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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Upmarket restaurant

Mon 11:30am–2:30pm
Mon 5:00pm–9:30pm
Tue–Fri 11:30am–2:30pm
Tue–Fri 5:00pm–10:00pm
Sat 12:30pm–10:00pm
Sun 5:00pm–9:30pm

Features Live music, outdoor dining
Bar Beer, wine, liquor
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx
Reservations Accepted

Bethesda, MD
4922 Elm St.
Bethesda, MD
(301) 654-8241
Green Papaya
This average restaurant hits the sweet tooth harder than the sweet spot

Ooh, that salty, sour, spicy, sweet spot—that spot that only the crisp, fresh ingredients in Vietnamese food can satisfy. At Green Papaya, the emphasis lands squarely on the sweet, and while the cooking is skilled, as a holistic experience, the restaurant is as likely to miss as to hit its mark.

A relatively substantial drinks menu signals Green Papaya’s intention to be taken seriously, but it’s hard for us to fully comply. The wine list features a majority of California wines in the $35-to-$70 range, and the cocktail selection leans heavily on too-sweet fruity rum drinks. They offer a suitably representative introduction to the meal.

For starters, the atmosphere at Green Papaya is incongruous. The space is decorated with a vaguely absurd collection of sculptures, prints, and bric-a-brac. Some of it is definitely Chinese in origin, but the soundtrack on our last visit consisted of Italian opera. While certainly not unpleasant, the restaurant’s interior feels a little cluttered and outdated, with pieces of tile chipping off the enormous water feature behind the bar.

Nonetheless, some of the menu items are refreshingly unfamiliar. Our favorite starter, bo la nho, consists of mildly-spiced ground beef wrapped in vine leaves and then charbroiled to a smoky, crispy exterior, served with fish sauce for dipping. The ubiquitous fish sauce also accompanies a less successful goi tom ngo sen, a flat-tasting julienne of lotus, carrot, and green papaya topped with meager slivers of cooked shrimp.

For a memorable main course, choose bo luc lac—“shaking beef,” a dish whose name refers to the motion of the cubes of meat as they are tossed in a searing-hot wok. Bite-sized pieces of beef are cooked just to medium (better yet, ask for them rare) and tossed with potato cubes and cherry tomatoes in a savory lemon and black pepper sauce. The menu features an entire category of “caramelized” meat dishes, as well as sections devoted to more familiar players like pho and rice vermicelli. In this last category, the pork version has good flavor from pungent lemongrass and the smokiness of the grill, but has arrived lukewarm.

That’s how we feel about this place.

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