They say Green Papaya isn't authentic Vietnamese. I say:
When I first moved to New York, my oldest friend introduced me to her cousin, who also lived there and was also a journalist. We hit it off immediately, and one of our shared passions--aside from writing, reading, watching Project Runway and mercilessly critiquing the fashion choices of half the people on the Upper West Side--was food. A very specific type of food, as it turned out, because every time we tried to try a new dinner place, we ended up at Land.
The same cramped Thai place with the same earth-shattering lychee martinis. If we knew it was going to be perfect, why go anywhere else?
There are two fallacies you acquire almost the same instant you move to New York: One, that you can afford to eat out. Two, that you'll be there forever, so there's ample time to eat at your favorite Thai place until you're absolutely sick of it or it goes out of business. I succumbed to both--hence the credit card debt I'm still trying to pay off--and neither was true. But when I went to Green Papaya after moving back here, I thought, "Ahhh. A taste of Land."
Sure, Green Papaya isn't truly authentic Vietnamese food. I think this would bother me if I knew--or had even ever tasted--true Vietnamese food. But I don't, and I haven't, and so why not love Green Papaya for what it is: Healthy, good, cheap, utterly comforting food.
And it's got that same cramped, fast, New Yorky vibe, too.
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Green Papaya has a separate, if petite, section on its menu for vegetarians. As far as appetizers, there's Goi Cuon Chay (tofu spring rolls) or Canh Chua Chay (hot and sour tofu soup). Most of the entrée options are available at lunch or, for a few dollars more, dinner: tofu fried rice (Com Chien Chay), an unsurprising but nicely seasoned tofu with mixed veggies (Tau Hu Xao Voi Rau) served with rice or noodles, or a tofu/noodle/veggie dish, the popular Hu Tieu Xao Tofu. If you're vegan, ask them to hold the eggs on that last one. Prices range from around $8 to $15 and the portions are huge.
My favorite Vietnamese dish, though, is the huge, flat rice noodle. Green Papaya's flat noodle plate with tofu and vegetables is mild and refreshing, with enough for a leftover lunch the next day and the automatic feeling that you're getting credit for eating healthy food. Instead of the oyster sauce, though, ask them to make it with soy or peanut sauce--or even orange juice, if you're not into the sodium thing. With a friendly, helpful staff, they're more than likely to oblige.
And while it may not be New York, well...shouldn't we delight in the melting pot of cultures that gave Dallas its lovely non-Vietnamese Vietnamese bistro?
Green Papaya Bistro
3211 Oak Lawn Ave., Suite B