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Tacos and Happiness at La Playa Mexican Grille

Written by John Lumpkin. Photographs by Kenny Braun.

Diners outside La Playa Mexican Grille

“Tacos + Margaritas = Happiness”

So says the handwritten sign that greet post-Harvey diners at La Playa Mexican, a testament to owner Greg Villasana’s optimism. 

La Playa’s roof collapsed during Harvey and had to be removed. “Our restaurant was like a convertible,” recalls Villasana. Rain and wind pounded the interior, but the cinderblock walls held, as did the restaurant’s striking 4-by-6-foot painting of a man and woman by the late local artist Tiddle Caylor.

As the restaurant celebrates its 15th anniversary, La Playa’s menu options—one-half Tex-Mex and one-half seafood—draw crowds that form into lines on weekends. Both cuisines converge in one of La Play’s most popular dishes—crabmeat enchiladas with a roasted cream poblano. As for beverages, “We have one kind of gin and one kind of vodka, but 75 tequilas,” Villasana notes.

Villasana returned to Port Aransas after Harvey by a small boat when highway and ferry access was closed. His 1970s home was a total loss, eventually to be demolished, but La Playa seemed salvageable. Villasana and his son found temporary quarters in a townhouse with other restaurant owners, while he allowed a less fortunate resident to erect a tent on his vacant lot. During La Playa’s renovation, “We didn’t change much,” he says, wanting it “to feel like it always was.”

Amiable and soft-spoken, he says of La Playa’s revival, “I guess I felt really relieved. We were able to open and put people back to work.”

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