Many moons ago when we lived in Playa del Carmen I broke the news to a friend that I was moving to Xcalak to house sit. Her reaction was interesting. She scrunched her face up and said,”Why would you want to do that?” and then a minute later her face lit up and she yelled “You’ll get to eat at the Leaky Palapa!” I, of course, had no idea what she was talking about. She explained that she was not a fan of Xcalak or remote small towns of any kind, but that a couple of (possibly insane) Canadians had opened a restaurant there that was so good she and her husband dined there at least once a year. So, a serious foodie was willing to make an overnight trip to the wilds of Xcalak simply to eat dinner? Huh. And thus, the Legend of The Leaky Palapa was born.
Upon our arrival in Xcalak I surveyed the town’s ramshackle appearance and dusty dirt roads, compared them with my friend’s idea of fine dining and immediately decided she was mistaken. There was no way there was an upscale dining opportunity in this village, surely she mixed Xcalak up with one of the dozens of other towns in the Yucatan that start with an X. I quickly dismissed the thought from my mind and forgot all about it.
A couple of days later the caretakers, house sitters, vagabonds, reformed pirates and various other flotsam and jetsom of the Xcalak beach road gathered to welcome Deidre and I and a couple of other new faces to the road. At this gathering, I overheard a conversation about the Leaky Palapa and my ears perked up. As I continued to eavesdrop I realized that The Leaky Palapa was indeed in this crazy little town we’d washed up in! I (possibly rudely) broke into the conversation to ask exactly where and when I could experience this culinary enigma I’d heard so much about. The answer was a crushing one. They had closed for the low season. The. Night. Before.
Yep, right place. Wrong, time. Again. We left town seven months later still never having the chance to find out if my friend was a kook for making a two-day trip to eat dinner or if this place of legend really was that good.
Fast forward a year or so and here we are back in Xcalak. Only this time with an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner at The Leaky Palapa. That’s right, my (and everyone else’s) favorite meal of the year was going to happen at this elusive eatery. We were finally getting a crack at the legend!
So last night we aired out our finest clothes and off we went to hobnob with Xcalak’s upper crust, eat some turkey and ahem, apparently drink some tequila.
Upon walking in the door, we were greeted by lots of smiling faces and the finest cranberry margaritas a guy could ask for. Everyone was wearing shirts and shoes, the drinks were super yummy and the atmosphere was just right. I mean, I knew we were in for a treat at that point and I hadn’t even seen the table yet.
Oh man, tons of great cheeses, house made pate, breadsticks, nuts, fruits, breads, focaccia and many, many other tasty tidbits. I’m not lying when I say that if that was the entire meal I would have gone home happy. But then we got called to the table.
Over the course of travelling around Mexico these last three years I’ve fantasised about food for roughly 3,401 hours and the meal I’ve thought about the most? You guessed it,
Ribs from Joe’s KC Thanksgiving. And boy did The Leaky Palapa nail it. Perfect turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy. Oh, that gravy. I’m a well-known gravy connoisseur and I give it 5 ladles up – straight onto my third plateful of heaven. The big three hit the spot, but they weren’t alone, they brought their friends glazed carrots, honeyed squash and green bean casserole (the undisputed champion of the vegetable kingdom) with them. Fantastically fluffy stuffing made an appearance and then a disappearance multiple times while cranberry chutney and nice wines circled the table.
Dinner was followed by a full table of homemade desserts that your grandma would (rightly) be asking the recipes for. Deep dish apple pie and apple cake and mini pecan pies all topped with vanilla ice cream made just that morning? Yes, of course I’ll have another. And another. I’ve always said that if you’re not horribly, uncomfortably full by the end of Thanksgiving dinner then it’s your own fault.
After dinner (and before if we’re being honest here) the tequila and conversation flowed freely, old acquaintances were deepened and many new friends were made. Xcalak is a small town with a somewhat transitory expat population so many of us had heard of each other, but never met and Thanksgiving provided an opportunity to meet face to face for the first time.
All of this was made possible by the delightful duo of Linda and Marla the (possibly insane) Canadians mentioned above. These guys have somehow created a wonderfully delicious, elegant yet laid back restaurant in a town where we buy food from the back of a pickup truck and finding sliced cheese can be a minor miracle. I don’t know how they’ve managed to do what they’ve done, but I sure am glad that they did!
So, back to our original question – is my friend a kook for spending a couple of days getting to and from Xcalak just to eat at The Leaky Palapa? Yes, but I would do the same and I recommend that you do too. Though my judgement might be a little suspect, I do live in my car after all.