Phnom Penh Sandwich Station (Lebanon, NH)

A few years ago, my coworker Nick invited us to his house in Lebanon for a summer party, and in addition to coworkers, a lot of his neighbors were in attendance, and there was a pretty good spread of food. One thing that everyone was commenting on was that someone had brought two giants trays of food: one was fried spring rolls, and the other was beef skewers, and both were really good. Talking to Nick, he said that was his neighbor Sarin, who was a Hypertherm worker who did some catering on the side, and he was looking to start up a food truck.

Well, a few months later he pulled it off, and a “Phnom Penh Sandwich Station” food truck started showing up at different spots around the Upper Valley, usually at the Lebanon green around noon, and the Hanover green for the late evening crowd. The food was quite good, mostly involving either rice dished or banh mi sandwiches served up out of the truck, often as a lunch special with some minted tea. The service wasn’t always fast, but that was for a good reason: for the main dishes Sarin doesn’t cook anything ahead of time: order a pork sandwich, and the marinated pork goes onto the grill right as you order, and it takes a few minutes to cook. Well, people didn’t mind the wait, and business was brisk. Enough so that, last Fall, Phnom Penh Sandwich Station opened their brick-and-mortar location.

So now, at the little store at 1 High Street in Lebanon (at that awkward spot where Mechanic Street, High Street, and Mascoma Street all basically collide), they’ve opened up a modestly-sized take-out only joint, and even expanded their menu a bit (although rumor is, the food truck will be back around periodically now that the weather is nice). And it’s now a bit easier to order ahead. But mostly, it’s the same food as before, and it’s still all cooked to order (no pre-cooked entrees in steam tables here!), with most of the menu involving selecting a protein (garlic pork, curry chicken, lemongrass beef, teriyaki chicken, or tofu) and style of dish (banh mi-style sandwich, pad Thai, or served as a stir fry over jasmine or fried rice), as well as a handful of appetizers and even pho.

Starting off with the appetizers: I’ve always enjoyed Vietnamese-style fried spring rolls or the steamed, chilled summer rolls, and they’ve got Cambodian-inspired versions of both here, along with some pleasantly done deep-fried dumplings. For this trip, we got some vegetarian spring rolls and some dumplings. The former had a nicely done filling of carrot, lettuce, basil and rice noodles, cooked to a perfect crispiness and served up with a nicely-done sweet-and-sour fish sauce. The dumplings were similarly well prepared, but based on a nice spicy pork filling.

Moving on to the sandwich: I always enjoy a good banh mi, and, while the “Phnom Penh sandwich” is more banh mi-like than a true banh mi, it’s actually quite tasty, especially when done with their garlic-ginger pork. This is a great sandwich: a generous amount of very nicely seasoned and cooked-to-order meat, served up on a nice fluffy baguette-like roll with some mayo, pickled carrot, cilantro, cucumber, and sliced jalapeno. The result is a delicious sandwich, especially if you load it up with some of their nice house-made pepper sauce.

I’ve also had the same ginger-garlic pork as their fried-rice dish, and the result isn’t terribly fancy (I think the veggies in the fried rice come out of a can), but it is quite tasty: nice, tender chunks of pork paired with some rice that’s just starting to crisp from the frying.

Carol opted for the coconut shrimp over jasmine rice, and here, the star was the shrimp here: nicely marinated in coconut milk and pepper, these too are cooked to order on the grill, so you end up with some pretty meaty and well-seasoned, perfectly grilled shrimp (some of the better I’ve had in the area, in fact).

And, while I didn’t opt to get them on this visit, they’ve even got a nice dessert: Khmer crispy coconut cookies. These little desserts are made of a mix of rice flour, coconut, and black sesame seed cooked up on a cookie iron to delicious crispiness. It’s basically like eating an ice cream cone with subtle notes of coconut and sesame. These are just simply awesome.

So, overall, I love that Phnom Penh Sandwich Station has been a success, moving from a food truck to a building (although being take-out only, and not living nearby, always means driving to a nearby park to eat, or hunching over the counter by their window). The food is great, reasonably priced, and a fair bit different than the other offerings around here. There’s a reason I’m a regular.

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