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.Green Papaya This cozy 12-table Vietnamese restaurant offers crunch, freshness and the clean flavors of mint and green papaya. It also seems to have a loyal clientele; many of the customers were greeted by name the night we dined. The summer rolls in cellophane wraps were 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 a dish I could return for again and again. My coconut shrimp in a smooth sauce with slivers of coconut meat packed more flavor than my husband’s Saigon sampler — a large bowl of barbecued pork and shrimp with mint, cilantro and rice noodles. My entree came 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 — was a fun way to end the meal. G reen Papaya, 16893 NW 167th Ave., Miami Lakes area; 305-826-5216; lunch and dinner; starters $4.95-$7.25, noodle and rice dishes $8.95-$11.75, main-dish soup $7.95-$10.50, dessert $3-$4.25. Ninja’s Tavern It’s Seoul meets Monday Night Football at this Miami Lakes eatery that describes its food as Japanese-Korean fusion, and fusion is the operative word. Spicy Buffalo chicken wings (minus the blue cheese dressing and celery) shared 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. This is the only place I know where you can get your burgers with Korean barbecue sauce and tuna tataki with French fries. My husband’s miso-sauced mahi-mahi came with two sides, but with little but starches to choose from, he ended up with both rice and mashed potatoes. My teriyaki rice bowl with beef was tasty, and the serving was big enough for a team. Our server highly recommended the fried Oreos for dessert: Four cookies dipped in cake batter, deep-fried and served warm with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. “Weird but not bad,” I remarked to my husband. “Not any more weird than eating mashed potatoes with chopsticks,” he replied. Ninja’s Asian Tavern, 15352 NW 79th Ct., Miami Lakes; 305-826-0909, www.ninjastavern.com; lunch and dinner; starters $2.99-$19.99, sandwiches $7.99 to $9.99, dinners $13.99-$17.99, desserts $2.99-$7.99. King Palace A native New Yorker suggested this as the place for real Chinese food in South Florida. And from the moment we entered and spied the golden-fried ducks – complete with heads and beaks – hanging from hooks and the live lobsters, crabs and tilapia swimming in a case, it certainly seemed authentic. A look at the menu with its duck tongues, silver fish chins and sea cucumbers confirmed it. I’m not quite that adventuresome, but there are plenty of more familiar options, too. We stuck with the pan-fried dumplings, chicken in orange sauce (crispy chunks of meat in a deep mahogany-colored sauce with flecks of orange peel) and pan-fried noodles with shrimp. The latter — a nest of crispy rice noodles topped with steamed broccoli spears, straw mushrooms, scallions, carrot slices and a generous serving of shrimp — was our favorite. A plate of sweet sliced oranges — a nice touch — arrived as we polished off our meal. King Palace Chinese BBQ, 330 NE 167th St., North Miami Beach; 305-949-2339; lunch and dinner; starters $4.95-$11.95, entrees $7.95-$19.95.
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