Southeast Asian cuisines are nothing new to the San Francisco culinary scene, but the city's focus is mostly on the food of Thailand and Vietnam. Nestled between the two countries, Cambodia's cuisine shares many of the same bold attributes. There's lots of spice, lots of comforting noodles, and plenty of sweet vs. sour clashes that make the palate go crazy with joy.
Yet, somehow, Angkor Borei still remains a relative secret, perhaps due to its secluded location. The restaurant has anchored its snug spot on Mission Street at the vague border of the Mission and Bernal Heights since 1987. The U.S. government didn't end travel restrictions to Cambodia until five years after the restaurant opened, so you literally couldn't get to Angkor Wat back then.
Angkor Borei's stand-out vegetarian fresh spinach leaves starter ($7.95) makes me want to catch the next flight out. It's not just a parade of crunch, powerful fragrances, and distinct flavor profile contrasts. It's a do-it-yourself party that makes dining fun and competitive since there tends to be a battle for the last of the addictive toasted coconut.
The possibilities seem endless as you glance over the small dishes filled with the toasted coconut, diced peanuts, chopped raw ginger, lime cubes, green chilies, red onions, and a sweet "chef's sauce" with vague heat and none of the cloying sugary character that mars so many dipping sauces for spring rolls. It's up to you to weigh the options and create your oversized raw spinach leaf wrapped creation. The fillings ratio and components change from diner to diner. However, some crunch from one of the nuts, a dab of the chef's sauce, and plenty of ginger are needed at the minimum per wrap.
The communal appetizer perfectly sets up an ensuing meal where -- fortunately for vegetarians -- there is a substantial veg menu all on its own. There are ample noodle and curry options, alongside the always interesting-sounding mock chicken and mock duck dishes. And don't leave without sticky rice with mango for dessert.
3471 Mission, 550-8417.