A sailing ship is in the throes of invisible waves above the beer taps. There are surfboards and Pacifico beer, and the chairs are marlin blue. You’re by the ocean, at least by all known sensations at Palapas — the corrugated tin runs along the bar roof inside, and the palapa, a thatched roof of dried palm leaves, shields you from the chilly Dallas rain outside. There’s a boat motor nailed high on the brick wall that runs near the counter. Topo Chico shows up in a well-salted, ice-cold mug.
At Palapas, Lower Greenville’s wildly underrated Mexican seafood restaurant, the flavors of the ocean are lime, butter and garlic. It’s Dallas’ true transport to the ocean.
Family meal is going on at the bar when I arrive right after opening, and I’m the only customer for the moment. The staff members at Palapas eat standing up, spooning a mixture of meats, tomatoes, onion and cheese from a massive pan onto tortillas.
Frigid rain falls on concrete outside, but inside it’s warm and blue, and margaritas churn in the machine. Chips and salsa show up, as is the Texas tradition, as fast as thought. Palapas’ pulpo and ceviche are extraordinary, a real breeze of salty-seafood ocean air. This time, I’m in the market for a torta that’s as big as a surfing moon.
Luisa Medina, who’s been chef at Palapas since 2014, marinates white shrimp from Mexico in olive oil, fresh garlic and cracked pepper, and grills them on the flat top. Torta bread is critical, so Medina’s serving crackly but soft telera rolls. Sandwiches come with grilled chicken, shrimp or fried fish. Stick to the ocean — the seafood is why you need Palapas.
“Maybe it’s a little bit more expensive, but everything is fresh,” Medina says. “With seafood, you don’t look for price. You look for flavor.”
After a bite, there’s no mistaking the sensation — you’ll imagine your feet are in fine sand and waves are crashing nearby. This torta is not a sandwich; it’s a vacation. It’s what you order after a day of salt-encrusted swimming and a sunburned forehead. It’s what you order when you need to escape dreary winter.
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Medina griddles panela, a thick slab of stretchy, salty Monterey Jack-like cheese that grills into a toasty beautiful rectangle. It merges with the bread and the soft avocado. After this meal, you’ll want this cheese grilled onto everything.
Fresh Key lime juice — Medina stresses this ingredient — lights up the coleslaw, a creamy chipotle mix. It shocks shredded cabbage, tomato and cilantro into new life.
Halfway into an average torta, I’m usually marinating in the food regret doom. Loads of American cheese typically make your head feel like you’ve taken a couple of Ambien. This torta is, despite its giant size, fresh and citrusy and bright as sunshine. You may even taste a little bit of sun lotion in the air at the bar.
Palapas, 1418 Greenville Ave.