Serving Sake to a Serb: Phnom Penh Noodle House

Lok Lac at Phnom Penh Noodle House.
Phnom Penh Noodle House (660 S. King Street) is one of the few restaurants in Seattle that serves Khmer (Cambodian) cuisine. It feels homey; owner Sam Ung is always back in the kitchen cooking family recipes passed down over several generations, while his daughters run operations on the front-end. They've been in business for more than 20 years and many of their loyal customers are Cambodian immigrants.

I was certain that my boyfriend Slavko would like Cambodian cuisine, given it shares characteristics with Thai and Vietnamese food, which he was already acquainted with. So I announced that it was time he try Cambodian food, and we headed to Phnom Penh.

"Yes, sir!" he exclaimed as soon as he saw that the menu contained detailed descriptions of the food along with photos. He expressed interest in the egg rolls and chicken wings, but was met with my withering stare. Even after several weeks of Asian gastronomy expeditions, Slavko still has a tendency to order very "safe" dishes: Pho at Vietnamese restaurants, Kung Pao chicken at Chinese ones. I wanted him to think outside the Panda Express takeout box.

He switched his order to Loc Lac, medium-well steak cubes marinated in garlic, black pepper, and whiskey, accompanied by white rice, sliced egg, tomato, and onions. It arrived on a pretty bed of lettuce.

Slavko's first impression: "It's just like teriyaki." He was used to marinated meat served with rice, albeit a corn syrup-induced sweet version of it. But as he continued eating, he remarked it tasted fresher and healthier than anything he'd ever ordered at a teriyaki joint. And the ingredients offered more variety. "It's an exotic version of teriyaki," he said, amending his original statement.

Bonus: Phnom Penh had silver utensils. "I have a fork to eat my steak with, just like at home," he said happily.

He polished off his food in less than 30 minutes. "I never knew this place existed in Chinatown," he remarked. "I can see myself coming back here."

He grinned. "The Serbian gives Cambodian food a thumbs up!" he said. Then, still hungry, he asked for an order of... egg rolls. Of course.

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