Mike's Burger House
Russian Boulevard, in the Sokimex gas station, Tuol Kork
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
An Inn and Out knock-off in the dark heart of Phnom Penh? Believe it. Cambodian owner "Mike" spent much of his adult life in Los Angeles and developed a taste for the indisputably tasty stylings of Inn and Out Burger in California. Upon returning home to Cambodia, he opened Mike's way out of town, on the way to the airport. Globalization is awesome sometimes.
The restaurant's been moved a little closer to the thick of things, into a Sokimex gas station on Russian Boulevard, but the basic concept - cheap, large unapologetically American cheeseburgers alongside a few other US stalwarts - is unchanged. And man, do my boyfriend and I appreciate it.
Sometimes a cheeseburger with fake cheese, fries, and no weird Asian interpretations of such is what our little expat hearts most desire in the world, and that is what Mike's delivers. Even better, we can actually afford it. Cheeseburgers start at $2.50, a plate of fries so big that me and my comically oversized boyfriend can't finish it is $3.99, and you can finish off with an A&W rootbeer float. Man, I'm almost tearing up over ground meat. There's also a counter of US candy, some US grocery products, and a few other random things on offer.
I find these the best, or at least the most intrinsically comforting burgers in Phnom Penh, for a couple of simple reasons.
1. Fake cheese. Most places serving burgers here use real cheese and that is totally off-point. Fake, melty cheese makes a good fast-food burger. So sue me
2. Real sesame buns. Not sure where Mike sources these wonderful things as I haven't seen them elsewhere in town, but they're good. Also, toasted.
3. Special sauce. I don't care if it's actually ketchup, mayo, and mustard with some pickle juice, or whatever, it is of vast and all-encompassing import.
4. Size. Burgers that are actually American-sized are a true rarity here. Actually, I'm pretty sure these burgers are bigger than Inn and Out's stuff. Also, thick, non-frozen beef patties are always nice, especially in The Country of Suspicious Cow Meat.
5. Plenty of crisp iceberg lettuce and, if you ask for them, grilled onions. Grilled onions always make a cheeseburger better. I can actually show you a scientific equation to prove this if you give me an hour notice.
If you're some kind of Hindu or something, you can get a chicken sandwich, though it is by no means any better for you than a cheeseburger. Cheese, chicken breast, special sauce, grilled onions, green grilled chili and lots of lettuce. Pretty good and simple.
It's pretty damn hard to take a sexy photo of a chili burger without some serious cosmetic alterations, but I tried. The chili burger is a very LA sort of thing (well, according to Californians) and this is a worthy effort, though I will and always shall be kind of a chili snob.
Excellent fries, the finishing touch. Some places have good burgers and distinctly mediocre fries, but you'll still eat there - fries are sort of the finishing touch. I think he hand-makes em', which is all the better. They're salty, crispy, and thin-cut, and Jesus Christ there are a lot of them.
It's a hike out here, which means the clientele is mostly expats, Cambodians with a taste for American food, and a whole bunch of missionaries post-church on Sundays. Sometimes crowded, but seats always open up fast, as is the way of fast food giants. There's even serve-your-own condiments. Man, be still my heart. I love you, Mike's Burger House.