Recently, with the abundance of time I’ve had on my hands, I began watching videos from my younger years. Videos of my friends and I just existing in a carefree world—one where responsibility didn’t play a role in our lives and a pandemic wasn’t even a feasible thought. I’ve felt heavy waves of nostalgia, remembering all the great times of my youth (I say as I prepare to turn 31) and reminiscing about the way things used to be. Those wonderful times when you could go out to eat at a restaurant without fear of endangering others, which takes an award in my heart for “Sentence I Never Thought I Would Earnestly Write.” My last restaurant review was March 5, which seems almost impossible. It was time to acknowledge the elephant in the room, the one of me avoiding doing a review. I’m out of practice, and my palate has changed wildly since the last time I wrote, as I have had to forage and scrounge and cook for myself, to varying degrees of barely passable success. But I need to do this not for me, but for the people. You, my dearest reader. So I ventured out into Old Town and found somewhere I was quite surprised I’d never heard of or been to before, La Placita Dining Rooms. I genuinely am shocked I’d never been in before. In my multiple trips through Old Town Plaza, it managed to escape my view. Entering, you could immediately tell it was unlike most any other restaurant in town. Primarily, it’s huge. Not just huge for Old Town, but genuinely huge for any part of the city. Should I have inferred that from the fact that “dining rooms” is in their name? Absolutely! It just didn’t register until I was inside. This sprawling mansion of a restaurant is slightly magical, with an almost labyrinthian feel, where every corner turned reveals a new room, with more passages to see. Walking past a tall staircase, you take a couple of turns and end up in one of the most architecturally impressive rooms I have ever seen. With tons of natural light coming through the ceiling, lighting up the old brick floor, your eyes will inevitably be drawn to the enormous tree growing up out of the ground in the center of the room, where it rises on up and out of the roof to continue on to heights unknown. *Editor’s note: We’re sure someone actually knows the height.Dining in the time of corona means social distancing, which is something La Placita Dining Rooms pulls off with ease. The amount of space they have means that you could have 50 people dining in the same building and you might not ever see them. They even have an outdoor patio that is just off the main plaza, giving you respite from the walking visitors but maintaining a view of that iconic gazebo. All this is fine and well, but if aesthetics solely determined whether you should eat at a place, then the nightmarish interior of Rock & Brews would be more than enough evidence for us to destroy them forever. The real importance is how the food tastes. Let’s start with how every restaurant meal should start in New Mexico: piping hot and fresh sopaipillas. I don’t need to sit here and intimately describe them, because it’s cruel to put those images in your head while you read this, perhaps unable to go partake of them immediately. What I will say is that they found the perfect balance of thickness to hold the honey in without drip-through, yet also being light and flaky enough to feel like a quick snack before the meal itself. These sopaipillas are the perfect start to a meal, as long as you can restrain yourself from overeating them. I swear, I didn’t intend to eat four in a row before the meal started, but life happens and so do fried dough treats with honey. Next on the menu for me was a traditional favorite of mine, Rolled Chicken Enchiladas ($11.25 for two). Served with pinto beans, Spanish rice and sopaipillas (you can’t just not eat them when they give them to you), it’s the combo meal of your dreams. The chicken was just right, drenched in cheese and served on a plate that was piled so high that you wonder if the inspiration came from the tree in the heart of the building. Drench that in red chile, and you’ll find yourself scraping the plate clean before you can truly take the time to appreciate the level of comfort this meal brings. Did I mention I love sopaipillas? I feel like I haven’t, so it might be a good time to mention them again, because I opted for the La Placita’s Original Old Town Special ($15) which is two stuffed sopaipillas, one with beef, one with chicken, and then loading up again with pinto beans, cheese and your choice of red or green (or Christmas, which is what I grabbed). Everything worked so harmoniously that it felt like slipping on an old pair of pants that had fallen out of favor for a newer pair. Sure, the newer pair are nice, but how could you ever have stopped wearing these? They’re so familiar, so perfectly fitting. The balance of heat, spices and sweet/savory is enough to make you instantly perk up. It’s the long lost love you’ve ached for all these months. It’s the sweet release of knowing, someday, sitting and enjoying these in public will be simple and exciting. Pair that with their prickly pear Margarita, and it’s like the last four months never happened. It’s just you and your plate of food, cares melted away like the cheese melted over the top of everything. We’ve still got a ways to go when it comes to going back to non-distanced restaurants, but I’ll be damned if La Placita Dining Rooms doesn’t have the space to accommodate a comfortable situation. At the end of the day, I still think dining out isn’t the properly responsible thing to do and will continuously encourage take-out until it’s safe to send everyone back for a dine-in-free-for-all. But if you need to sit in a space and feel safe, you’ve got room to spare and then some at La Placita, and the meal will straight up remind you of the days that came before. The days where your food was straightforward and impressive. We all could use that hit of nostalgia right now.
La Placita Dining Rooms206 San Felipe St. NW505-247-2204Hours: Mon-Sat: 11am-8pm Sun: 12pm-4pmVibe: Authentic New Mexican food in a sprawling building within Old TownAlibi Recommends: Stuffed Sopaipillas with the Prickly Pear Margarita