La Palapa 50 Years of Restoring Guests’ Spirits
Published Nov 1, 2009 - (Updated Dec 3, 2012)
Featured in Vallarta Lifestyles Magazine, Fall/Winter 2009 issue.
On December 31, 1958, La Palapa held its inauguration. And since January 1, 1959, this famous restaurant has been serving locals and tourists alike. La Palapa began when Rodelinda Perez decided they needed a gathering spot for their circle of friends. Soon La Palapa sported innovative décor, despite its modest facade, and was far from just a traditional palapa. The décor, executed by professionals, included a concrete floor with inlaid Brazilan wood and large palm columns accented with bamboo. The menu included American dishes along with Mexican favorites.
Pioneers of the Local Restaurant Industry
La Palapa was the first in Puerto Vallarta to offer barbecued ribs and also introduced fish cooked in butter and garlic, the norm being to fry everything in oil and serve it with salsa ranchera, typical of coastal cuisine, simple and fresh. Alberto Perez, current owner and brother of the founder of the restaurant, took his first steps on the floors of this restaurant. He recalls with glee his time playing on the beach in front of the restaurant, wearing a swimsuit his mother improvised from a piece of cloth. Since then, the restaurant has been known as a business where the family is fully involved.
A New Era
In the early eighties, Rodelinda decided to enter real estate and left the restaurant in the hands of the manager. On a 1985 visit to Puerto Vallarta from his home in San Francisco, Alberto was sad to see the restaurant left without direction or leadership. “It was just another place to eat,” he recalls. He visualized a more appealing venue, a place that would combine what he remembered from his youth with what he had observed at a beach restaurant in Tahiti.
Though Los Muertos Beach was considered dirty, ugly and unsafe at that time, he believed its potential had not been properly developed. He moved to Puerto Vallarta, intent on transforming everything, and on September 17, 1986, a new era for La Palapa began under Alberto’s direction, his biggest challenge to entice people to dine in an area considered dangerous. La Palapa took on a colorful Caribbean feel, reflecting what Alberto remembered from his childhood. He strove to integrate all the elements he remembered into a sophisticated and trendy setting. Thus began another era of great success for the restaurant, until Alberto decided to go a step farther in 1996.
The Alliance of Two Gastronomic Greats
When looking for new ideas to modernize La Palapa, Alberto heard about chef Thierry Blouet. Blouet, just beginning to gain the renown he enjoys today, loved La Palapa and pitched in for six months to create a sophisticated, contemporary venue. This alliance and the enduring friendship that followed focused on making Puerto Vallarta a culinary destination par excellence. It was the dawn of Puerto Vallarta’s Festival Gourmet.
The Hurricane Test
On November 9, 2002, La Palapa was scheduled to offer the now traditional Festival Gourmet brunch. But just days before, on October 25, Hurricane Kenna struck Puerto Vallarta and almost completely destroyed La Palapa. Luckily, the kitchen was left intact, so management and employees worked relentlessly to reopen 15 days after the disaster. “We had no roof, so we opened just for dinner and worked hard during the day,” Alberto recalls.
La Palapa Today
La Palapa’s menu is returning to its roots, featuring regional cuisine based on local ingredients with a contemporary twist that could be defined as modern, but with the flavors of yesteryear. After 50 years, La Palapa is better than ever, with much to offer both local and international guests, meeting the challenge of maintaining the quality and reputation that have earned its success.