Playa Papagayos Restaurant
Guanabana Agua Fresca
Warm Housemade Tortilla Chips and Salsa
Cubana Mexicana Torta – Pork Leg, Ham, Hot Dog, Breaded Steak, Mexican Sausage, Cheese and Egg
Gordita – Chicharron, Lettuce and Queso Fresco
Pambazo – Mexican Roll dipped in Red Sauce, Fried with Chorizo and Potatoes, Fresh Lettuce, Sour Cream and Queso Fresco
Shrimp Tostada – Ceviche-style, Avocado, Cilantro and extra Lime
Flan Napolitano – Whipped Cream and Walnuts
Recently fortunate enough to have dined at many of Mexico City’s best, a chance to visit the coastal noma residency passed up to instead explore restaurants both high-brow and literally ‘hole in the wall’ that have helped make the Mexican Capital a dining destination for everything from Tripe Tacos and Ant Larvae to Foie Gras and Wagyu Beef, it was with a bit of hesitancy that the decision was made to visit Playa Papagayos Restaurant on Friday afternoon, the experience thankfully proving to be a good one by any standard with gracious service and some truly delicious cuisine.
Open now since November in a shopping plaza at the corner of Decatur and Sahara, not exactly a culinary ‘hot-spot’ with the Fantastik Indoor Swapmeet only a few steps away, Playa Papagayo translates literally to Parrot Beach and although nothing about the sizable space tucked beside a Pizza parlor screams tropical, the restaurant is clean and well lit with a lot of seating, a petit Mexican woman greeting diners at the door and offering them a wide range of tables with padded chairs, many of them coated in clear plastic.
Playing traditional Latin American music overhead and Soccer on a pair of Televisions, the clientele sparse but consisting mostly of local businessmen and a few Mexican women who seemed to be doing work as they partook in Salads, large Sandwiches or Soups, it was with water in hand that the sizable menu from Chef Alberto Ocampo was perused, one at the table opting for a $2.50 Agua Fresca that quickly saw the lone-server turn craftsman, a mix of fresh Fruit, Sugar and bottled Water placed in a Vitamix with the result a creamy concoction that was only slightly sweet and whole lot better than the typical lunchtime Iced Tea or Soda.
Ranging from typical Tacos and Burritos to more esoteric regional specialties from the state of Guerrero, the original home of Chef Ocampo before relocating and opening his first restaurant in Colton California, first-time diners at Playa Papagayo would be well-advised to approach the menu front-to-back with the first two pages focusing on lighter bites such as the Oysters, Shrimp, Fish and Octopus that put the original location on the map, the $6 Camaron Tostada featuring plump little Shrimp with plenty of Citrus amidst the flavor of chopped Onions and Cilantro, the portion quite large for the price-point, especially when accounting for the big slice of fresh Avocado.
Reportedly importing many of the Spices and Meats from the family’s home town, a Chicken Mole and housemade Huaraches more than enough reason to return, it was after a short wait spent watching two Chefs work that three plates were brought forth along with two Salsas, one look at the Cubana Mexicana Torta enough to make even the hungriest diner question their capacity, the soft Roll stretched to its limits around five types of Meat, two styles of Cheese plus Vegetables and a light Sauce, the flavor of the Breaded Steak and Pork Sausage most prevalent amongst the mix with the wise only enjoying half, making for essentially two full meals for just eleven bucks.
Not particularly a ‘diet-friendly’ place, though healthful choices can certainly be made by way of Tuna or Shrimp Salad, Seafood Soup or the raw Shellfish noted above, those taking a more all-in approach are encouraged to next take a look at the regionally famous fork-and-knife Pambazo, a housemade Roll dipped in mild red Sauce and fried in a pan with Potatoes and Pork Sausage, the addition of sliced Lettuce and Fresh Cheese adding just enough levity to keep things fresh, as also was the case with the thick Cornmeal Gordita opened up and stuffed with crispy fried Pig Skin.
Unfortunately sold out of the Rice Pudding, but still offering three additional Desserts including a daily Gelatin plus a Fruit Parfait sold in two sizes, those looking for something truly unique would be wise to invest $2.95 in the Flan Napolitano, a small wedge of the Cheese Custard served more like a soft Cake than the traditional creamy pudding, a style not seen to this point and explained by the Chef as ‘a family secret’ when he later walked around the room asking diners how they had enjoyed their experience.
FOUR STARS: Perhaps even more varied than the numerous styles of cuisine found in China or India it would be difficult to name the perfect ‘Mexican’ restaurant, but in terms of dollar-for-dollar value in terms of taste, quality and execution one would be hard-pressed to name spot in Las Vegas outperforming Playa Papagayos in terms of its style, the majority of the food probably a little heavy for some but undoubtedly made fresh from good ingredients and with a lot of thought.
RECOMMENDED: Agua Fresca, Shrimp Tostada, Pambazo, Flan Napolitano.
AVOID: Regular menu items simply should not be sold out. Not here, not anywhere. Also, the three house Salsas are universally thin and not particularly hot.
TIP: 9a-9p Daily. All plates, including breakfast, offered throughout opening hours.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor.