Tacos at La Palapa

Even when eating downtown, not all of my meals are consumed below ground. On a recent (and rare) morning, I got out of the house a little early. Early enough to swing around the long way to the office, stopping by Catalina for a cortado, and finally managing to stop by La Palapa.

I'd never heard anything about the place. Still haven't. Somehow, though, the ugly pink shack standing in the shadow of the newly renovated Harris County Courthouse had a strange appeal. It beckoned to me as I drove past, but I never had the time to stop.

When I did, at last, find the time, I couldn't find a spot to park. I whipped my car into the adjacent pay lot, beseeching the flag-waving attendant to allow me a few minutes pause to grab some breakfast. Glancing around furtively, he offered a shrugging "make it quick."

In an effort to honor his kindness and his request, I ordered hurriedly. The menu is considerable, easily offering 70 items. My eyes were drawn instead to the sign sitting on the counter, advertising breakfast specials. I ordered both of them. Had I not been in such a rush, I would have paid more attention to the offer of chorizo on the menu proper. As it was, I would be breaking fast with fajita, egg, and cheese, alongside a "super taco."

As my order was prepared, I glanced around, taking in the bustle of a downtown just starting to get to work. A sidewalk fountain burbled merrily behind me. A cook, knife-kit slung over his shoulder, hurried past a regular who was blowing steam from the top of his coffee, which was already waiting for him upon his arrival. Suited lawyers parked their cars alongside mine, paid the friendly attendant, and crossed the street. My order came up, I offered a thank you for my parking spot, and made my way to work.

Rushing to my desk, I had placed my tacos in the fridge, and taken my brown-bagged leftovers with me. When I realized my mistake nearly half an hour later, the retrieved tacos had a slight chill to them. I don't think it did much harm.

My fajita, egg, and cheese taco featured meat with a slightly gray, boiled look. It was tender almost to the point of mushiness, though it boasted a nicely meaty flavor. It was unfortunately devoid of any grill or char flavor, nor the acid hit I find so enticing in my favorite fajitas. The cheddar cheese shreds that blanketed the filling somewhat dominated the taco, adhering the other ingredients to the boring, prefab tortilla. The eggs were pale and a bit dense.

The Super Taco was similarly uninspired. Consisting of bacon, eggs, cheese, potatoes, and a spread of beans, the end result suffered from too much starch, tasting overwhelmingly bland. The bacon was pretty good, with the chewy/crispy textural split that I love. The large, skin-on chunks of potato were cooked until tender, but had picked up no color and, consequently, offered little flavor. I'm generally not a fan of this style of taco, finding the more-is-more approach to be consistently flawed. Even with the entirety of a container of salsa dumped on top, it was almost a struggle to get through.

That salsa, though, was La Palapa's saving grace. This is of the fresh, slightly thin and frothy, tomato-based variety. Vibrant and alive, the salsa offered a pleasant heat along with a good dose of bright green jalapeño flavor. Sweet and savory tomato formed the backbone, with just a trace of cilantro rounding things out. This isn't a salsa I would seek out, but it is one I would (and did) apply liberally when on offer.

I won't be repeating that order, but if I find myself taking the long cut (you'll get there eventually), I may just stop back by to sample some of La Palapa's other fare. I won't be going for the eggs, or for the tortillas. I won't even be going for the salsa, at least not really. I'll be going for the promise. If the salsa stands up this well, surely there must be something good there on which to put it. I think I hear chorizo calling my name.

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