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Unoriginal but cheap TexMex

The orange hot sauce is not for the faint of heart.
The orange hot sauce is not for the faint of heart. Eli Meixler

Unoriginal but cheap TexMex

Salsa Cabana offers no mindblowing innovations, but the food satisfies taco cravings

In a city where $6 for a burrito is becoming common, Salsa Cabana offers a cheap fix for frugal TexMex lovers. Located on Street 288, in the heart of expat territory, the new eatery offers a similar menu to Phnom Penh’s many other burrito and taco joints, but at lower-than-average prices.

It’s a no-frills sort of place – just one long room on the first floor of a shophouse with a bar at the front and two rows of tables. Decorations are minimal aside from a crayon-coloured mural of flowers at the back of the room.

The owner hails from Tokyo, according to the menu, where the original Salsa Cabana was established in 1995. A single Japanese chef, who doesn’t speak English, so it’s unclear if he is actually the owner or just the manager, mans the grill behind the bar where he fires up standard TexMex options.

It advertises itself as a “Latin Oriental Bar” but the Asian influence seems minimal. The “Cambodian deep-fried shrimp tacos” are no different from a shrimp taco from Baja. But did I mention it’s all cheap?

We decided to sample a bit of everything: the burrito platter ($4), the tacos platter ($4), chips and salsa ($3), the shrimp taco ($4), and taquillas ($4). While unremarkable, it was all tasty. What stood out most was the sour cream hot sauce – although it lacked strong flavour, it gave Northeast Thai curry a run for its money for spiciness. Only the tiniest drip is necessary – add more and your taco may require a pepper spray permit from the Ministry of Interior.

The drink menu is a nice fusion of East and West, with cocktails ranging from a simple mojito ($3) to daiquiris and margaritas ($3) made of limes, pineapples and mangoes. Like the rest of the menu, it is well-executed, if not a reinvention of the wheel.

The bottom line is that Salsa Cabana provides nothing Phnom Penh hasn’t already seen. But with a combination of low prices and reasonable quality, it could well become the TexMex eatery of choice for budget diners.

Salsa Cabana, #46 Street 288.

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