6703 Lowell Ave., McLean 893-6077 Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. Prices: $3.95 to $8.50. Cards: None accepted. No nonsmoking section.
The small storefront just off Old Dominion Drive used to be an ice cream parlor and sandwich shop. Because the new Cambodian owners have continued to make ice cream, former customers still drop in for a double dip.
But if that's all they're eating, they're missing the real treat -- the wonderful Thai and Cambodian specialties.
The decor reflects the unlikely hybrid of an ice cream parlor and a Southeast Asian restaurant. Bright red and white checked tablecloths and Tiffany-style lampshades mingle with thatched roofs, bamboo fans and watercolors of the Cambodian coast and countryside painted by the owners' brother-in-law.
While Thai food has become fairly common in the Washington area, Cambodian restaurants are few and far between.
The Thai-Cambodian combination, however, is a logical one because the cuisines of these neighboring countries share many of the same herbs and seasonings -- lemon grass, tamarind, fresh coriander, fish sauce and hot peppers.
A difference worth noting is that "hot" Thai food can be scorching, while Cambodian "hot" only warms a bit.
The compact menu appears short, yet when you total up the chicken, beef, pork and seafood variations, there are more than 50 dishes. With a few exceptions, most are delightful.
They are also delightfully affordable, with most entrees priced from $6 to $8. Fewer than half of the dishes are listed as spicy, although adjustments either way can be made on most selections.
Most of the appetizers come in small and large portions. Even the small portions -- for example, the six spring rolls for $3.95 -- are enough for two or three people.
For a group of three to five, the owner-manager will put together a bargain-priced combination plate of appetizers, such as the crispy spring rolls stuffed with a tasty mixture of shrimp, pork and vegetables, a savory boned chicken wing stuffed with a similar filling, and delectable fresh fish cakes, thin, dense and freckled with green onion.
The brochettes of pork served over rice noodles were also good. There was a hint of sweetness to the grilled flavor of the meat.
All of the above are served with a delicate fish sauce dip as well as leaf lettuce, cucumber slices, bean sprouts and fresh herbs (usually mint or coriander).
Another appetizer, a refreshing Cambodian meat salad, plear ko, includes thinly sliced beef (cooked to your specifications) tossed with lime juice, crushed peanuts, celery, sweet red peppers, onions, bean sprouts and fresh herbs.
A warning, however, about the strong and unusual taste of an innocent-looking herb with a smooth heart-shaped leaf that, I was told by our waiter, grows near mint but has a very different taste.
The name of the herb apparently doesn't translate easily into English, nor is it widely available in this area, which may explain why it was used sparingly in this salad.
The only other acquired taste that I encountered was the duck soup with preserved lime. Although initially quite pleasing, the salty lime flavor soon became overwhelming and, at least for me, not very agreeable.
The other meal-in-a-bowl soups I tried were delicious -- two flavorful and mildly seasoned noodle soups (usually eaten for breakfast in Cambodia).
One with thin-sliced beef came in a bowl of steaming, coriander-scented broth flecked with toasted garlic. The other, Phnom Penh, had a pork-based broth with slices of tender meat both flat and curled for greater visual interest.
These soups come with fine rice noodles, but thicker noodles are available on request.
Equally appealing are two other Cambodian soups made tangy with a touch of tamarind. I enjoyed the gently pungent som law machu with tender pieces of chicken and the surprisingly likable pairing of fresh tomatoes and chunks of canned pineapple.
The som law machu kroeung with sliced beef, chopped peanuts and celery packed a spicy wallop.
Although the soups were my favorites, there were also satisfying choices among the main courses.
The best was the fried flounder topped with a spicy mixture of diced sweet red and green peppers, onions and fresh coriander leaves.
The stir-fried beef with sweet red and green peppers was pleasing, but less exciting. Ditto for the roasted pork.
The restaurant staff consists of three family members -- Sambo Teng and his sister Phalla, who graciously handle the dining room, and another sister, Kim, who is responsible for the delicious food.
Even though the room is small, their warmth and affability might be tested should all 34 seats fill up at once.
The owners have applied for a liquor license, but in the meantime they are offering a selection of nonalcoholic beers in addition to soft drinks, fruit drinks, tea and iced coffee.
For dessert, of course, there is homemade ice cream in a variety of flavors, but this is not the restaurant's strongest suit.
First-time diners at Angkor Wat face a delicious dilemma -- whether to load up on appetizers in combination with a soup, share a soup with a couple of entrees, or to split portions of all three.
I have no easy solution short of making many return visits.