La Playa at Gulf Place Has a New Owner with a Familiar Face
March 15, 2019 by Jill Tanner
It was back in the “good ol’ days" (actually 2006) when I met this charming, fast talking, constantly laughing cut-up. Mario and a crew of nine invaded SoWal from post Katrina New Orleans awash in world famous Cajun hospitality and armed with good tips. I was tending bar upstairs at Bud and Alley’s at the time and from the first drink, it was clear that this crew fit right into the South Walton scene. Mario confirmed his commitment to the beach when he became the General Manager for Restaurant Fire, which had re-opened in Grayton Beach.
It wasn't a matter of if Mario would open his own place, it was simply when and where. That opportunity presented itself in the form of La Playa, a coastal cantina in Gulf Place. La Playa is in the perfect spot, sitting directly across from one of the busiest beach accesses on Scenic 30A – perfect because guests can just walk up and grab food and cocktails. Perfect because La Playa has a great view, open-air patio, fine Mexican food and stiff drinks. What more could you ask? People watching? Yeah, that too!
As if the fit wasn't just right, add Mario’s mother to this dynamic. She is Mexican and had for years provided Mario and his family with fine fare from her home country. Over time Mario plans to tweak the recipes at La Playa to showcase his family’s authentic Mexican cuisine.
La Playa is a counter service establishment offering breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. It has a very laid-back vibe where you simply walk in, order at the counter and grab a seat. The breakfast menu features everything from classic eggs and bacon to Huevos Rancheros or Empanadas served with eggs. I like to order a burrito or taco bowl. I build my own bowl, getting as creative and adventurous as I want, without feeling like I'm ordering “off the menu”. At 11:00, the lunch/dinner menu starts and continues throughout the day and night.
The open-air patio faces Scenic 30A and the Gulf of Mexico. The patio has a full bar with all your favorite beachy drinks like margaritas and mojitos as well as other cocktails and beer. It’s that super chill kind of place where you can walk up, sandy and wet from the beach and relax for hours. La Playa ("the beach" in Spanish) is the perfect fit in the gulf and Mario is the definitely right person to bring in the spark and sizzle to this classic place by the beach.