Restaurant Review: La Playa in Harlingen is a good place to eat

By TRAVIS M. WHITEHEAD

Personal editor

HARLINGEN — It’s a Tuesday night at La Playa Mexican Café, and warm lights spill from the ceiling and fall onto wooden tables and tiled floors as country music fills the air at dinner.

The restaurant parking lot at 502 S. 77 Sunshine Strip with all the cars is deceptively intimidating because inside there are enough tables for everyone and some to spare.

A hostess welcomes me. I indicate that it’s just me and ask for a booth. She is all smiles, young and energetic and I feel welcome.

As soon as I sit down, a young man brings me a bucket of hot fries, another brings me a menu, and a third brings me a glass of water.

The 70s hit song “Dancing in the Moonlight” filled the dining room with refreshing beats laced with nostalgia.

My eyes scan a familiar menu I’ve known for some time. I have enjoyed this restaurant many times since I moved there a few years ago.

I always get the same thing, “Los Panchos,” and it never disappoints.

What I’ve always found amusing, however, is that Los Panchos is listed under “appetizers” but it’s a full meal of corn chips, chicken, beef, sour cream, cheese and sweet guacamole.

I was never able to eat the whole plate at once.

I know I’ll have to take some of it home in a box, which is another reason I’m ordering – so I can enjoy it again a second time.

Meanwhile, the tables fill with the tired and hungry, with their plates, crumbs and welcome drinks. Soon the chatter of evening voices laden with deliberate efforts at relaxation and eager escape are superimposed on music, laughter and camaraderie.

The men in their black jackets, jeans and hoodies lean towards them and gesture with their hands, and the women with stern faces and careful, poised voices convey a kind of visual and auditory enchantment.

Meanwhile, a little girl shifts nervously in her chair and rummages through her food.

I like the color palette: browns, grays, earthy yellows and dark blue. And the warm light creates a nice effect when the waiter brings me my dish.

One thing I’ve always admired about this restaurant is its consistency – of service and food.

My plate is filled with warm tortilla chips topped with generous amounts of refried beans, cheese, and well-cooked chicken and beef, and I take my time to savor every bite.

I relax and take my time to enjoy the nuances of the experience, both with my meal and with diners full of customers relieved to end the day at such an iconic venue.

I ask for a box, which the waiter gladly brings me. Throughout the evening the servers were very attentive, frequently stopping by my table to see if I needed anything.

But by the time I’m done eating and ready to pay my bill, the place is packed and the servers have picked up their pace.

I asked for a paper receipt several times after paying my bill, and it took a little longer than I would have liked. But it’s understandable for a popular place like this that little hiccups happen along the way.

All in all a great experience as always.

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