Is It Any Good?

She was great once. Don’t know what the hell’s happened to her since then.

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There is nothing that I’m going to say here that’s going to change your mind about Lauriol Plaza in Downtown D.C. Nothing. It’s a beloved institution. It’s popular as all get out. On a daily basis, they are packed to the brim with people.

But they don’t give two @#$% about their customers.

Yes, I’m saying it. They…don’t…care. They feel they don’t have to try.  At least that’s not the way they’ve behaving.  They’re behaving like you’ll come anyway.  You’ll put up with whatever we put you through to get a table.  Shut up and deal with it.

That’s how it felt the night I was there.

So now, are you going to predictably keep on feeding them business, proving once and for all that they don’t have to try?

Okay, you’ve been warned.

Lauriol Plaza started in a much smaller venue, but it’s tastes and style caught on with local Washingtonians. Soon, it moved into a bigger space, a much bigger space, where they are now on 18th and S. From one floor to four, with decks inside and outside. Lauriol Plaza was always a favorite place to go in D.C. A place to come and hang after a hard day’s work spending or wasting the taxpayers money.

It was also a point of pride in my family. My visits home to the holidays would often start with the question: “When do you want to go to Lauriol Plaza“?

Not do you want to go, but when do you want to go.

Lauriol Plaza in Washington, D.C.

This was the place you went when you wanted good Mexican, or more to the point, good Pan-Latin food.

So what happened?  Well, you can’t go home again, that’s for sure.

Personally, I live in a city with…frankly, much better Mexican Food.  D.C. has it’s share of Hondurans and Salvadorans, and they are no slouch in the cooking department.  But let’s face it, L.A. is closer to it’s Mexican ingredients than D.C.’s Hondurans are to theirs.  That’s makes a difference.

Also, my Father who’s been coming to both Lauriol locations for around a quarter century, who also hasn’t been here in years, saw very few of the old staff from his halcyon days.  That could be part of it…

But when you’re as successful as Lauriol Plaza is, and you’re packed to the brim every night as Lauriol Plaza is…exactly how hard do you have to try? When you’re full to capacity on a Wednesday freakin’ night, how much do you have to worry about satisfying customers?

We’d made reservations for this place early. Called in for a party of six in the afternoon. When we were asked what we wanted sit inside or outside, we asked to sit inside.

And that’s when the clown car crashed.

Inside or Outside, it’s a simple question, right? All you have to is show us to the type of Table we asked for, right? Then why…are we being show to a table on the fourth floor, one the outdoor deck?

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering. Malcolm. C’mon, man. You can’t seriously be knocking one of the most beloved restaurants in the D.C. area because they wouldn’t seat you were you want? Right? Heck, my own Stepsister thinks the confusion stemmed from her telling the Hostess “Indoors”, but also “asking to be near all the windows,” which are up on the topmost floor.

Still, that doesn’t account for what happened next.

So once we get to the deck, once we’re away from the air-conditioned cool of Floors 1 through 3, we say “Hey. We uh asked for Indoors.”

Did they say “Sorry for the confusion?  We’ll get you set up somewhere else?”

Did they escort us to any one of the DOZENS of tables and chairs SITTING EMPTY that we passed on the way up there?

Did they do anything to help alleviate the situation?

No, they told us. Yeah, this outdoor deck is actually indoors.  Just close one of very large windows, and you’ll be fine.

So, we sat…tentatively, and tried to close the very large windows.

The party at the table next to us objected.

That tore it for me, so I went downstairs to fix the situation. D.C. in the Summer is not cool.  It is both hot and humid, and I thought it a good idea to actually enjoy my meal here.  I found the girl who had seated us, told her what had happened. I said we had asked for Indoors and you gave us Outdoors.  She pointed me to one of the Hostesses. The Hostess promptly had a discussion with one of the…I don’t know…Floor Managers upstairs via Walkie-Talkie. Apparently, she is told that there’s nothing else available.

Pretty much all of Floor Three sitting there, tablecloths in place, utensils laid out…but nothing is available?

And I say “apparently” because no one told me directly of this, I have to overhear it as people jabbered back and forth.

Okay, so I explain it again to the Hostess. She listens intently. Nods like she’s going to do something, then…without a word to me, walks off to take care of someone else.

Since I can tell she doesn’t give a @#$%, I explain my story to yet a THIRD employee of the restaurant, and something, sorta gets done. Sorta. I am told that there is a table for six, but it’s going to be a 5-10 minute wait.

I’m still treating this as the restaurant’s screw up.  You may disagree, but…sorry, it’s totally the Restaurant’s screw up.  We asked for Indoors, and…they didn’t listen, or didn’t care.

I would have walked out and told them exactly what they could do with their table, but I had a party of five other people, and for some reason they wanted to stay. So I went up. Told them what the option was. I also told them in all seriousness that they could stay in the outdoor seats we did not want, but I was intending to have my dinner elsewhere. They elected to come downstairs, and wait…wait for a hell of a lot longer than ten minutes, but wait we did for the new table to be prepared…even though it was sitting there empty the whole time we were waiting.

Finally, we were allowed to sit at one of the many empty tables on the third floor.  You know, the one that have been sitting half-vacant all this time.

One of my party was a little unsteady with the stairs, and wanted to use the elevator. Broken, she and the Waiter discovered. So she had to use the stairs anyway.

We sit. My party? They’re happy. I’m ready to use the tableware to burn the place down.

Things don’t get any better than when I see every table (but ours) get the house made complimentary Chips and Salsa. My father has to nudge our Server to get them served.

The Chips and Salsa (Finally) at Lauriol Plaza.

The Chips and Salsa (Finally) at Lauriol Plaza.

This evening is not going to end well, is it?

Things get measurably worse, when I see a young couple head up to the fourth floor, to that outside deck, and within seconds head right back down. Apparently, they didn’t want to sit outside either. but are they made to wait 5-10 minutes for a table in the increasingly crowded Third Floor? Nope. They are seated right away.

How many ways are these people going to screw–

All I have now is the food, my happy go lucky memories of the food at Lauriol Plaza. The restaurant’s service may suck donkey eggs now, but at least I’ll get a good meal…

…and even THAT is a let down.

What the@#$% #$%^!!!!

The last blow comes when Dad orders his favorite dessert Coconut Ice Cream, he finds out that the Refrigerator was broken that morning and that all the Coconut Ice Cream has melted and had be thrown away.

Okay, I’m not sure I buy that, because apparently two kinds of Ice Cream did survive…and stuff…happens…umm….right?

I’ve gone on long enough. I’ve told you what happened, and why I’m as pissed of as I am. Here it is. I know you won’t believe me. I know you won’t care, but…you’ve been warned.

Lauriol Plaza does not care about you. They don’t think they have to earn your business, or work hard for it. Why?  Because you’re coming and-or will put up with it anyway.

Go ahead. Prove me right.


WHAT SHOULD I GET?: It’s not the fact that things were bad, it’s just that they kept getting worse and worse with each passing step or request. It’s like Lauriol Plaza was in a minefield, and just kept stepping on land-mines with every step.

I ordered the Pork Chops, which were braised “in a delicious wine sauce” and set atop a bed of spinach and mashed potatoes. And it was…it was…

The Pork Chop Dinner Special at Lauriol Plaza.

Look, ever go to Grandma’s House for Thanksgiving, and had a Turkey so dry that it’s actually sucked the moisture from your mouth? Yeah that’s how dry the Pork Chops were.

The Wine Sauce was okay.  A touch spicy, but not spicy enough.  I got the feeling there’s a version out there that packs a wallop, but it as tasty enough.  The Mashed Potatoes and the Spinach were good, but…the Pork Chop itself?

I also got some Tacos De Brisket as a starter, and they were…okay. It was stewed Brisket, served in a Corn Tortilla, and garnished with the usual suspects…including the House Avocado sauce, which is more tangy and tasty than mashed Avocado. Together it was…okay. On the pretty good side of the “okay” meter. A blast of lime really helps the flavor along, but on further reflection, I’m not sure Brisket is the way to go as far as Taco meats go. Without the fat, not a lot of flavor to lean on.


IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP, PEOPLE: Everything I said above.

Look, I brought up the stuff about the elevator and the Freezer for a reason. When I first started doing reviews, I went to a place called Pho Citi. I liked it a lot. I had a great bowl of Pho there, with an Sweetened Ice Tea from the machine there by the counter. I went back again the next week, and the machine was broken…

…and it remained broken for the next two years I visited, until I just gave up. I poked my head in one day, to see if the machine was working. When I say it wasn’t, I went elsewhere.

The next time I went back, I saw it (and it’s four other locations) had gone belly up.

Point is, the Restaurant business is a hard and dangerous one. A thousand things can (and do) go wrong at any give time, any one of which can make life either miserable or unpleasant for your customers. The fact that Pho Citi didn’t bother to fix their Iced Tea dispenser for TWO YEARS, tells me either they didn’t have the money to fix it, or they didn’t care of the machine got fix. Even though I suspect money was tight and they couldn’t afford to fix it, neither of those scenarios is a good look for a restaurant.

So, here at Lauriol Plaza, one Freezer goes down, and all the supply of one of their favorite desserts is annihilated in one night? The elevator that gets Elderly customers is broken, and the only one of the Waiters discovers that fact is to push the button? No one tells him?

This is not a good look for Lauriol Plaza. I can’t tell what their story is, but this was a lot of @#$% to go wrong on a single night. I have never seen anything like this…

…and since I’m never going back, I doubt I ever will again.


PARKING: You can try to park in the neighborhood, but truth be told, the fastest, easiest thing to do is to use the Valet Service.

Now, the one thing to remember is you park your car in front of the restaurant, and pick it up around the corner from the restaurant. It’s all on the same block, all within the contiguous borders of Lauriol Plaza. But drop off one place, pick up anther.

And it’s $5 bucks for the privilege.

Keep in mind their lot fills up quickly, even on a Wednesday night. (It’s not a terribly big lot.)

Lauriol Plaza in Washington, D.C.

Lauriol Plaza
1835 18th St NW
Washington, DC 20009

Tel: (202) 387-0035

Sunday-Thursday: 11:30 am – 11:00 pm
Friday-Saturday: 11:30 am – 12:00 am