As the weather warms up, restaurants who keep their windows open wide maintain a serious advantage over their stuffier competitors. On a recent heated evening, this is how we stumbled upon the LES's Kampuchea, a crowded spot that riffs on Cambodian street food.
While hardly authentic, Chef Ratha Chau's menu is heavy in chili, lime, coconut, and lemongrass: sweet meets sour meets spicy all over your palate. Soups and noodles comprise most of the specialties; the phom peng soup is a massive bowl steaming with a light chicken & beef broth, infused with shrimp, fish, beef, shrimp, and sprouts. Soothing, but lacking kick, the soup is better for sharing alongside some of the house skewers which can be ordered a la carte with a side of the house pickles.
Refreshing starters like the watermelon salad with lime, cucumber, and onion is also recommended. Another dish of cold flat noodles, was doused – generously, but not too heavily – in a sweet and spicy sauce with hints of both pepper and coconut. The deal-sealer was the succulent shrimp topping the noodles, which, when eaten with the tiny bits of fried pork bell, were explosive in flavor.
The dining room is dimly lit and on a loud and busy corner, so expect to compete with street noise or the couple with whom you might share a table; seats are closer to one another than might be comfortable, but once you settle into your chair, that distraction is overridden by food. The house offers a handful of wines starting at $8 a glass, but better refreshment is found with the house cocktails, like the summer blackberry margarita.
Kampuchea is located at 78 Allen Street (at Rivington). 212-529-3901.