A solid Plan B in South Sac
Cambodia Restaurant6035 Stockton Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95824
Sometimes persistence pays off. On my third visit to the uncreatively named Cambodia Restaurant, I was able to convince the server to let me order the Khmer fish cakes ($5.95), after three attempts.
My first try was during an unplanned visit. On a weekday evening, I hit up three of my favorite Vietnamese spots—Co Do Deli, Quan Nem Ninh Hoa and Long Sandwich—and watched in dismay as they all snapped off their open signs. Disheartened, I headed north on Stockton Boulevard and saw that the stuccoed pink former home of Ocean King Seafood Restaurant was now Cambodia Restaurant. A sign declared “grand opening” as of early August.
I walked in and gratefully ordered the house specialty at my server’s recommendation, hu tieu Nam Vang, served “dry” without broth. Hu tieu is a noodle soup with many different varieties, and Nam Vang is the Vietnamese name for Phnom Penh. This variation on hu tieu is a bowl of pho-style rice noodles with ground pork, thin-sliced pork liver, and shrimp and squid. Bone-in pork broth is on the side. The noodles are satisfyingly oily, and the dominant flavors are fried garlic and fresh Chinese chives. Order a plate of the off-menu savory fried dough (quay) to dip into the broth.
When I tried to order the fish cakes, the restaurant was out of them—twice. Instead, my server recommended a substitute of the lemongrass beef stick ($5.99) which was gamy and gristly with no detectable lemongrass, but did have some crunchy-sweet pickled cabbage and carrots on the side.
A bowl of pho dac biet ($7.50) was too oily and one-note meaty. I left the bowl half-finished. Perhaps pho was not the best thing to order at a Cambodian restaurant, but the menu is a mix of Cambodian, Vietnamese, Chinese and even Thai dishes, so I gambled—and lost.
On the third visit I tried again to order the Khmer fish cake and was told no and that I wouldn’t like it. Nevertheless, I persisted and was finally successful. I don’t know who wouldn’t like a non-fishy, hot-fried fish cake colored and flavored with turmeric and redolent of lemongrass and chili, but I wouldn’t want to be friends with them.
I also tried the dac biet mi la cay trieu chau, another soup-on-the-side noodle dish ($8.95), this one with a juicy fried chicken wing tucked into the bowl. Again, fried garlic, chive and scallion dominated the palate, but that’s not a bad thing.
If you’re cruising Stockton Boulevard and every Vietnamese restaurant that claims that it closes at 8 p.m. shuts off its lights at 7:30 p.m., Cambodia Restaurant is a good plan B. Order the hu tieu nam vang and the fish cake appetizer from Cambodia Restaurant, even if you have to ask for the latter three times.