It’s fantastically good, and surprise! It’s in Sisal, a fishiing village on the Yucatan coast west of Progreso, Chuburna, and all the towns we can access via the Merida-Progreso road. To get to Sisal, you have to follow Jacinto Canek Avenue west out of Merida, go through some towns including Hunucma, and follow the signs to Sisal.
When you enter town, you turn left off of the road onto Calle 3. Just a few doors into the first block, you will see the restaurant, La Palapa de Soco on your right. When Eladio and Elda took us there, we knew we had found Sisal seafood heaven. As casual visitors, we’d always eaten at the beach, where the ocean view, not the food, is the main attraction.
We could tell as soon as we walked in that this was going to be different. The first thing you notice is that the place has been decorated with love and pride. It’s tasteful and immaculate. There are old photos of Sisal and of wildlife on the walls and marine objects to look at. It’s a big place and the owner, Milo, recently bought the property all the way to the corner and renovated it to modern standards. You can rent the space for parties, but it’s open to the public most of the time. The main dining room is a palapa.
In the back of the main part of the restaurant, Milo’s father fries fish. It’s quite a different proposition from the fish frying you see, for instance, at the main market in Merida. The fish are clean, the grease is clean, and the surfaces are clean. The old man cooks with the fluency of a master, and with a smile on his face. In the kitchen, on the other side of the wall, there are four or five women preparing vegetables, washing dishes in HOT soapy water, and composing plates. Apparently the owner mixes the sauces and does much of the actual cooking.
Our waiter looked like someone from central casting had sent out to fill the part of Waiter. He was an older man with glasses and an interesting face. He knew the menu and he knew his job. He was dressed in crisp black and white.
We examined the menu for quite some time because it was so hard to choose. We all made an agreement to share.
Our drinks came first and my limonada was made of real lemons, not powder. Then, they brought us a collection of botanas, or snacks, that kept us busy until the main course arrived. The botanas included fish ceviche, vegetables, beans, and fish in sauce.
All the main courses came at the same time and were proudly presented by Milo, the waiter, and an assistant.
My shrimp with curry sauce was perfect. The sauce was slightly hot, creamy, and had the complexity of spices that marks a good curry. The shrimps were huge and succulent and I hated to share, but I did.
I reluctantly tried Ignacio’s octopus in black tint and was surprised at how good it was. The octopus was tender and flavorful and the black sauce was tasty and complex. I actually think I’d order it in the future.
Mary had giant shrimp in mustard sauce, which was also creamy and absolutely delicious, as was the shrimp in media crema, which was slightly garlicky and irresistible. The kids shared that.
Elda scored the best dish, the coconut shrimp. They were the largest of the shrimps, were fried to perfection and coated with coconut. I’ve had coco shrimp a few times in Progreso, but never will again. The agreement to share food was a good one.
This place was so fabulous, that it’s worth driving to Sisal just to have lunch. The trip is only about an hour and it’s an interesting ride. The prices are moderate (e.g., 80 pesos for coco shrimp) and the food is hands-down, the best seafood I’ve had here. You don’t expect to find sophisticated cooking on the coast (with the possible exception of Elio’s al Mare in Progreso, which is inconsistent), but this guy is way past the usual deep-fried grouper, which of course he also serves.
The food is so fresh it’s practically bursting with flavor. I imagine Milo buys straight from the fishing boats at the co-ops.
November is the beginning of duck hunting season and the town will be full of hunters, many of them American, coming down to shoot and kill small helpless creatures for sport. They aren’t allowed, of course, to take any of their spoils back to the USA. During this season, the Palapa de Soco is full of the hunters and Milo says he prepares duck for the menu.
The food we had is the kind of stuff you can’t stop eating. You are disappointed when it’s gone, even thought you’ve eaten too much. You want to come back in a couple of hours and do it again.
Note: In the new, refurbished dining room, there are some lovely paintings of Sisal and of ducks, done by a local artist. Some remind me of Audubon paintings. Milo has them nicely framed and displayed and says the artist sells to the public, although the process might take several months.