#17, Street 278
#17, Street 278
I realized recently that the restaurants I eat at the most here in Phnom Penh are rarely the ones I review. Something about incredible familiarity makes me less likely to go ahead and haul the camera with me and do the review - so I'm glad I finally got around to Happa, a great little Japanese/Khmer teppanyaki joint on backpacker-beloved street 278.
Happa's pork stir-fried with sesame.
The menu focuses on Japanese small plates, prepared in front of you on the restaurant's big iron griddle, which makes for some rather interesting visuals and assurance that you're getting pretty fresh food. There's sauteed small plates of meats and vegetables, main-course dishes with steak, pork, and lamb, salads and fried specialities, and even Japanese pizza or "okonamayaki," a cabbage and flour pancake topped with bacon and cheese.
The teriyaki chicken here is excellent, nice and tender and not too salty, with some dark meat bits thrown in, which I infinitely prefer. I like to eat this with the oyster mushrooms sauteed in butter.
I'm also a big fan of the fresh tofu salad, which has soft tofu, seaweed, sesame and lettuce tossed in a vinegary-heavy dressing. A nice light stomach-friendly meal. My only complaint with Happa is that the cooks sometimes take too heavy a hand with the salt-shaker, but the issue seems to have been weeded out in the last month or two.
Vegetarians will enjoy Happa's turn with tofu - seems like there's fifteen different tofu based dishes on the menu, all using soft local tofu. The tofu steak with basil and chili is a Khmer-accented take and is pretty excellent - not TOO soft - served with Happa's griddle-fried potatoes (my boyfriend is an addict) and some sauteed vegetables. As far as main courses go, the pork cutlet topped with cheese and mushrooms, served with potatoes and veggies, is also excellent at $6.00.
Grilled Japanese eggplant is on special here sometimes. I can't say I find it too different from Khmer style grilled eggplant, other than perhaps the slightly sweet, slightly vinegary sauce on top, but it's still a good and distinctly smoky dish.
There's also a couple pages of classic Khmer dishes near the back if you're interesting in mixing your East Asian with your Southeast Asian. If you get there in time, Happa often has sushi rolls and sashimi featuring the fish of the day—comfortingly for those inclined to distrust raw fish in a third-world nation, they often run out.
The friendly wood-accented dining area is a casual spot to drink a beer or a glass of wine while waiting for your food - no one is attempting to hustle you out of the restaurant here, and its quiet location makes it possible to have a decent conversation here while enjoying some cooler dry season weather.
Happa's owners also play fantastic music, which is a real asset in a land where restaurant music trends more towards the ear-gratingly horrible. I hear New Orleans tracks I don't encounter outside of the Crescent city at Happa, as well as excellent Delta blues, jazz, and soul music. Someone with excellent taste in American music is obviously in charge of the audio here.
My dad notes many of his Japanese coworkers are rabid blues and jazz fans - Japanese readers, can you back this up?