Lauriol Plaza

Cuban, Mexican, South American, Spanish, Tex-Mex
$$$$ ($15-$24)

Editorial Review

By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, May 18, 2013

Then: Go for the habanero-hot scene (2000)
Again: It's not about the food

Cross the Cheesecake Factory with Taco Bell -- then throw in spring break -- and what you get is this sprawling zoo of a destination in Dupont Circle that feeds an average of 1,400 customers a day. A diner could get jet lag just reading the menu possibilities, which hop from Peruvian seviche to Cuban pork and from Spanish paella to Mexican enchiladas and which get ferried from kitchen to crowd by troops of industrious servers.

Experience tells me to stick with guacamole and beans, no matter their shade, in what resembles National Airport with its soaring windows, arched ceilings and abundant light. The prime seats are on the sidewalk patio and the fourth-floor deck, which is where my posse and I were deposited on a recent bustling Sunday afternoon. Light but oily tortilla chips served with a salsa that tastes mostly of pepper demand something to wash them back, which explains the sea of margaritas surrounding us. (It pays to upgrade to the Gold Cadillac.)

Inattention is a prime seasoning. Fish seviche tastes mostly of lime and comes with a garnish of ... someone else's hair in the toss, which wasn't as off-putting as discovering a wad of chewing gum on the pepper shaker. The dry chicken tamales need every drop of the green sauce nearby. Pollo asado has juiciness in its favor, but not so the Brussels sprouts, so undercooked they defy the fork. A bowl of vivid orange seafood soup bobs with tired mussels, rubbery squid and shrimp that smack of iodine. And the chewy Cuban steak makes me thankful for strong molars. Combination platters, meanwhile, are a strapping yawn.

Ultimately, the single best dish at Lauriol Plaza is the something-for-everyone clientele. No matter your taste in people, you're likely to see it in the swarm.