‘Twas a time not long ago when if you wanted to sample the ancient subtleties of Khmer cuisine (outside of a home kitchen), you had two opportunities—Cambodian New Year in April, or Ancestor’s Day in September, when local Buddhist temples throw public ceremonies during which huge varieties of food are offered to departed souls—and then eaten by those still around.
That was until recently, when Angkor Restaurant opened in west suburban Lombard, offering a number of Thai and Vietnamese standards primarily, plus the increasingly ubiquitous Asian-Cajun butter-drenched seafood by the pound, but also a handful of classic Khmer dishes that you’re not going to find anywhere else.
The dish of note here is machew krueng, a big beefy soup with banana peppers, thick-cut green papaya batons, straw mushrooms, and ribeye, fragrant with lemongrass and galangal, lightly soured with tamarind, and boosted with an umamic dose of prahok, the pungent fermented fish paste that’s key to Khmer food. (More traditional versions will be a bit more gutsy, incorporating lung or tripe.) You can get a coconut milk-doused version too (machew kthieh). Both are subtle and tasty but not assertive in the manner of tom yam or tom kha, both of which are on the menu.
There are also two variants of rice noodle curry, in green or red varieties (the red wasn’t available on my visit). Noum bink chuk brahauh is a huge bowl loaded with long noodles steeped in a thin, mild, milky curry that will occupy a tremendous amount of digestive real estate. The other Khmer standout on the menu is the “Angkor curry,” two oxtail vertebrae with potatoes swimming in a subtle curry, with a side of rice and, oddly, asparagus. You can slurp the tender braised meat right off the bones, leaving you with a good amount of the savory curry to occupy your rice. There are a few other noodle dishes here and there, including kathiew Phnom Penh, a noodle soup with sliced pork tenderloin, beef meatballs, and ground pork, and kathiew cha, a dry noodle stir-fry with long flat noodles, not unlike pad see ew.
It’s a modest representation of true Khmer food, relative to the other southeast Asian cuisines on the menu, but it’s a good start.
Angkor Restaurant, 52 W. Roosevelt Rd., Lombard, 630-576-2000