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Papa Grande’s Rehoboth

/ Updated on October 5, 2017

Ever since the delightful Nancy Wolfe (now Nancy Wolfe Wayson) shuttered her very French and very tasty Chez la Mer restaurant here in Rehoboth Beach, that building at the corner of Wilmington Ave. and Second St. has been witness to several misses – but no hits – until now.

The late Matt Haley’s SoDel Concepts organization is populated with dedicated and talented people who genuinely liked their boss and still mourn his recent passing. Why am I telling you that? Because I believe you can taste that admiration in the food and feel it in the service. Happy management and happy employees make for happy restauranting. And, in varying degrees, all of SoDel Concepts’ Delaware coast eateries maintain a high standard of quality. The eighth and most recent example of this is Papa Grande’s Rehoboth. Already well-ensconced in that half-block long building (with a roof that sports one of the top sunset-lovers’ spots in town), Papa Grande’s Rehoboth is the second in a series, the first being the original Papa Grande’s in Fenwick Island next to Catch 54. The concept was born out of Haley’s fascination with the street culture, food carts and taquerias that are ubiquitous south of the border. He gathered his upper-level guys, including corporate chef Doug Ruley, and took them to the Southwest and Mexico to ferret out unusual recipes from street carts, food vendors and tiny carryouts. Then, working with chefs from the Texas Culinary Institute of America, they adapted these traditional dishes to the needs and volume of a busy restaurant.

The menu is divided into 9 sections. The Entradas (appetizers) could be meals in themselves, and the award for star of the show is divided among the Guacamole, the Padron Peppers and the Mexican Street Corn. The guacamole is delicious. It’s firm and holds its shape with no particular flavor standing out too much – other than avocado. There’s even a tiny bit of heat just to warm you up to the experiences that follow. The Padrón Peppers are a must-get in Fenwick, and now I don’t have to drive nearly as far. This dish is the poster child for SoDel Simple: Peppers. Roasted. Sea Salted. Drizzled with lime. Period. That’s it. And they are sublime. The Padrón pepper is so named because it originates from the Padrón area in the province of La Coruña in northwestern Spain, and very rarely do you encounter one that is even mildly hot.

The third contender for star-of-the-show appetizer deserves its own paragraph (hence the indent…): The Mexican Street Corn. Imagine a half-ear of corn on the cob, impaled on a lollipop-like stick, rolled in Mexican melting cheese, crema (a cultured sour cream cheese), dusted with a mild but pungent chili powder and crackly sea salt, then lightly splashed with lime. Gadzooks! At the risk of stirring up the Chronic Complainers (keep emailing me — it makes me feel wanted), this is an amazing combination of tastes. As of this writing, it’s early in the season, but imagine this dish kicked up mid-summer with fresh-off-the-stalk Sussex County corn!
This is not to minimize the other items, including the cold, crunchy and piquant Jicama & Carrot Sticks, further evidence of that Haleyesque mantra of straight-ahead and simple; the Shaved Brussels Sprouts flavored with roasted corn vinaigrette and mingled with cotija cheese (feta-like in its saltiness, but more crumbly a la Parmagiano-Reggiano), and the Nachos, which are fairly typical, but kicked up to extra cheesy heights with that smooth crema.

The Caesar Salad is punctuated with deliciously saline cotija and sports the crunch of tortillas intermingled with dark green romaine. The Mexican Chopped Salad contains a variety of goodies (the menu calls it the “kitchen sink”) and is served with queso and a Cilantro Ranch dressing that could actually make me say something nice about Ranch Dressing. Could say…I didn’t say I would. But if I have to have the Ranch, I’ll take that one laced with bright cilantro.

As a coastal taqueria, Papa Grande’s Rehoboth must have tacos. But these ain’t yo’momma’s tacos! Yes, the Crispy Fish, Crispy Shrimp and the Grilled Adobo Chicken varieties are quite delicious, if not comfortably customary. But then things start to get exciting: Pork Belly! Crisp, savory and unctuous like bacon only dreams of being. Then there’s …. wait for it … SPAM! Who else but Matt Haley would put Spam tacos on a menu and then end up selling the heck out of them!? He pairs it with pineapple, of course. The only thing missing is the lei and a grass skirt (well, this is Rehoboth Beach, so sit for a minute and one will surely breeze by).
But wait! There’s more! The Scrapple & Apple taco is difficult to describe, as the controversial though delicious breakfast meat and the apples create an entirely new taste – not pork, not fruit. Beef Short Rib tops off the list. Short Rib is pretty much everywhere nowadays, but the beans, rice, lime and crema drizzle takes it where no man (or woman) has crunched before.

The rice bowls are a mainstay of the entrée (Especiales de la Casa) menu. Again, the old standbys are there, like shrimp (punctuated with pineapple and plantains) and Skirt Steak Fajitas (Atlantic City-style with peppers and onions). But then there’s that Haley twist again: A Mussels & Chorizo platter, a pressed Cuban Torta (think Panini, but with a Mexican accent) built like a Cuban (it’s even got pickles!), and what I believe are the front-runners, the Pork Belly and Fried Egg Rice Bowl and the Scrapple and Fried Egg Burrito (think breakfast). Both of these dishes defy description, but scroll through the photo gallery and see for yourself.

If you are a fan of Mole (a magical sauce comprised of chocolate, peanut butter and lot of other stuff), don’t miss the Turkey Leg Mole platter. The mole sauce has a hint of plum and the leg is dusted with sesame seeds (very mole-like). Queso, veggies and lime top it off. My resident mole expert loves it because “it’s real mole sauce — you can’t taste any of the individual ingredients.” (High praise indeed from somebody with a pathological fear of condiments.) Frightened of the turkey leg? You can get the mole sauce on roasted brussels sprouts. Who wooda thought!?!?! Another one you have to try is the Seafood Pozole with the required hominy, that spicy tomato broth and fresh shellfish.

Quesadillas are served with an ancho pepper/honey sauce and include plain queso, Shrimp & Chili Rajas (sliced Poblanos & crème – very popular in sunny Mexico), and Chicken & Queso. The best, in our opinion, are the Lobster & Corn, and the Carnitas (simmered cubes of pork) & Chorizo. Most Mexican-flavored places offer a single version of Queso Fundido (usually with chorizo) but of course Papa’s has to gild the lily with Crab & Corn, ‘Shroom & Truffle, Chorizo and Pickled Jalapeno and plain Pico de Gallo versions. Fundido never had it so good. The Crab & Corn is not to be missed.

On our many visits, one of our party got the Hangover Cocktail (she needed it). This bright red ceviche of crab, shrimp, lobster, spicy tomato, lime and avocado did the trick. It was cold, brightly acidic and so good that she ordered another House Margarita with orange liqueur and lime. And it worked! No more hangover. Amazing.

Standouts on the dessert menu include the Churros (stacked log cabin-style next to warm, dark chocolate), the bracing Tequila Lime Pie (think Key Lime with a liquor license) and the deceptively simple-looking Chocolate Pot de Crème. There’s a surprise inside, and I will leave it to you to find out. I can’t tell you everything, y’know.

Papa Grande’s Coastal Taqueria Rehoboth is centrally located at 210 Second St., rounding out an enclave of eateries that includes Confucius, Stoney Lonen, Salt Air and Henlopen City Oyster House. There is a tiny bar inside (with some fun hi-tops), but the rooftop treehouse is the place to be, margarita in hand, when the sun sets. Do note that because the building is so old that the bathrooms are somewhat difficult to access. All SoDel Concepts restaurants are open 7 days, year-round, but always call in the off-season just in case. 302-212-2409. Hours are 4-10 Sun.-Thurs. and 4-11 Fri. & Sat. (D., Bar) Price Range: Moderate.

Follow Papa’s Rehoboth on Facebook.

RehobothFoodie.com notes the sad passing of chef, award-winning restaurateur and SoDelConcepts founder Matt Haley, who passed away on August 19th, 2014 from injuries sustained in a motorcycle crash while on a humanitarian trip in the mountains of India. Matt will be sorely missed by many, many people.

Off-season Specials & Hours

Specials & Moods change quickly. Always call a restaurant first.

pp = per person.
BOGO = buy one, get one.
Bloody = bloody mary.
domestics = American-made beers (e.g., Bud).
imports = foreign beers (e.g., Heineken).
Rails = non call-brand alcohol.
Prix Fixe = one set price.
Mains = entrees.
Margs = margaritas.
Chix = chicken.
AYCE = all you can eat.
Lite = Miller Lite
drafts = draught beer.
Early Birds = arrive before a certain time.
Apps = Appetizers.
bottles = beer in a bottle.
à la carte = order off the menu (no prix fixe).
crafts = micro/artisanal brews (e.g., Old Leghumper Lager)

210 2nd. St.

Off season specials for 2017-2018 start Sept. 11, 2017

Open noon-10
Happy Hour 4-7
SoDel Sunday Supper: 3 courses for only $19
Closed until 2018

Closed until 2018
Open 4-9
Happy Hour 4-7
Take 25% off your check!
Open 4-9
Happy Hour 4-7
Taco Night!
Open 4-10
Happy Hour 4-7
Fajita Friday!
Open noon-9
Happy Hour 4-7
Wine bottles 50% off!
The Rehoboth Foodie

About the Author

"My goal is to promote Rehoboth Beach dining while remaining honest and impartial. I don’t gush unless a place deserves it, and I don’t pull punches, either. With so many good places to eat around here, it just doesn’t make sense to waste the calories — or the money — on anything less." View all articles written by The Rehoboth Foodie

Add Your Comment
  1. Carol says:

    My husband and I dined at Papa Grande for a birthday celebration on Dec 3. When we arrived, we were one of 3 couples in the establishment. We both ordered the Sloppy Joe Enchiladas, which were cold in the center when served. Our server disappeared, so my husband had to get up to find help. He located our server socializing with a group at the bar. Cold entrees were removed and after a bit we received 2 new entrees, delivered to us by the manager with apologies. The second entrees were warmer, but not hot by any means. In summery, the food was disappointing and the service was sub-standard. Certainly not the dining experience we have come to expect from a SoDel restaurant. We won’t return.

  2. John M. Iaquinta says:

    My wife and I had dinner at Pappa Grande’s on Thursday, 9/5 and were excited to try it based on your review. We were massively underwhelmed. Corn and crab queso fundido was good if light on crab, and we ordered pork belly and short rib tacos for mains. The tacos were seriously disappointing. The meat on both was dry, bland and tough. I’m confident that they had been prepared well before Thursdays service. The salsa served with them was cloyingly sweet and without any depth, the accompanying rice and beans portion was tiny and tremendously bland. Waitstaff consisted of pleasant enough but rather vacant, young folks who seemed like they would have been more at home in a Chili’s or TGI type franchise. Hopefully we just caught Pappa’s on a bad night, but I doubt we’d return given all the other great options within a couple blocks.

  3. Brenda says:

    Went again last night, part happy hour, part dinner. I honestly don’t know what the fuss is about. Good guacamole, tacos could use a 2nd tortilla because they start to fall apart, shrimp bowl – plantains tasted old and tired, spices were just ok and at $21 it just doesn’t cut it. I’ve enjoyed even Chipotle better. Swordfish over salad special was undercooked and at least was taken off check when we brought it to waitress’s attention.

  4. Not on Matts payroll says:

    Not entirely sure how you can rate their bathrooms so highly when they are not handicap accessible. I have closets that are bigger. Your “unbiased reporting” is questionable at best

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