A legion of chefs, food adventurers, restauranteurs, and wine-buffs have made their home in Siem Reap, bringing with them the flavours of their country, whether they’re Khmer, French, Italian, American or Belgian.
We’re going to start with burgers, because we’ve seen internet wars break out over which are the best in town. Burger Gourmand on Sok San Road is what happens when the French get their hands on something as simple as a meat sandwich. Using homemade buns, they make them with beef, as you’d expect, but they also make them with duck, and lamb, and chicken, and pork, and for a rather unbeatable flourish, with foie gras. You can’t top that… unless, of course, you’re adding the caramelised shallots. Their French fries are top notch too.
West-East Burger & Pizza now has two locations in town with everything handmade on site, from the chargrilled burger patty to the buns to the highly addictive sauce. Culinary globetrotters they be, making their burgers with all manner of meats – beef, chicken, fish, crocodile and Peking Duck – and starting from just $4.
Another practitioner of the pure art of the burger is Jungle Burger on the other side of the river. This is a great little sports bar that also serves up some of the most competitive burgers in town. Their aptly-named Burg Khalifa is an feast for even the most famished of eaters, and the rest aren’t for the delicate either. The menu also mixes in Khmer classics, salads, pizzas, sandwiches, and this is one of the few places in town where you can pick up a pie. And pork scratchings. Should have mentioned those before…
Abacus Garden Restaurant on the road to the airport is also frequently touted for having the best burger in Siem Reap, an incredibly good value $10 sandwich of beef and magic, but they’re better known for their carefully thought-out set of French classics, sometimes with a little local twist. It is the grand dame of Siem Reap French fine dining, but she’s still sexy as hell, either inside with air-con or on the garden terrace.
If you’re looking for some musical entertainment while you eat, roll over to the Hard Rock Café on the King’s Road Angkor to sample their much-loved combo of live rock covers and tasty American fare, including their Original Legendary burger. And speaking of global restaurant chains, KFC have a finger lickin’ good franchise for fried chicken fanatics on Sivatha Blvd.
The new kid on the French block is The Village Café, which has a 1930’s jazz club feel but with modern stylings. The sophisticated dinner menu lends itself to smart, well-oiled, nights out with good friends, and the kind of dates you’ll still want to speak to tomorrow.
L’Annexe on Sok San Road is a garden restaurant with gloriously informal elegance. This is fine dining, sure, but it’s not remotely intimidating. It’s a bit like discovering your posh new boyfriend’s mum has a tattoo; a classy one mind.
At the Victoria Angkor Resort & Spa, the restaurant Le Connoisseur serves up traditional French cuisine with a grand view looking out on the Royal Gardens. A five-star feast is also available at Circle, the new restaurant of the recently renovated Belmond La Résidence d’Angkor hotel on Achar Sva St. Gorge on stunning Khmer dishes via their all-you-can-eat hawker-style buffet, with free-flowing beer, wine and soft drinks.
Olive, Cuisine de Saison is a French Mediterranean restaurant that serves up a fresh, seasonal menu with flavours from the south that often have a lighter touch. This is where you’ll find a melted Gorgonzola salad with watermelon, thyme and orange supreme, or a fine-crust tomato that comes with French basil and pesto, or perhaps a roasted Cornish game hen with tarragon and baby thyme potatoes.
Blue Pumpkin started out as a family business in Siem Reap, but has since sprouted numerous outlets across town and further afield. It can’t decide if it’s a French bakery, a patisserie, a restaurant, or an ice cream parlour, so its all of them, with signature white sofa beds to recline and dine on.
La Creperie Bretonne on The Lane has a huge menu of galettes and crepes, celebrating the French region of Brittany’s most famous treat in sweet and savoury form.
Belgium gets a look in as well in Siem Reap with Le Bel Air, tucked down near the end of Street 26. This place is more than worth the journey – it is, after all, only five minutes from Pub Street – not just for the collection of 31 (yes 31!) Belgian beers, but also their menu of Beligan food including Liège Meatballs with Belgian fries (they invented them apparently), homemade Flemish stew cooked with Leffe beer, and the pièce de résistance, snail and truffle ravioli.
A short trip south out of town takes you to another Francophonic establishment, Georges Rhumerie, which showcases the exotic flavours of Reunion Island, home of the eponymous owner. All mains, such as the divine rougaille saucisse and boeuf gingembre, come with free samples of George’s homemade chutneys, chili pastes and jams.
Meanwhile, the Italians are also ably accounted for at Il Forno just off Pub Street, which dishes up fresh, homemade pasta, wood-fired pizzas, cold cuts, mains, cheeseboards, and weekly-changing specials. This place aims to charm and will leave you yearning for more; so like an Italian.
Celebrating the most famous Italian export of all, The Pizza Company, on Street Pokambor, brings you a huge selection of American-style pizzas, with the possibility of choosing your base. You also have a choice of pastas, salads, appetisers and fresh drinks.
In the same building you’ll find BBQ Chicken, a Korean chain offering, you’ve guessed it, chicken in a glorious variety of shapes and styles. The menu also includes Korean specials plus pastas, pizzas, burgers and much more.
Over to the Indian subcontinent now for some mouth-watering, hunger-busting meals. The Indian and Vannakan are next door to each other on Thnou St., both offering traditional Indian cuisine brilliantly priced and magically spiced (sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves). We’re especially huge fans of the gigantic garlic nans that will keep any cold at bay for about a year.
Down on Sivatha Boulevard, Curry Walla is one of Siem Reap’s longest-running and most popular Indian restaurants. Also on Sivatha, the Maharajah offers some of the most generously portioned curries in town.
Royal Indian, on Street 9, is a most recent acquisition of Siem Reap, with their Chennai-born chef banging out the best from Northern and Southern Indian cuisines such as butter chicken, musthafa chicken, and mutton madras.
Diners with a conscience have a range of options in Siem Reap, and unlike the 70s, just because it’s virtuous, that doesn’t mean it has to taste like straw bedding. The original was Sala Baï, a hospitality training school that has helped more than 1,200 disadvantaged young Cambodians find their way to new skills and new lives. And we’ve seen evidence that it really works. Their restaurant, near Wat Svay on the way to Chong Kneas, serves up twice-weekly changing set menus and à la carte dishes that wouldn’t look amiss in a smart restaurant in any destination.
Haven moved to a new property just five minutes out of town, but nothing else has changed in this place that trains 12-15 students a year. Their menu of Khmer, international and Swiss food draws rave reviews, and every single one of them is well earned from a garden restaurant with a whole lot of heart.
Nearby is Spoons, another social enterprise investing funds in the training of underprivileged locals, with a scrumptious selection of Khmer street food and home cooking favourites.
Heading north a few blocks, on Street 25 is Butterflies Garden Restaurant, set in a stunning traditional wooden house. With 20% of profits given to staff and 10% donated annually to local charities, you can treat yourself with some excellent Asian dishes such as fried crab with Kampot pepper and grilled red tilapia fish with salt, or some Western mains like steak and chips. Try to spot some butterflies in the garden too.
Going further north along Wat Bo Road, away from the city, Marum also has a smart garden and beautiful wooden villa from which to serve the inspired creations cooked up in the open-plan kitchen. This is Khmer fusion tapas, which sounds complicated but is delicious, and allows you to size your meal according to how hungry you are.
Back in town, Common Grounds is a social enterprise in the emerging hip district, Kandal Village. It attracts a regular crowd who come not just for the (blessed, blessed) air-con but also for the American diner-style menu, including burgers, an awe-inspiring grilled cheese sandwich with Swiss cheese, cured ham, basil and Dijon mustard, cheesesteak and plenty more. Their baked goods also disappear fast each morning.
The Purple Mangosteen, is right in the thick of it on Alley West, with a menu catering to those curious about Khmer cuisine, as well as some international staples, that can be enjoyed with city views from their exceptional rooftop terrace.
If you’re looking for a healthier approach to life, you should head to Artillery, whose menu of light (and some hearty) meals is designed to appease vegetarians, vegans, celiacs, paleo dieters, as well as absolutely none of the above, with delicious flavours that seriously fill you up. The open courtyard and light, breezy interior perfect the mood here.
The King’s Road Angkor Village complex is home to a range of bars, restaurants, and galleries. Here you’ll find Embassy, a restaurant with bold splashes of colour and a bolder approach to Khmer flavours. The chefs here, the famed Two Kimsans, create inspired Khmer fusion set menus. So seize the opportunity to enjoy Cambodian food in a fashionable setting. Nearby The Grey also lets you experience Khmer gastronomy with their traditional “Phnom Pleung” (fire mountain) grill-it-yourself BBQs.
And of course, you can’t do all that without something sweet at the end. Gelato Lab is owned by an Italian chef who has turned the art of gelato into a science, minutely breaking down all of his recipes in order to create flavours that are simply mind-blowing. The chocolate sorbet will rock your world.
More wondrous frozen creations can be found at the five streets stalls of TinTin Fried Ice Cream Rolls, which chop, carve and roll up your desserts in front of your very eyes. Don’t miss the exhilarating Dragon’s Breath cookies and biscuits doused in liquid nitrogen.
Behind Central Market, Bloom Café sits quietly on a corner inspiring the kinds of passions that would make demure souls blush. With a huge assortment of divinely-flavoured, colourfully presented cupcakes (including gluten-free) – the only difficulty you’re going to face is which meal to skip so you can have another one. To hell with it, you’re on holiday!