We had a good meal and a fun Saturday night at La Palapa Too.
La Palapa is a local trio of Mexican restaurants that serve up good food and an energetic vibe in Ellicott City, Laurel and Burtonsville. La Palapa Too isn't really in Laurel. It's just south of Columbia off Johns Hopkins Road.
You should go for the ceviche appetizer. The lime-infused fish inspired one of my first HowChow posts. Chunks of fish, shrimp, avocado and onion. A few pieces of squid. Some minced hot pepper to add to your taste. We
scooped ceviche with La Palapa's chips. It's a terrific starter and the kind of intelligent zest that lifts a kitchen above chains and humdrum menus.
For the entrees, I suggest that you order for sauces. Mrs. HowChow often returns to the mole sauce, which coats chicken slices in a slightly sweet, slightly nutty flavor. Mostly recently, I really enjoyed a shrimp "al diablo" with a fiery red sauce. I asked for some extra corn tortillas (60 cents) to dip out the sauce after I had eaten the five shrimp.
We had a great time sitting just inside from the patio. All evening, a duo played guitar tunes -- Indigo Girls, Johnny Cash, Jimmy Buffett -- and kept an entire crowd in smiles and drinks. The sun set. The musicians played. We didn't wait for a patio table, but we could still hear and feel the vibe from our table.
If anything, the vibe and the sauces overshadow the rest of the night. You get rice, beans and salads with most meals. They're basic, even uninspired. I don't want to expect too much, but the entrees run $16 or more which feels like there could be snappy side dishes as well. The margaritas are sweet. I had actually had a perfect one the night before that tasted of just lime and tequila. Next time, I'll stick with Pacifico.
Overall, I'm a La Palapa fan. The ceviche and a Mexican beer are reason enough to visit, and you could spend a great night drinking and listening to music.
La Palapa Too is one of my favorite "parking lot cafes" -- outdoor seating that overlooks the automobiles. If you like Mexican food, stop at Lily's Mexican Market in Columbia for fresh corn tortillas, a Mexican butcher, great baked goods and all kinds of Mexican and Central American groceries. Check out El Azteca restaurant in Clarksville or my post about the Mexican restaurants in Howard County.
La Palapa Too
7500 Montpelier Road
Laurel, MD 20723
NEAR: Off Johns Hopkins Boulevard just west of Rte 29. The address says Laurel, but it's just north of Fulton and just south of Columbia at the end of a pink-painted shopping center.