I have an awful sense of direction but even I couldn’t miss the enticing smell of “La Palma Mexicatessen.” Nestled on the corner of Florida Street and 24 Street, La Palma has been serving Mission residents since 1953. La Palma’s mission statement is a direct promise to the community that its food will remain affordable and high quality for their customers. “Our mission is to continue to provide the healthiest, freshest Latin food to serve our community.”
La Palma’s promise of affordable, fresh food called out to everyone and their mothers — the store was packed. The staff kindly and swiftly flipped from Spanish to English to help each customer. Despite their best efforts, they were too busy to comment — and the first bite of my burrito made me admire their hard work even more.
La Palma has two registers: one to ring up various ingredients and to-go goods, and another at the very back of the restaurant to purchase hot meals. In the center of the restaurant is a barrel of packaged tamale husks, next to shelves full of canned beans, jars of pickled vegetables, tortillas, and an assortment of ingredients for customers to make their own dishes.
To fit the spooky season, two plastic skeletons are perched on the corners of the shelves greeting customers as they step inside.
Alongside the east wall of the restaurant are rows of refrigerators stocked with salsas, guacamoles, cheeses, and a rainbow of agua frescas. On the very bottom of the refrigerators are plastic containers of flan, jello, and pastries adorned with frosted roses. It’s a tight squeeze between the refrigerator and the goods sold in the center so customers weave around the store, standing in single-file lines.
To the right of the entrance is a service window for people to grab their takeout orders. Customers were scattered around the restaurant’s entrance, waiting for their order numbers to be called from a small service window.
This is where I caught Hugo, a long-time customer, loading up his car with various bags of food. Hugo estimated that he has eaten at La Palma for the last two decades. Hugo keeps coming back for the restaurant’s “authentic traditional Mexican food, good service, good people,” he said. “Family run, family owned, best tortillas in town.”
La Palma is known for their fresh masa, a cornmeal based dough. According to their website, the restaurant makes their masa daily with dried, GMO (genetically modified organism) free corn used to make tamales, tortillas, and a variety of other dishes. The restaurant produces a myriad of masa, most notably white corn, blue corn, and cactus. La Palma also makes strawberry and cinnamon masa for dessert tamales.
Although most customers decided to opt for takeout, father-son duo Tom and Henry enjoyed an early lunch on the restaurant’s side patio. Tom has been coming to La Palma for over 15 years and absolutely loves it, “Gosh, just everything, especially the chips and salsa. All the little side things you can get here are so wonderful.” Tom explained all the dishes they bought while Henry sat patiently. “I got the chili verde burrito today, he gets a bean and cheese — plain. We also picked up a bit of this thing, it’s called carne de cerdo chicharrones.” Tom suggested getting the refried beans and Henry likes the chicharrones and drinks.
Like Tom and Henry, I will be back for more.