Had a out-of-towner in tow yesterday and we decided to sample Cambodian food for lunch. Most of the Cambodian restaurants in LB are on, or in close proximity to, Anaheim Street so once you make the leap, theres not much driving to worry about. I hadnt been to New Paradise for a while, so that was the pick.
It was about noon, on a Saturday, and the place was about half full. The parking lot was packed so we expected worse. New Paradise is like the other large Cambodian restaurants nearby: mostly round tables for big families. They also have some booths along a side wall. Full bar.
Id only ever been there for lunch during the week, so I didnt realize wed be treated to live entertainment, which happens every Friday night, and Saturday and Sunday during the day. According to the server, most Saturday nights are booked for weddings. And I suspect that the entertainers---one band and half a dozen singers, including a Cambodian Wayne Newton (well, hey, theres a Thai Elvis)---were partially there to audition for the several young couples we noticed. It was a little loud but pretty enjoyable, in an unexpected, dont-hear-this-often way. TV screens around the room played tapes of Apsara dancers.
We ordered Angkor beers (in cans, but the other options were Bud and Coors) and the fried bread we saw on everyone elses table. It was better than versions Id had in Chinese restaurants, fried hot enough to stay pillowy. Like a good, unsweetened, really fat churro.
For lunch we decided on Sour Fish Soup with Banana Blossoms, Beef Loc Lac, and Shrimp Fried Rice (my friend was worried that she wouldnt like the others, so we rounded it off with a safe bet).
The soup was delicious: tangy with citrus, the punch of some sliced chilis (looked like serranos, too small for birds eyes), loads of tender shredded banana flowers, and three or four small fish steaks, probably catfish. Both of us loved the broth and the banana flowers; the fish was really boney, so we just kind of picked at it. The loc lac (marinated and grilled beef) was served with slightly grilled onions and was the best version of this dish Ive had in a while. The shrimp in the fried rice was perfectly tasty, but the other dishes were so good that we could have stuck with steamed rice. Too full for desert. As for the beer: kind of lightish, sweetish lager, typical of hot countries. I dont remember what kind of beer I drank when I visited Cambodia, but it seemed tastier. Better to order some kind of fresh coconut/rum concoction.
The menu has good photos. Ive been on a hunt for good fish amok since traveling in-country and the photo in this menu (called fish curry, I think) looked unappealing. Fish amok is my holy grail, like our NYers' quest for a good pizza in LA.
I didnt pay the tab, but the prices are similar to Thai places around here, about $7 to $9 for an entrée (includes steamed rice). Most of the other patrons were eating soups with noodles. The little curio stand just near the entrance was hawking paintings of Angkor Wat, buddhas carved in boar tusk, and bottles of medicinal liquor with a cobra inside.
New Paradise Restaurant
1350 E Anaheim St, Long Beach