It was an unseasonably warm night in December on my recent visit down to Oak Cliff. It was the day after Christmas and it made for a nice trip down from Lewisville (yes I drive that far!). My wife and I were starving and already tired of leftovers. My brother was in town from Houston and ready to have a break. The rest of my family, my brother included, had taken their Christmas loot and decided to head to the Windstar Casino in OK. I was feeling like spending $30 or less on some quality food here in town.
I remembered a recent post over on DallasFood.org that piqued my curiosity, La Palapa Veracruzana, a restaurant along Jefferson in Oak Cliff.
Well there are about 50 or so restaurants crammed into about a 3 mile stretch along Jefferson and some claim the best Mexican/Latin cuisine is down in these parts. Well my wife and I scoped out where the place was and found that the restaurant was located around Jefferson @ Zang. We never get down to Oak Cliff that much but liked the energy it had on that night. We could see a bunch of families returning back to Mexico and points beyond on the buses that depart from the terminals on Jefferson. There were scores of people out and about walking in this 60 degree weather. My wife and I were amazed at all the restaurants that all seemed better just by name than the chains in Lewisville. We finally spotted the restaurant and parked our car in a metered parking zone. We were unsure if we had to leave money or not but saw that everyone had a blinking meter.
We walked into the restaurant and spotted the specials menu. I saw a dish that featured peanuts and inquired about it. The waiter said they were out of the dish. I was actually hoping it was a plated of roasted peanuts with roasted garlic, chiles, salt and lime, similar to what we had just about everywhere in Oaxaca. This was decorated very nicely in a sea shack motif but was not overbearingly kitschy. The walls were a light sea blue and a golden yellow but not annoyingly so. The decoration and the bright color of the place put you at ease. We placed our drink order while looking over the menu, just two waters. The waiter brought out our waters, chips with black bean dip and a green salsa. We dove right into the chips (definitely store bought and oversalted). The black bean dip was not that stellar as it had no depth in flavor my wife and I have grown accustomed to at Salvadoran places. The black bean were canned and blended but still we trudged through the dip bowl. The green salsa proved to be quite remarkable as it packed quite a punch. I suspect whoever handmade this salsa was heavy handed on the jalapeno to tomatillo ratio, more so on the jalapeno. The salsa proved to be the rescue for the black bean dip but the chips still proved to be too salty for my tastes.
We then ordered two appetizers and one entrée to split between the both of us. We were stuck between the Camarones al la Diabla (a spicy chipotle, in this case, shrimp) or the Huachinango a la Veracruzana (a whole red snapper lightly fried in a pan and then topped with Veracruz sauce with rice and vegetables). We asked the waiter for his recommendation and he said definitely the snapper. We went with his recommendation and also order platanos fritos (fried plantains topped with queso anejo and crema) and empanadas con camarones (empanada with shrimp). As we settled we looked around and there seemed to be only two other tables and one of them seemed to be the owner with a friend.
As our food arrived in a non-hurried pace (after all we were the only ones ordering food at that time) a table of three sat down right behind us. A young teen aged looking woman emerged from the kitchen carrying our snapper and the empanadas. She ran back to the kitchen and got our platanos and the table behind us gazed at them and ordered them also. The clientele is pretty much locals but very friendly! The young woman emerged from the kitchen to check on us in a non-assuming way and talk to us after we tried a few bites. She stated she had gained a few pounds from the food since she started working there. We laughed this off as she still looked trim to us! We took a bite of the empanada the filling was a bit bland but the exterior was definitely handmade and delicate. This was probably the best empanada I have had to date in Dallas. Next time I will try a different filling though as I like a bit more flavor to come through. I tried a bit of the snapper with a fork full of rice and I thought I had definitely been transported to a seafood shack in a coastal village of Veracruz. The snapper was about the size of a football. The taste was indeed well worth the trip from Lewisville, I would even say it is well worth the trip from Austin or beyond. The snapper was topped with the sautéed sauce from tomatoes, jalapenos, onions, very large capers, and bay leaf. The sauce provided a nice contrast to the freshly fried fish. The fish was not batter fried but more of pan fried in oil. The rice was a white rice and was very nice done, not gummy, not crunchy, and most important not oily and filled with carrots and peas. The plate was rounded out by a scoop of the black beans we had in our dip with chips. They were very forgettable and next time I would prefer not to have them.
I really would love to see this place survive but the competition is fierce along that stretch of Jefferson. Within the same block I counted 5 other restaurants. In my opinion, I would pay a lot more for the red snapper dish and that dish alone would keep me coming back. I hope to find other gems on the menu in future visits. La Palapa Veracruzana gets a very welcomed thumbs up from my wife and I as we plan to go there again!