Recipes give insight into a culture, and chef and restaurateur Barbara Sibley deeply understands this seemingly simple concept. Originally born and raised in Mexico City, Barbara furthered a passion for indigenous cuisines while studying anthropology in college. She then devoted years to researching and collecting Mexican recipes from as far back as the 1600s, and in the process, she steadily became an ambassador for the culinary techniques and ingredients that define authentic Mexican cuisine. In addition to sharing this expertise with CBS New York, the Food Network, and cooking classes, Barbara published a collection of 75 recipes in her cookbook—Antojitos: Festive & Flavorful Mexican Small Plates.
If the cookbook is a reference source, then a meal at La Palapa is an immersive learning experience. Barbara drew upon her research as well as her extensive culinary experience when she founded the restaurant, designing a pan-regional menu of familiar staples and little-known gems that the New York Times hailed as "fascinating." Mexico City–style tacos brim with chili-rubbed pork and pineapple or corn sautéed in assertively herbal epazote, and grilled duck breast arrives in a decadently complex Oaxacan mole sauce made with 26 ingredients. Tradition remains of the utmost importance though, and Barbara takes care to hand make everything from cheese to chorizo in-house.
La Palapa takes its name from the Spanish word for the palm-thatched shelters that adorn Mexican beaches: an image that complements the restaurant's casual and inviting ambiance. The dining room manages to embrace its roots by prominently displaying images of Mexico City from the 17th century as well as modern sculptures inspired by pre-Columbian ceramic figures. Although the brickwork archways contribute to this sense of antiquity, La Palapa also features a handful of modern touches, including hourglass-shaped pendant lamps, a jukebox, and levitating barstools.