>> Naga Cafe Khmer Street Food | Eat the World Los Angeles

Friday 17 September 2021

Naga Cafe Khmer Street Food


COVID-19 UPDATE: The dining room is open although most customers get pickup or takeout.

Walking into one of Cambodia Town's newest eateries, you see photos of what gets to the essence of Cambodia's image quickly. Along with the iconic Angkor Wat, a city scene, and traditional dance, another photo shows a street vendor grilling skewers of chicken. These photos are hung above about half of the small restaurant's seating; a long, communal table that seems sadly out of place in 2021 but hopefully sees more glory days very soon.

Alas, for now most customers are coming in from nearby businesses and homes during the lunch hour to grab their meals to go. But sitting down here is enjoyable, watching the rhythms of the restaurant, the limes being squeezed for their fresh lime soda or coffee grinding for a cappuccino.

Since "street food" is in the name, it makes sense to choose those foods you will find cooked and put together on the curb in Cambodia's cities. But then again, almost all food is street food in Southeast Asia, as many restaurants have kitchens in front with bowls of noodles put together in front of everyone, attracting more customers.

In addition to the regular menu, a chalkboard off to the side lists some "off the menu" items like spring rolls and Naga wings, the latter of which has hand-drawn fire emojis before and after. The place is small, probably family-run, and can get a little discombobulated at its busiest lunch hours, but come mid-afternoon or in the evening and you might have to look for someone behind the counter.

Start with one of their fresh num pang, Cambodia's rival to the more well-known banh mi. You will often find these made with a more round roll, but here at Naga they also use the longer French-style baguette like their neighbors. It is toasted a bit over fire and is just as nice as some of the top banh mi spots.

Called "Khmer sandwiches" on their menu, the BBQ pork ($7, above and below) takes those skewers from the photo and puts them between bread. You can also get the beef or chicken, but the sweetness of this pork marinade might pair the best with the stack of fresh and pickled vegetables and slice of jalapeรฑo.

When in the mood for beef, save that order for the beef skewers rice plate ($10, below). A scoop of rice serves as the perfect pair to the trio of slightly charred skewers. A cup of pickled green papaya and carrots also comes with this and can help to cut through richness if desired.

These three same meats are available on the rice plates, or you can go for grilled prawns, which looked quite tasty on someone else's tray on a recent visit. Naga Cafe also makes a shrimp fried rice if you are in the mood.

First and second on the menu and obviously worth your time are bowls suited for some of the cooler recent weather but delicious any day of the year. Noodle soups are fawned over during the winter months in Los Angeles, but Cambodia never really cools down, making noodle enjoyment a year-round activity.

The base of the soup is the same for all options, but once again you have the choice of many meats in your bowl. The house special Phnom Penh noodle ($11, below) is attractive for its variety, a combination of sliced and ground pork, liver, pork meatballs, chicken, crispy duck, and shrimp. Pretty much a taste of everything in the bowl.

House special Phnom Penh noodle

The bowl is simple and comforting as it should be, and topped with plenty of fried garlic. Squeeze in fresh lime and add the pickled hot peppers as desired (all of them, please!). Everything is fresh and satisfying, especially at the price point and indeed leads to a very full belly.

The restaurant does not open until 11:00 each day, but you can get rice porridges typically eaten for breakfast at any time. Once again the house special version is the most alluring; the house rice porridge ($9, below) has pork blood, pork belly, liver, and shrimp.

House rice porridge

Fried garlic once again plays a big roll in each bite, and lime juice and pickled peppers are begging to be added as well. The only thing missing is a fresh piece of cha kway to eat it with.

A bit over two years old now, Naga Cafe is a really pleasant addition to the food scene in Long Beach, making quick and tasty Cambodian takeout available for those without the time for a full sit down meal.

๐Ÿ“ 3225 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Signal Hill, The Harbor


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