La Palapa Too

An inviting spinoff of the popular Ellicott City original.

From Kliman Online's "Word of Mouth"

From the outside, La Palapa Too has the look and feel of one of those Tex-Mex restaurant franchises that cop all the right details — the bright colors, the festive vibe, and the peppy music — yet still succeed into turning the place into something canned and generic.

Inside, it's a different story. La Palapa Too, is, in fact, a spinoff of the original, hugely successful Ellicott City restaurant — La Palapa. But little about the place comes across as a knockoff. The space is warm, inviting and tasteful, with its wrought-iron lamps and dramatic, color-washed walls. And the cooking has more than its share of surprises.

Given its location, a strip mall servicing the dense clusters of office buildings in and around Columbia, the likes of fajitas, quesadillas, and taco salads on the menu are probably to be expected. But even as the restaurant makes sure to feed the lunchtime and happy hour masses, it manages to slip in a bit of ambition, too. There's a wonderfully complex, gently seasoned tortilla soup; a fabulous asado de puerco served in a bubbling crock (its thick, cumin-stoked red chili sauce cloaking rough-cut chunks of braised pork); and a lushly creamy version of tres leches cake.

I prefer actual pieces of stewed chicken in my mole, rather than clean-cut slices, and the kitchen isn't above oversalting at times. But these are quibbles. I'd be eager to return to explore more of the menu.

 -May 29, 2007