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Queen’s Deli, located in the heart of Seattle’s Cambodian community, is an absolute gem of a place, perfect for exploring Khmer cuisine.

We started the ball rolling at the takeout counter, choosing from a decent selection of hot soups, fried fish, egg rolls, stuffed banana leaves and spicy chicken wings, and nom pang — Cambodian’s version of the popular Vietnamese banh mi.

In no time, our table was filled with sweet and savory offerings that surprised us with their exotic flavor combinations and their low prices.

The sit-down menu includes descriptions of the dishes. But since most of the deli’s customers are Cambodian, none of the takeout items were labeled. Seeing our confusion, a helpful customer stepped up to help us navigate the steam table, and showed us how the dishes are eaten.

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The flavorful food, the friendly service (and customers) and the 1980s prices guarantee a repeat visit.

The menu: Appetizers include pork egg rolls served with “teuk trei,” a sweet fish sauce with crushed peanuts (three for $6), ham, shrimp and vegetable rolls (three for $3), marinated beef skewers (five for $5) or fried chicken skewers (10 for $5).

The main menu includes a large selection of crepes, salads, noodles and rice dishes, including Banh Chaoy, a “Khmer crepe” stuffed with bean sprouts, ground chicken, basil and mint, and served with “teuk trei” ($5); shredded green papaya salad ($5); Asian or Khmer noodle salad served with mint and choice of vegetables, chicken or shrimp ($6); Phad Thai ($5 for chicken and egg, $5.50 for shrimp); Numbanhchuk, a traditional Khmer noodle soup made from ground lemon grass and spices, and served with a variety of vegetables such as banana flower, bean sprout, cucumber and snake bean ($5 for a large bowl); fried tilapia (three pieces for $6); and Samloh Kako, a “Cambodian ratatouille” of pumpkin, papaya, eggplant, jack fruit, smoke beans and chicken ($7).

What to write home about: The crunchy eggs rolls and the Banh Chaoy, eaten as a lettuce wrap dipped in “teuk trei,” were light and delicious. Prahok kh’tih, a tart dipping paste made of ground pork and preserved mud fish sauce ($3 for a small container) was a revelation. The friendly service made everything taste even better.

The setting: A modest storefront deli. Hot and cold entrees offered for takeout or sit down. Ten tables with total seating for about 28.

Summing up: We had seven items from the takeout counter and the sit-down menu — Samloh Kako ($5); the aptly named Bitter Gourd stuffed with sweet minced pork and served in a light broth ($3 for a small bowl); chicken wing stuffed with pork, green curry and ginger ($2.50); two shrimp spring rolls ($3.50); ground pork paste with preserved mud fish ($3); Samloh Machukreung ($3 for a small bowl); and orange balls (three for $1). Two bottled waters ($1 each) brought the bill to $30, with tax and tip.

Susan Kelleher:

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