Thankfully, the fare La Palapa offers is as delicious to taste as the restaurant’s name is fun to say. The quaint storefront on St. Mark’s Place in the East Village—with white-linen awnings covering the tiki-esque wooden tub chairs pulled up to two-top wooden tables—is, appropriately, evocative of a palapa: an open-sided shelter made of a palm-leaf top, often found on Mexican beaches. The restaurant’s menu is vaster than what you’d likely find at a beach shack, but its festive drinks, warm aesthetic, and friendly and relaxed staff all play the lazing-in-the-sand part. Here, picking your poison is a pleasure: Start out with transportive frozen margarita to get the vacation vibes going, regardless of Manhattan’s weather. While you won’t go wrong with the regular edition ($9), you can mix and match flavors (each $1) to make concoctions like “watermelon jalapeño”. (Pro tip: Despite the strawberry frozen margarita’s intense pink pigment, its sugar factor is not overpowering but rather delicious.) If you prefer a more complexly composed cocktail, go for the tequila mojito ($13), combining watermelon, mint and lime. Or, skip the mixtures altogether and order from the impressive list of tequilas and mescals.
While you sip your drinks, snack on guacamole por orden ($14), which takes the standard starter and freshens it with an interactive twist. The order comes with three different spiced sauces that you can add to a dollop of guac on your own plate, allowing you to create your own unique iteration of the green goodness over and over again. And for the health-conscious clientele, crudité is available to accompany the guac (rather than house-made corn chips) for an additional buck. Or, opt for one of the four house salads, which you can transform into a heartier main dish by adding a protein. If you want something a little less common to start your meal, try crepas de huitlacoche ($12), a Mexican take on mushroom crepes. Or, see the menu of rotating specials, which on a recent night included salmon-ceviche tostadas and potato-chorizo taquitos.
For your main course, whether you go for the generously sauced enchiladas with either tomatillo salsa verde or red mole, chile rellenos or tacos de pescado, you need not venture outside your comfort zone to leave satiated. What La Palapa does best is serve large portions of your Mexican-food favorites in an atmosphere that naturally relaxes you. Take that feeling, coast into your dessert course of moist tres leches cake or rich flourless chocolate cake, and keep living la buena vida.
BY TIME OUT COMMUNITY REVIEWER: ALEXIS GUTTER