On the outside, La Palapa Hondureña (formerly known as Adelita's Café) is anything but memorable. Surrounded by louder venues such as a vapor shop and a Papa John's, the restaurant has floor-to-ceiling windows that are plastered with karaoke posters and the emblematic palapa, an open-sided dwelling with a thatched roof. The walls are in need of a paint job, and the aluminum patio furniture could singe the thickest of skins. Decor is not their strong suit, but thou shalt not judge a restaurant by its façade.
Step inside, and chances are you'll hear Enrique Iglesias, Romeo, or Prince Royce. TV screens line the walls, and the large room is filled with tables and overstuffed vinyl booths to the right, pool tables and a bar to the left. It seems as if the owners couldn't decide on a raison d'être -- lounge, dance hall, family gathering spot -- so they just embraced everything.
La Palapa offers a wide variety of food too. It serves typical Honduran dishes such as pupusas, sopa de caracol, nactamales, and baleadas. There also are some tasty juices with exotic fruits such as nance, maracuya, and tamarind. As an appetizer, I opted for a pupusa with quesillo ($3.25), which zoomed out of the kitchen. The tortilla-like dish originated in El Salvador, but it's a popular snack all over Central America. Nestled inside the cornmeal masa is soft, stringy quesillo cheese, the perfect marriage of sweet and salty.
The rest of the menu is made up of meat plates, seafood dishes, pastas, soups, and parilladas. Be careful not to overload on the apps, though, because the mains are more than generous. For dinner I chose a classic that's easily marred by overcooking or underseasoning: carne asada ($9.50).
Photo by Dana De Greff
Soon the waitress set the large plate in front of me with an "Aquí tiene, amor." Besides a stack of sliced, slightly curled carne, the dish is loaded with tostones, refried beans, repollo, white rice, and a hunk of queso fresco. Stripping the plastic wrap off my knife and fork (yes, cutlery is plastic here), I tried the meat and hoped for the best.
Though the meat was warm, it could've been hotter (I like my meat like I like my weather: steaming); despite that minor disappointment, the beef was tender, moist, and flavorful. As for the accompaniments, the tostones were prepared with a conservative hand, sans excess oil and with just the right amount of salt; the rice was fluffy and paired beautifully with the queso. All in all, it's a no-frills, all-thrills dish for any meat lover.
By the time I polished off a meal that could have fed two, I was too full to try any of the Latin desserts, such as flan ($3), tres leches ($3), and arroz con leche ($3).
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La Palapa is a place for everyone, as long as you don't mind a little noise and a ho-hum ambiance. What matters is that the food is unpretentious and cheap without sacrificing flavor. Just one warning: Once you start eating here, you might not be able to stop.
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