Midday on Midlothian Turnpike. Not even the bright sun can cut through this amazingly thick humid air that blankets the choking fumes pouring out of SUVs and commercial trucks. A lone bicycler risks life and lung, slowly pedaling his beat-up Huffy uphill with the heavy flow of traffic along the smoggy strip of garish neon, box stores and chain restaurants.

Even a simple, air-conditioned Asian restaurant can seem like an oasis on a day like this, and my photographer and I were relieved when we found Papaya. Its big yellow banner flapped in the light breeze on a grassy knoll that edges the Pocono Green shopping center. Inside we met Tiep Nguyen, a 39-year-old entrepreneur who was running around trying to do three jobs at once in his busy new Vietnamese restaurant.

Papaya specializes in pho viˆt, a nutritious bowl of rice noodles mixed with rich beef broth and spices eaten in Vietnam for breakfast, lunch and even dinner. The enormous menu at Papaya doesn't stop there though. Lunch specials — from beef with broccoli to caramel tofu — concentrate on quickness and low prices. Dinner is a more relaxed affair, with more of an emphasis on presentation and a much wider variety of food. The chef's specialties would fill a normal menu. They include seafood and beef fondue, grilled mussels and crispy soft shell crab just to name a few. 10445 Midlothian Turnpike. 330-9390.



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