Yelapa Playa Mexicana is a relatively new restaurant in Houston named after a small fishing village near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It opened in November of 2009, but it took us awhile to check it out. We have a ridiculously long list of places to try – which is constantly growing – so it’s hard to make it to the top. And since we don’t eat out that often our rotation of favorite restaurants typically prevails.
The first time we tried Yelapa was in February for Lucas’ birthday. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the food, just that it could be described as Coastal Mexican Fusion. Whatever that means. The menu appears to change seasonally so I can’t use their website to jog my memory and tell you exactly what we ate that night. I do remember that we had a ceviche that left me a little confused, tortilla chips with a curry-spiked salsa, ridiculously good lamb sopes and mahi mahi in a soy-based broth (served with a small hunk of pork belly to tease the taste buds). Overall the meal was fresh and different. The only downside was an undesirable table between the bar and the men’s restroom plus the slow, incredibly dull server.
Was it good enough to try again? Definitely.
This past Friday we went back for dinner. Oh yeah, a real date! We had a 7:00 reservation, but arrived a little early to take advantage of the happy hour specials at the bar. $4.00 margaritas made with fresh lime juice are an absolute life-saver on a Friday night, but we also needed something to snack on.
Thanks to the reviews I read on Yelp I knew to avoid the Campechana and go straight for “The Real Guacamole”. Not like any guacamole I’ve ever tried, this was served as a salad with the tortilla chips mixed in with chunks of avocado, roasted corn and fresh peaches. The menu said the guacamole was made with mango, but my guess is they let seasonal fruits inspire them daily. I didn’t give a damn because it was fantastic stuff.
We finished our drinks and let the hostess know we were ready to move to our table. She seated us … at the same table as the last time. With the same boring ass waiter.
Lucas and I discussed moving back to the bar, but decided to stay put and get over it. We ordered two Modelo Especials and looked over the menu. I was instantly drawn to the Lamb (Local ‘Halal’ Lamb, Mexican ‘Kim Chee’, Avocado & Sour Cream), but then I heard Lucas say something else. Carnitas. And not just any old Carnitas. Pork Belly Carnitas (Harrison Farms Pork, Green Papaya, Tomatoes, Spicy Tamarind Dressing & Cashews). Did you read that correctly? Pork Belly Carnitas. Hell yeah! For our second entrée we agreed on a more simple dish. The Mexican Shrimp & Grits (Golden Sweet Corn Grits, Roasted Peppers & Chorizo).
But first we wanted to start with some ceviche. Yelapa is known for creating innovative ceviche and since we love octopus we ordered the Frutas del Mar (Braised Octopus, Chili Poached Shrimp, Violet, Coconut & Basil). When it came to our table there were two foam clouds on top and when I tasted the ceviche I realized it’s because this stuff is pure heaven. We ate slowly, appreciating the subtle flavors and the different textures, occasionally moaning in delight.
When our entrées arrived we started bouncing in our seats. The Mexican Shrimp & Grits was placed in front of me and I admired the plump crustaceans fanned atop a pool of creamy grits, garnished with chunks of roasted peppers and chorizo. This was a what you see is what you get kind of dish. Simple perfection.
But what I really wanted was in front of Lucas. The Pork Belly Carnitas. Beautiful pieces of succulent pig were begging to be dipped into the spicy tamarind sauce. Oh, the tamarind sauce! Sticky, sour, spicy, with a hint of fish sauce, this is one of the most incredible accompaniments to a dish I have ever eaten. And the green papaya salad! Not overpowering, but perfectly balanced with an exciting addition … dried guava, instead of the usual dried shrimp found in Som Tum.
Either we ordered just right or Yelapa has upped their game since we last went. This is the sort of dish that I would consider trying to recreate at home, but for $16.00 it’s like they’re handing out foodgasms. Screw all that hard work, occasionally I’m going to let someone else get me there.