A new Mexican restaurant serving up dishes you might find in California’s Bay Area opened in February. Matt Surrusco and photographer Enric Català sample the simple, satisfying, spicy menu of tacos, nachos, burritos and quesadillas at Bay Area Tacos.

Growing up in California’s Bay Area, Long Chean says Mexican cuisine is a taste he came to know well. He used to eat at the same Mexican spot about four times a week throughout school. “I always got tacos and the all-beef burrito,” he says of the restaurant.

The 41-year-old was born in Battambang province, moved to the US when he was four-years-old and returned to Cambodia in 2005. But he says he couldn’t find anything in his homeland like the simple, handheld Mexican food he was raised on in San Jose.

So, after owning a cafe from 2006 to 2008, he opened Bay Area Tacos in Phnom Penh in mid-February to cook the kind of Mexican food he likes.

We tasted a number of Mexican classics that were fresh, flavourful and filling.

To start, the nachos ($3) were top-notch, thanks to the handmade, toasted tortilla chips made in Cambodia, which Long warms on the grill before coating each layer with nacho cheese, homemade pico de gallo and slices of jalapenos. For three or four people to share, order the nachos grande ($10), which includes more of the same, plus your choice of beef or pork.

My favourite dish was the breakfast burrito ($5), comprising three scrambled eggs, seasoned breakfast sausage and streaky bacon wrapped tightly in a tortilla and served all day with homemade salsa and pico de gallo on the side.

A basket of hot sauces, including Sriracha, Tapatio, Tabasco and locally made Battambang Blaze, leaves options to spice up your food. The breakfast burrito pairs well with Battambang Blaze, a spicy ketchup-like sauce made with locally sourced chilies and somewhere between Sriracha and the milder Tapatio on the spiciness scale.

Next, the beef quesadilla ($6) employs ground Australian flank steak and a mix of mozzarella and cheddar cheese and pico de gallo.

Some bites of the beef were a bit chewy, but the cheese and tortilla toasted on the grill and addition of the delicious salsa made the quesadilla tasty overall. You can also substitute beef for pork or stick with cheese for $4.

Last but certainly not least, diners can choose from pork or carne asada tacos ($2), which were pleasantly not overloaded with either marinated pork belly or flank steak. Each taco is topped with a bit of coriander and diced onions and served with a lime wedge in classic Mexican street food fashion.

For a light meal, I would recommend at least one of each, especially if you go on Friday when you can close out the workweek with $1 tacos. Every other day, the restaurant offers a $5 lunch special of three tacos and a drink from 11am to 2pm.

The only downside of Bay Area Tacos is its minimal space, with just 10 seats. But the tasty comfort food, homemade salsa and pico de gallo, and $3 frozen margaritas makes up for the fact you may have to wait for a table.

4D Street 450, Phnom Penh.
Tel: 090 595 500.
Open daily, from 10am to 10pm.