Can you take a culinary tour of the Far East without leaving home? That was our challenge, and along the way we sampled the fresh flavors of Vietnam, Asian-influenced bar food and the most authentic Chinese food you’ll find south of New York’s Chinatown.
- The cozy 12-table Vietnamese restaurant Green Papaya offers crunch, freshness and the clean flavors of mint and its namesake green papaya. It also seems to have a loyal clientele; many of the customers are greeted by name. Summer rolls in cellophane wraps are pretty and refreshing, and the green papaya salad – a slaw with carrots, onions, mint, sliced pork, cracklings and chopped peanuts in a fish sauce vinaigrette – is memorable. Coconut shrimp in a smooth sauce with slivers of coconut meat packs more flavor than the Saigon sampler – a large bowl of barbecued pork and shrimp with mint, cilantro and rice noodles. Entrées arrive with a mound of white rice, a green salad and a cup of clear beef broth with a few shrimp. The Vietnamese coffee – a frozen mocha drink with pearls of black tapioca on the bottom – is a fun way to end the meal.
- It’s Seoul meets Monday Night Football at Ninja’s Tavern, a Miami Lakes eatery that describes its food as Japanese-Korean fusion. Spicy Buffalo chicken wings (minus the blue cheese dressing and celery) share an appetizer plate with Korean-style barbecued beef, pork-filled goyza (dumplings) and salty edamame. In a previous life, Ninja’s was a sports bar, and it still features happy hour, a Friday night DJ and nearly two dozen televisions tuned to various sporting events. It’s one of the few places in town where you can get your burgers with Korean barbecue sauce and tuna tataki with French fries. The miso-sauced mahi-mahi arrives with a choice of two starch-heavy sides while the teriyaki rice bowl with beef is tasty and big enough for a team. A fried Oreos dessert features four cookies dipped in cake batter, deep-fried and served warm with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce.
- A native New Yorker suggested King Palace as the place for real Chinese food in South Florida. Authenticity begins at arrival – as golden-fried ducks, live lobsters and a menu including duck tongues, silver fish chins and sea cucumbers greet diners. There are plenty of more familiar options as well, including pan-fried dumplings and chicken in orange sauce (crispy chunks of meat in a deep mahogany-colored sauce with flecks of orange peel). One favorite is pan-fried noodles with shrimp – a nest of crispy rice noodles topped with steamed broccoli spears, straw mushrooms, scallions, carrot slices and a generous serving of shrimp.