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In general, Cambodian restaurants in the Bay Area haven’t presented a convincing argument for why Cambodian food ought to rank up there with fellow, far more popular Southeast Asian cuisines. Few exist, and those that do typically offer huge menus with traditional Cambodian dishes buried under an onslaught of Thai basics and generic stir-fries. That’s what makes Nyum Bai a game-changer — not just in Oakland, but on a national level. At dinner, the menu only offers traditional Cambodian dishes, which prominently feature the twin pillars of Cambodian flavor: a fermented fish paste known as prahok and kroeung, a spice paste consisting of lemongrass, shallots, galangal, makrut lime leaves, and fresh turmeric. The curries are consistently excellent, but chef-owner Nite Yun prepares noodle dishes, fried chicken, and grilled meats very well, too.

— Janelle Bitker

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