In 2016, La Paz will celebrate 22 years in the same relatively quiet little patch just off of U.S. 98, welcoming visitors to Holiday Isle and old Destin. I moved here in 1995, and enjoyed many a lunch at La Paz, marveling as the town grew up around it. They only serve dinner now (they cater too), but the high quality has remained the same. I think Mexican, I think La Paz.
My family and I ate there on a recent weekend. Earlier that same week I stopped in for a Beachcomber Music Awards “pre‑event” held in the restaurant’s cantina. It’s just to the right as you enter the front door, and offers both bar and tables for snacking or dining.
It had been some time since I had visited La Paz, so I don’t know when they made the decorative changes, but they bear close study. In addition to the cantina, there are two other main dining rooms, one with a smaller bar, the other suitable for larger groups (there was a big family meal underway the night we were there). The walls are painted in muted shades of red, yellow and blue. Lighting is somewhat subdued, adding a cozy touch. On the walls is a riot of photography and artwork—paintings, sculptures, 3D images, film and literary memorabilia, and loads of “Day of the Dead” themed objects. Who knew skeletons had such artistic potential?
My five‑year‑old daughter Grace (the Tiny Diner), fresh after a Saturday of running through the house practicing dance steps (ballet and tap, every Monday), was keen for some food, Fortunately, La Paz does not keep you waiting. Our server brought out a basket of corn chips and two dishes of red salsa—one slightly hotter than the other. It’s the chunky kind that does not spare the cilantro, which I like.
The menu (two‑sided) offers starters, salads, soups, quesadillas, burritos, fajitas, house favorites, seafood‑based entrees, dinner‑sized nachos, tortas (sandwiches), sides and desserts. There’s a full bar with an assortment of tequilas and four varieties of mezcal. For those seeking the complete Mexican experience, there are eight fruit flavors of colorful, oh‑so‑sweet Jarritos sodas, plus Mexican Coca‑Cola (made with real sugar). TD got fresh‑squeezed limeade.
Over the years I have sampled most of the La Paz menu, A few items are must‑have. I ordered my beloved pork tamales. My wife couldn’t make up her mind about which kind of quesadilla she wanted, so she got the “Three Way”—shrimp, steak and chicken. TD did not get past “corn dog” on the kids menu. She had tasted her first corn dog only weeks before, and apparently has begun some sort of quest.
More diners came, and there were about three servers taking care of the whole house, so things slowed a bit. Our server brought TD crayons for artwork. My daughter was seated under a pair of 3D images on the wall, two extremely well endowed females. Penny for your thoughts, kid, I wondered.
The food came. My tamales were served on a corn husk. The steamed tamales were laced with cheese and jalapenos. Chunks of tender pork filling were held together by onions, vegetables, almonds and raisins, melted cheese and red chili sauce. Black beans, seasoned rice and pico de gallo came on the side. I ate every bite, except for the husk.
My wife’s quesadillas were overstuffed with savory meats, shrimp and cheese. She could only finish half her order. La Paz serves cilantro and pepper seasoned crema sauce, a kind of cultured sour cream/cheese similar to creme fraiche. It’s tangy, rich stuff. We also had a side of guacamole, thick, smooth, slightly fruity‑tasting.
TD enjoyed half her corn dog, then finished it off the following day. I did not try it.
Other items available that night were salads, queso dip, jalapeno poppers, fresh catch, barbecue or vegetarian quesadillas, chiles rellenos and stuffed poblano, shrimp or combo enchiladas, tacos al carbon (choice of grilled meats), grilled fresh fish or shrimp, tequila lime shrimp, chili‑grilled fresh fish with mango salsa, fish tacos, bacon wrapped shrimp, nachos with chicken, beef, shrimp fish or barbecue, chicken, steak, shrimp or fish fajitas, and assorted variations on burritos and chimichangas. Many entrees can be made vegetarian. Sauce choices include mango, red chile, green chile (recommended), guajillo, tamarind BBQ, Oaxaca and habanero.
Desserts are ice cream, fried ice cream, flan or sopapilla. We were taking food home and TD had not had a nap, so we passed. Next time.