This past week on the edge of the West End, Dallas got a new restaurant specializing 100 percent in Cambodian food.
While we see different places incorporating Cambodian flavors or dishes into their menus while they focus on other Asian cuisines, Kamp Fire is a welcome addition to the scene.
I’ve been craving a good lort cha for five years. When I lived in the Philippines in 2014, I spent some time in Cambodia taking in the food, particularly this dish of short, thick and glutinous rice noodles with its fatty sauce of meat with mung bean sprouts and chives.
Lucky for me, and possibly the rest of us, it’s available at Kamp Fire, along with some other Cambodian dishes.
“I kind of connected with the Cambodian community in Dallas, and I was hearing what they’re talking about, which was, there’s no Cambodian food,” says Paul Try.
Try’s the managing partner behind the restaurant, where chef and owner Kevin Top controls the menu.
Both have parents from Cambodia who came to North Texas as refugees. As Try says, the families found each other and stayed connected. So even while Try ended up moving to California, when he later wanted a restaurant here, he called Top, who was working as a chef for the Dallas Cowboys at The Star in Frisco.
“For me, I come from fine dining, so it never occurred to me to start up a Cambodian restaurant,” Top says. “But he presented this space to me, and I kept thinking I was to do it.”
Kamp Fire sits just across the street from DART's West End transfer station. If there was any kind of concern about what that could mean for business, neither restaurant operator seemed worried. They see a location that’s metropolitan.
“This is a good spot. We’ve got foot traffic — downtown, the West End,” Try says. “I researched, and the West End is up and growing; this has potential.”
At the very least, you’re running in and out here. The restaurant is fast casual to the max, offering food in to-go containers with just one simple bar to sit, should you not want to take your food with you. (By the way, those containers are reusable for your own future leftovers, so don’t trash them.)
The “kamp fry” wings are flavorful and an easy approach for anyone familiar or not with Cambodian cooking ($9 for six). You’ll find lemongrass sausages and some decent fried rice, too. The tri-fold menu lists everything in detail to help you navigate through your choices.
The lort cha is recommended — even with the Beyond Meat option they have, but you can get it with beef, chicken, pork or tofu ($12). Try likes the Phnom Penh noodle soup: rice noodles in a pork-shrimp stock with pork, shrimp, cabbage and herbs ($14).
Top looks to amok, a (pricier) fish curry ($28).
“It’s the national dish from Cambodia, and normally it’s done with a cheap river fish, but we’re going with Pacific halibut, so it’s going to be much more elevated, a flakier, firmer fish. So I’m excited about that,” he says.
They’ll also get their pork from Chubby Dog Farm, part of their effort to keep things local.
“With the knowledge that I have and everything else, I couldn’t compromise the integrity of the food and cutting corners, doing anything outside of sourcing the best quality ingredients I can get,” Top says.
Most of the food is what I expected from my minimal experience living in Southeast Asia. I did mention to them that the bok la hong, a papaya salad, wasn’t nearly as spicy or fishy as I was expecting.
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“When my sister came and helped inspire us for the recipe, she said the same thing,” Try says. “I said, ‘Remember where we’re at, and remember where we’re starting.’”
And they’re starting with food they hope is more approachable in a tiny spot in the West End.
“It’s an opportunity to share my culture, my roots,” Top says. “To be able to open up our business, my own venture, my own platform with my roots, it’s tremendous.”
Kamp Fire, 460 N. Lamar St., Suite 200 (West End). 214-771-9984. Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday; closed Sunday.