Loyola’s Upcoming Cambodian Restaurant Serves Food Fit for Royalty

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Reservations are now live via for the newly relocated Khmai, the Cambodian restaurant that earned accolades after two years in Rogers Park. Khmai 2.0 is sleeker and more upscale than the original, and with its new location along Sheridan Road near Loyola University, chef and owner Mona Sang has added a casual new sister spot in Kaun Khmai.

Before the restaurants’ debuts on Thursday, June 13 in Rogers Park, Sang previewed her restaurant to friends and media members earlier in the month. Those who attended witnessed firsthand just how far the restaurant has come since its founding in 2022. “This is a huge upgrade,” one diner audibly whispered to her companion.

The menu draws inspiration from Khmer royal cuisine, or mahob preah barom reacheaveang, a style developed in palace kitchens and one of three overarching culinary genres in Cambodia. It’s distinguished by the quality of ingredients and more elaborate cooking techniques — a style that’s evident in new menu options like the show-stopping trei chien chuyen, a whole fried red snapper that smacks of powerful umami, ginger, garlic, and fresh herbs.

Another addition, bangkea tuk ampil — large and juicy head-on shrimp marinated in Khmer spices, breaded, and slathered in spicy tamarind sauce with palm sugar and shrimp paste stars. Meanwhile, an old standby, kaw ko — a braised oxtail with bone marrow, galangal, star anise, and fragrant lemongrass, soothed. Sang offered a special preview menu for guests, with Khmai’s signature “dips” — in essence Khmai’s answer to crudités. The beloved egg rolls — filled with ground chicken, shallot, onion, garlic, and taro —were also available. The restaurant was still waiting for its liquor license, so a wine list wasn’t available.

A huge wall-size mural in an upscale dining room at Khmai.
A royal Khmer dancer watches over the dining room.
Naomi Waxman/Eater Chicago

The new space, the former Onward Chicago, is more striking than the original Khmai and includes a soaring arched ceiling and a stunning wall-size mural of a Khmer dancer. The ornate Regency-style gold and black tableware is a product of Sang’s Bridgerton fandom. Chopsticks, forks, knives, and spoons sat on the tables.

The reopening represents a pivotal moment in the saga of Khmai, which Sang originally conceived as a therapeutic project with her mother, Sarom Sieng, a survivor of the Cambodian genocide. Their endeavor rapidly grew and they soon accrued a customer base with church catering gigs before opening a permanent location on Howard Street near the Evanston border. A rare specialist in traditional Cambodian cuisine, it was a surprise smash hit that garnered a semifinalist nod from the James Beard Foundation. In 2022, Sang and Sieng were named co-winners of Eater Chicago’s Chefs of the Year award and Khmai was dubbed one of the 15 Best New Restaurants in America.

A plate of Cambodian fried rice topped with grapefruit.
Kaun Khmai will offer a meaty Cambodian fried rice.
Naomi Waxman/Eater Chicago

Behind the scenes, pressure on Sang and her team was mounting. Between a contentious dynamic with her former landlord and the structural limitations of the original location, she knew that a move was essential to the restaurant’s survival. Khmai closed in November 2023, and in the intervening months, Sang has slowly unfolded her plans to the public — including the pending debut of a relaxed second restaurant that would feature fruity cocktails and Khmer street food like skewers of grilled beef, chicken, and squid. A smash burger made with spicy, sour twa ko (Cambodian sausage) will also appear.

Both restaurants share the space on the ground floor of the Hampton Inn, but Khaun Khmai channels a more relaxed energy without reservations. There’s a large rectangular bar, large windows that fill the room with light, and colorful Cambodian artwork displayed on the walls and around the room. Sang will also launch the city’s only Cambodian brunch services at both restaurants alongside dinner and hopes to begin offering breakfast and lunch in August.

Khmai and Kaun Khmai, 6580 N. Sheridan Road, scheduled to open Thursday, June 13, reservations via OpenTable.

Khmai Fine Dining

2043 W. Howard Street, Chicago, IL 60645 312-626-7710 Visit Website

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