Discount Dining: Yelapa Playa

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Happy Cinco de Mayo! As the day has approached, I have been craving Mexican food. And last week I indulged those cravings with Mexican food three days in a row, including at Yelapa Playa Mexican Restaurant. Houston Entree was offering a limited number of $20 vouchers for $10 to Yelapa -- 150 of them, to be exact -- and they were snatched up quickly. I can definitely see why.

Yelapa was named Best Mexican Restaurant by the Houston Press last year and they prominently feature this above the entrance to the restaurant. The restaurant had only one other couple sitting at the bar Saturday around 3 p.m. when we walked in. There was no host at the front, but the relaxed atmosphere called us in, and we sat ourselves in the bar area. It almost felt like we could have been somewhere in  Puerto Vallarta -- almost.

The happy hour menu featured $2 tacos and a $5 ceviche. There were no limitations as to which tacos were served during happy hour, so you had your pick from the listing of tacos from the regular menu. Between the two of us, my dining companion and I were able to sample all of the different tacos and an order of the ceviche.

One of the drink specials listed on the menu is a Prickly Pear michelada, a variation of one of my favorite drinks of beer, tomato juice, lime juice, hot sauce and spices. Prickly pear or cactus fruit has a texture close to that of a fig, and its flavor is reminiscent of a tart plum. The combination of spices added to the mix, combined with the ice-cold Mexican beer, confused my taste buds with sweet, sour, spicy and hot, but I kept wanting more.

Yelapa is highly regarded for its unique ceviches. The happy hour ceviche was the Pineapple Seviche-- oven-dried pineapple and lychee, mint, cilantro and scallions, served with an ancho and black pepper "pesto." The presentation was beautiful, and the server advised that we flip the contents of the bowl onto the plate and mix it with the pesto. The pesto was sweeter than I expected, and with the pineapple and lychee, the sweetness was slighty overpowering, so the seafood (escolar and scallops) got a little lost. But with each bite, I found something new, and this made me more curious about the other ceviches on the menu.

The tacos are not your ordinary ones. Each has been well-thought-out, and every ingredient works well. The carne asada came with pickled red onions and grilled scallions with a ghost pepper mayo. Spice-sensitive eaters beware, as the ghost pepper definitely gives a it a kick. The shrimp was paired with a corn chow-chow and lime aioli, the lime adding just the right amount of acidity to the sweet relish. The pork, which was shredded and seemed like it had been braised for hours, was served a little more traditionally with pineapple, radish and cilantro.

Would I come back to Yelapa without a discount? A resounding yes. The happy hour menu is a great value, but it only whet my appetite for the creative and innovative dishes listed on the menu. With no shortage of Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants in Houston, Yelapa is a welcome respite from the norm, with its lighter, unique Mexican fare.

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