night taqueria attached to its exterior. With a walk-up window facing the parking lot and plastic chairs splayed out for eating, you don’t even have to walk inside to take advantage of their $1.50 tacos and $1.50 mulitas. All the meat is good here — including asada, pastor, lengua, cabeza and buche — and each order comes with a roasted pepper and sweated grilled onions, plus a fiery salsa roja that can go head to head with the best in L.A. 1616 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; (562) 591-8060; elsauzrestaurantlb.com
Pinches Pizza has no idea what kind of pizzeria it wants to be, and that’s exactly why its existence in Cambodia Town is so great. Fake-brick wallpaper and framed overexposed photos of New York City make you think maybe they’re trying to compete with an East Coast slice. But you can't get an individual slice here, and the few old arcade games and chicken-wing specials scream classic Middle America pizzeria. Add in a freezer of bolis and ice cream tubs that attract the neighborhood Hispanic kids, and there is no telling what Pinches Pizza (no relation to L.A.'s Pinches Tacos chain) is trying to be. The pizza is not traditional in any way and is not emulating any style. It’s one created out of urban necessity, built for takeout or delivery; doughy and greasy in all the right ways. Personal pizzas start at less than $5, and the most popular topping is a specialty creation called Mexican Bandido, which comes with pepperoni, jalapeño, chorizo, beans and tomatoes. 1711 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; (562) 599-5246.
Even though Siem Reap is one of the few Cambodian restaurants that does delivery, most orders driven to doorsteps are for its Chinese and Thai dishes, which include pad Thai, chicken chop suey and more. Dine in instead to see tables full of the Khmer dishes for which the restaurant is known: things like citrusy deep-fried quail, bitter oxtail soup and amok trey, or fish curry served in a whole coconut. Named after the city that houses Angkor Wat, Cambodia’s most famous temple, Siem Reap represents the country’s cuisine well. It’s the perfect place to get acquainted with it all, from approachable Khmer-style beef skewers to the undeniably bizarre anchovy salad, made by combining olives, jalapeños, mini green eggplants and the fermented fish paste prohok. Still don’t like Cambodian food? There’s always mu shu pork. 1810 Anaheim St., Long Beach; (562) 591-7414; siemreapkhmercuisine.com
Hak Heang Restaurant
Cambodia Town has several places like Hak Heang, seafood restaurants that are more of a large event space than a typical eatery, built for catering weddings and special events rather than everyday customers looking for regular meal service. But finding a day that is not reserved for a private party is worth the effort. With live bands, karaoke, DJs or Cambodian pop music blaring during most of its operating hours (including brunch), the ambience is as loud as the flavors on the menu. Your server can't hear you through it all, so you’ll have to point to the Chinese, Thai and Khmer dishes you want to order for your family-style feast, including traditional noodle soups, bitter sadao salads, Hainan chicken, mee ka-thang (Khmer-style chow fun), fried frog legs and fresh lobster, crab and fish (which comes boiled and fried, tossed with jalapeños and more). 2041 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; (562) 434-0296.
There are a few Vietnamese restaurants on Anaheim Street, but Binh Duong is the best, if only for its comprehensiveness. Not one to rest on the laurels of bánh mì sandwiches or bowls of pho, it has a page-turner of a menu straight out of Little Saigon’s required-eating list: beef balls, shredded pork spring rolls and all sorts of carb-y noodle offerings. Its only weak spot was a bland pho broth, which didn’t really matter since Pho Hong Phat is just a few blocks away. Last year, though, Binh Duong’s new owners changed its name to Pho Bolsa and, thankfully, upgraded the recipe for its now-namesake soup. Most of the menu remains intact — barbecue beef steak, rice porridge, banh xeo, bún — and the same employees give you service that is quick and friendly. 2232 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; (562) 433-9964
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Phnom Penh Noodle Shack
Technically Cambodia Town extends only a block in either direction from Anaheim Street, but the legendary Phnom Penh Noodle Shack is close enough to count. Three blocks up Cherry and built into a former house, “the Shack” (as it’s informally known) is now run by second-generation owners and is the only place in the L.A. area specializing in kuy teav, or Cambodian noodle soup. As the Cambodian version of pho, kuy teav is mainly a breakfast dish where you get to pick your type of noodle (rice, egg or teardrop) and meat (veal, ground pork, beef balls, seafood and lots and lots of offal), and it comes either wet as a soup or dry with a bowl of porky bone broth on the side. Try the Chluy Bowl — quail eggs, tripe and pork rinds — and don’t forget an order of fry bread to soak up all the juice. 1644 Cherry Ave., Long Beach; (562) 433-0032; thenoodleshack.com
Crystal Thai & Cambodian Cuisine
Walking into this restaurant just off the main Cambodia Town strip is like walking into the owner’s own dining room. Here there is no dance floor or glittery disco ball or catering-company portions of food — just a few booths, a serving staff that’s all related to the Khmer grandma cooking in the kitchen and a television playing Cambodian karaoke videos on a loop. Don’t even bother with the menu’s Thai or Chinese dishes because there are more than 100 Khmer items — from salads to soups to the Cambodian version of balut — each made homestyle as if you’re back in Phnom Penh. A house favorite is the massive deep-fried catfish ($18), which you pick apart with your hands and shove into handmade herbal lettuce wraps with tamarind sauce. Cleanse the palate between bites with complimentary iced chrysanthemum tea. 1165 E. 10th St., Long Beach; (562) 591-7636