July 14th, 2011
Yelapa Playa Mexicana: Mix-Up Your Usual Tex-Mex
Unless it’s your job, it’s impossible to have eaten at every restaurant in Houston. Even then, it’s a pretty difficult task to undertake. But when you sit down to brainstorm about a restaurant at which to dine for a special occasion, creative choices are elusive. While brainstorming with a friend over drinks, we encountered the issue of deciding on a place which we hadn’t been. Until… Eureka. Yelapa!
The Mexican restaurant on Richmond is beyond its more buzz-worthy days. During that time that it was on the tip of everyone’s tongue, I had avoided it: Not for any other reason than “well, I’m sure I’ll get there soon enough.” The procrastination runs deep in this one.
With a triple-date on the docket, I made reservations for our party at 8:00PM on a Friday. Wanting to miss the dinner rush, my preference would have been for an earlier seating. The whims of the group took precedence.
The “rush” that I had been expecting was never there. The front dining room was mostly empty when we walked through the doors of Yelapa and to the bar to meet our friends and their dates already a margarita deep into the night. Leaving my girlfriend to say my hellos for me, I found the hostess to ask for our table.
Our single table of six was parked right up against the wall of windows that looks out upon the avenue that will one day host a new light rail line. Chatter was more important than ordering, so we had to turn away our adamant waiter on more than three occasions before finally deciding on ordering a few of starting plates for the table: Ceviche, queso and bacon wrapped shrimp topped the list.
With only five shrimp to be dispersed among the six guests, it was the only problem with the appetizers that hit the table. Then again, that’s not much of a problem. Our team of eaters is just lucky that I didn’t horde them and fend off their hands with the skewer after I had devoured the lot of crustaceans. The real star of the first course was the ceviche (which isn’t on their online menu… come on, people, update your website). Light and fruity, thinly sliced snapper cascaded down the middle of the plate. It was truly refreshing.
Yelapa’s take on Mexican cuisine falls outside the boundaries of what Houstonians are used to. That’s a good thing in my opinion. There are only so many times that you can go to a different place and order the same thing. Me, I’m a fajitas kind of guy. Going to Chuy’s? Fajitas. El Tiempo? Fajitas. Spanish Flower, Ninfa’s, La Tapatia? You get the idea… But do you know what you won’t find on the menu at Yelapa?
The quail struck my fancy, though the choice wasn’t easy and made even harder still from starting to fill up on chips. When it was served on the table, the quail started mocking me. Delicious, flavorful charred birds lay before me, but I had a hard time shaking the feeling of one who lives on top of a beanstalk. Can someone please direct me to the most productive way to eat quail? I made my way through it as best I could, hacking away at the expertly prepared fowl while trying to make time for the corn cakes it was served upon.
As the plates cleared and the waiter teased us with the idea of dessert, two of our crew fell for the invitation. The desserts, however fell flat. The “Cinco Leches” sounded delicious on the menu, but everyone was in agreement that more, in this case, wasn’t better. I’m not a big dessert fan in general, so it wasn’t much of a loss in my opinion.
We decided to split the check three ways, each man at the table slapping down magical plastic where money purports to be. Gratuity found it’s way on the bill before we had a chance to argue otherwise, but they left no place to add to the tip. Auto-grating the check on a six-person table isn’t out of the question, but don’t short yourself. We would have all probably tacked on a couple more bucks for putting up with us for the night, Mr. Server.
Walking into the night full and happy, I asked around to see what everyone thought. There wasn’t a negative comment in the bunch about the overall experience. Perhaps when the next occasion comes up I’ll be able to pull Yelapa out of my hat, or maybe I learned my lesson and will continue to try other places new to me.
Where – 2303 Richmond Ave., 77098
What – A Different Take on Mexican
Wear – Dress it Up a Bit
How much – $80 for a meal for two including apps, drinks and tip
Tuesday – Thursday 11am – 10pm
Friday & Saturday 11am – 11pm
Sunday 11am – 8pm
Web – Website; Facebook; Twitter