Looking to stretch your dollar? Stephy Yen Thai finds a budget restaurant that gives a bang for her buck. Photography by Dylan Walker.

“I’m not going to have lunch, I’m going on a diet. I’ll just have a drink,” I tell my friends as we drop into a small restaurant near our office. However, as soon as the wonderful aroma of the food hits me, I start filling my table with piles of dishes. That’s my first memory of Relax Cafe.

Relax Cafe offers buffets for both breakfast and lunch with a daily rotation of 10 dishes on display. At US$2.50 for either the breakfast or lunch buffet, it’s definitely a bargain deal. Beside plain porridge with pickled cabbage and salted egg as side dishes, one of my favourite breakfast options is chicken porridge. The flavourful broth is even better with a pinch of pepper sprinkled over the surface.

The lunch buffet has a range of Khmer and Chinese dishes, so there’s no reason to hold back. I recommend the sweet and sour stir-fried pork, which has a pleasant taste with a distinctive coffee-coloured homemade sauce.

For dessert, I choose the chocolate ice cream sundae (US$1.50). The rich dark chocolate melts on my tongue, and the cold, smooth ice cream drives my taste buds wild—it’s addictive. The sundae is impossible to resist, no matter how stuffed I feel.

For those who don’t like the buffet offerings, there’s also a variety of Khmer, Chinese and Western dishes for about $3.50 each. A wide range of coffee and sodas are also on offer if you want to have something Western amid all these truly Asian delights.

With its simple decoration featuring floral pictures hanging on white walls, Relax Cafe might not be high on your list of luxury restaurants but it is a good choice for those who crave a serene ambience and space to unwind.

I prefer to sit on one of the sofas, in the comfort of air-conditioning where I can watch other diners through the glass wall. If you don’t mind being observed, you can choose one of the tables arranged in the middle of the restaurant, next to the buffet stands. This also means you have fewer steps to take towards your food.

The staff is warm and attentive, always ready to serve you whatever you need. Sometimes I feel a bit uncomfortable when they are so keen to serve me, because as it’s a buffet I want to grab as much food as I can myself. Don’t be surprised if you catch the manager or the waiters talking familiarly to the guests since most of them are regulars, coming to Relax every day.

As its name implies, Relax Cafe is a great place to relax and have a chat with friends, all the while loading up your plate and tasting as much as you possibly can.

Relax Cafe, Phnom Penh Centre, Sothearos Boulevard at the corner of Sihanouk Boulevard, Tel: 067 757 677. Open daily from 6am to 9pm. Breakfast buffet from 6:30am to 9:30am, lunch buffet from 11am to 1pm.