The Flavors Of Green Papaya

Jo McGarry
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Friday - February 24, 2006
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I had lunch at Green Papaya in Kaimuki the other day, more by accident than design. I’d planned on a meeting at neighboring C&C Pasta, which offers excellent food for both lunch and dinner. But it had a mysterious sign on the door saying it was closed and they would be back later. So, in need of a quick lunch and a place to discuss work, we headed to nearby Green Papaya.

Kaimuki really is a little restaurant hotbed. Within a two-block walk on just one side of Waialae Avenue, you’ll pass Big City Diner, Café Laufer, the aforementioned C&C Pasta, the new Big Burrito joint (which I haven’t yet tried, but anyone who serves potato wrapped in a starch gets my vote), JJ’s Pastry shop, Tamura’s Fine Wines and Liquors, and Happy Days (which can be good if you can stand the impossibly slow service).

Green Papaya is nestled in here, too.

It’s a cool and spacious restaurant where diners feel unhurried. The menu is of the photographed and laminated variety, where those trying Vietnamese food for the first time get a good idea of what they’re about to eat.

There are several really commendable things about Green Papaya.

If you’re a vegetarian or someone just looking for healthier options, you’ll certainly find a wide range of dishes here. There’s a whole menu devoted to vegetarian dishes that include Tofu Salad, Chow Mein or Chow Fun with Tofu, Sauteed Spicy Lemongrass Tofu and Asparagus Snow Peas with Mushrooms.

You can order a side of brown rice with the stir-fry dishes if you prefer it to noodles.

There’s a huge variety of soups that come served with rice or noodles, and there’s everything from the wonderfully spicy, traditional Thai dish tom yum (with chicken, pork, shrimp, seafood fish or tofu) to a fairly good oxtail and a warming bitter melon. The vermicelli dishes are probably the best bet in terms of healthy food - just thin rice noodles served with a colorful array of chopped mint, cucumber, bean sprouts, onions, peanuts, a house special sauce and a choice of vegetable spring rolls, lemongrass tofu, mixed veggie tofu or curry. Dishes range from $7.95 to $8.95.

Where I think the food falls down slightly is in the mix of “local-style” plate lunches. A garlic shrimp was overly garlic’d and the barbecue chicken plate was quite average.

The restaurant is bright, spacious and there’s a lot of room between the tables. The owner is very attentive, bringing menus and water as soon as you are seated, but she’s reluctant to recommend any one dish on the menu. Instead, when asked for a recommendation, she replied, “Everything’s good here, you won’t be disappointed with anything.”

It’s true that we weren’t disappointed, and my dining companion was really impressed with the healthier options. But I’m not sure I’d go as far as to say “every-thing’s good.” Certainly if you’re looking for somewhere with a great variety of vegetarian options, somewhere that’s clean and welcoming, and somewhere where you really can make some light and healthy choices, you should be happy here.

Green Papaya 3579 Waialae Ave.

Open daily,10:30 a.m.-10 p.m.


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