An authentic, cheap, and quick lunch option in the UV
When I first saw the exterior of Phnom Penh Sandwich Station, I was expecting rather average food. Several of my friends from school had tried their signature sandwich when the establishment was just a small food truck on the corner of the green in Hanover, and all I had heard were good comments. However, the outside of the restaurant didn’t seem to reflect these reviews. It didn’t have elegant signs or a picture perfect exterior patio seating as one would expect from a restaurant so highly raved about. Based on the small size of the restaurant, it seemed to me that maybe not a lot of people came through, but when I entered at 1PM - past peak hour - all the seats were already full. Luckily, the wait was short and we were seated within ten minutes. Seeing happy customers in the restaurant gave me some hope that this experience would be better than I expected.
After being seated, the only real negatives I could find with this restaurant were that we only got three waters for five people (which I can personally overlook since we are all friends and pretty good with sharing) and that we were never offered dessert. Beyond that, the food and speed of service were beyond what I expected. Although the size of the menu did not bother me personally since it was my first time , it was rather small and only had five or six main dishes. I could see if someone didn’t like any of their limited options, they would not want to come back. However, I thought that the menu nonetheless had a fairly wide range of options with soups, sandwiches, and noodle dishes.
What struck me as the most impressive service feat was the timing with which our food was presented to us. The timing was impeccable for me; it was a late lunch and upon arrival, I was already very hungry. My appetizer (chicken satay) was presented to me within five minutes of ordering. That speed concerned me at first, as I wondered if they had just stuck some chicken in a microwave, but upon inspecting, the bottom of the chicken was beautifully charred, and the chicken was visibly juicy and had color that could not be replicated from a microwave. The chicken was served with a peanut paste smeared artistically across the plate, whose taste I can only describe as fancy chunky peanut butter. That’s not to say that it wasn’t good; in fact, the pairing of the chicken and peanut spread was a very interesting mix of flavors that caught me off guard - in a good way.
Next, I shared two main dishes: a classic Phnom Penh sandwich with Ginger Garlic Pork and Pad Thai with Lemongrass Beef. The timing of the service was again, quite perfect. My appetizer was just starting to wear off as I grew hungry again when the waitress came with our main dishes. In addition, I noted that all five of our dishes came at the same time, which is an impressive feat for one single waitress. First, I tried the pad thai which was well proportioned in terms of noodles to meat as well as appropriately portioned for a hungry teenager. It didn’t have any bells and whistles to it, but nonetheless it was a good pad thai. The dish was still steaming when it was served to me, and the bottom of the beef had the distinct grill marks which made it very appetizing. In addition, the beef was incredibly tender, and it was able to be cut using just the side of a fork. In terms of the actual noodle itself, I do wish there was something more to it. It seemed like maybe the pad thai was on the menu as a “caesar salad” type of dish: something that people ordered if they wanted no surprises and didn’t want to take a risk.
What really blew me away about Phnom Penh was their signature sandwich. With the first bite, I didn’t appreciate the full range of flavors in the sandwich because I didn’t get much of the filling but as I got closer to the middle, I understood why this was so highly praised by people around the Upper Valley. The meat was once again very well cooked, but what really stood out for me was the sauce in the sandwich. It had a certain quality to it that I just can’t seem to put my finger on, but it perfectly coated the vegetables and tied together the entire sandwich very nicely. I’m one of those people who gets really annoyed when a sandwich has too much sauce and it starts oozing out onto your hands, but I was satisfied with the sauce proportion in the sandwich as it properly covered all of the filling, yet didn’t overwhelm me or make a mess. The bread was nicely toasted and offered just enough crunch to balance out the soft center, and the vegetables in the filling were fresh. But, the “wow factor” of the sandwich, and arguably the entire restaurant, was the sauce.
The last impression of the restaurant could have certainly been better as we wanted to order dessert but our waitress simply didn’t come back to take more orders and told us where to pay, although I’m certain it was in no way demeaning, but simply a mistake. She deserved a break after serving five hungry, animated teenagers who ordered a total of ten items. I was really looking forward to trying the sticky rice, but I’ll save that for the next time I visit Phnom Penh Sandwich Station. My check came out to be around $15, which is a fair price considering I also had an appetizer in addition to my main meal. I left the restaurant fairly happy and for sure satisfied with the amount and the quality of the food.
I would recommend Phnom Penh for anyone who enjoys a little bit more flavor in their food. They also have a children’s menu, and the atmosphere seemed very family friendly. It was an overall good experience, though there were moment of imperfection in the staff and the food. Don’t let the exterior fool you - Phnom Penh is one of those restaurants which many people may miss out because they are judging a book by its cover. I plan to go back again, as I think it is a good, affordable lunch place with a “wow factor” unique to itself.