How La Plaza Stays Open: No Pay for Owner

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Henry Mendoza’s popular Tex/Mex/Salvadorean La Plaza, welcomes guests for (safe) inside and outdoor seating. Photo: Pete McCall

Throughout Washington’s five-month shutdown, many local restaurants have bitten the dust, including our beloved Montmartre and the venerable Post Pub (downtown). However, others have managed to hang in there. Among them is La Plaza, (629 Pennsylvania Ave. SE.) Owned by Henry Mendoza, originally from El Salvador, the 18-year-old Tex-Mex/Salvadoran mainstay has weathered numerous obstacles. This pandemic is by far the worst.

Weary of carryout (and perhaps my cooking), husband Peter and I settled on La Plaza’s sidewalk patio. Enjoying a summer breeze, we sipped tangy, frosty margaritas and nibbled warm tortilla chips with salsa. Then we ordered fish tacos (tilapia), and shrimp quesadillas, escorted by guacamole, sour cream, rice and refried beans. Meanwhile, Mendoza was hoisting bags of onions, carrots, shortening, beer and other essentials from his truck.

Toward the beginning of the pandemic shutdown, I had asked Henry about the future of restaurants. He was not optimistic. “This was not how I envisioned the American dream,” he responded. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to reopen; at least not until we get a vaccine. Without a vaccine….it would not be safe.”

A generous platter of fish tacos with sides ranks among customer favorites at La Plaza.

Recently, we asked Mendoza how he was able to reopen after all. “It’s not been easy,” he said, adding that his government financial assistance was not enough. He has retained all nine employees, and while he shoulders many responsibilities, he’s not paid himself for six months.

Henry always goes the extra mile, keeping La Plaza open on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. “Even on holidays, people are looking for food,” Mendoza explained. “This is what I fight for, the American dream.”

La Plaza is open daily; call 202-546-9512 or visit www.laplazadc.com.

Return to Emilie’s
Peter and I have revisited Emilie’s, 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. Emilie’s interior has been transformed into a gourmet Market, offering wines, pastas, cooking oils, eggs, fresh produce, coffees and other (mostly) locally sourced victuals. Seated on the sidewalk patio, we asked about wines-by-the-glass. Our server explained that during the pandemic shutdown, Emilie’s has no “functioning bar.” Therefore, we purchased a bottle of Zolo Malbec from the Market; since we did not finish it, we took the remainder home. Peter ordered a Chaser Pilsner Lost Rhino beer.

Our shared bowl of yellow tomato/lemongrass gazpacho tasted as good as it looked, a colorful, exotic blend of peach kimchi relish fragrant with Thai basil and drizzled with zippy chili oil. My entrée, a crispy, meaty confit duck leg, was artfully poised atop a mélange of multi-hued potato hash, scallions and English peas, all edged with a ribbon of Thai basil pesto. Peter’s Vietnamese-style deviled crab was enhanced with smoked ham and a scattering of summer corn.

Other options are roasted Brussels sprouts, Szechuan chicken tenders and a Jasmine rice bowl crowned with fried egg and veggies, enhanced with a choice of lemon-grass marinated chicken or crispy pork belly. Dinner for two came to about $80, which included a 4 percent “employee wellness” charge to help with health insurance. Emilie’s is open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. (note the early closing time), with weekend brunch from 10:30 to 4:30 p.m. Call 202-544-4368 or visit www.emiliesdc.com.

At the recently revamped Emilie’s, an eye-catching Market offers wines and gourmet foods.

Slipstream At Home
Don’t feel like cooking? Each weekend, Slipstream, 81 I St. SE (Navy Yard) hosts “Neighborhood Nights at Home,” a cross between carryout and a meal kit. Here’s what you do: Call 202-560-5095 or visit www.slipstreamdc.com and order an almost-ready, three-course meal plus a cocktail. All this is only $25 per person.

Created by Chef Dan Perron, the menu changes weekly. A typical repast: hummus with house-made pita, merguez meatballs, sweet corn custard and a strawberry cocktail. When customers pick up their meals, they find directions on the back of the menu; all they have to do is re-heat or add a few finishing touches and add ice to the cocktail.

Most Neighborhood Nights ingredients are available at the restaurant’s Pantry (grocery). Diners may also order from Slipstream’s regular menu; favorites are avocado toast and myriad coffee drinks. For exact hours and more information, call early the above number. Call early; sometimes the kitchen runs out of Neighborhood Night items.

Capitol CuisneEmilie’s new executive chef, Hamilton Johnson, concocts a richly delicious duck leg confit.

Lebanese Disaster Relief
Local restaurants are responding to the horrific August 4 explosion in Beirut, which killed at least 171 people and displaced 300,000. In the Navy Yard, Albi, chef/owner Michael Rafedi’s wood-burning Levantine restaurant, is creating makshi, a goldbar summer squash stuffed with smoked lamb neck, cinnamon and allspice. Proceeds from the $28 entrée go to Impact Lebanon. Located at 1346 Fourth St. SE, Albi provides (safe) indoor and outdoor seating; closed Monday. Call 202-921-9592 or visit www.albidc.com.

How Sweet it is

Captain Cookie has opened at 660 Pennsylvania Ave. SE (Seventh and C streets), where Pitango used to be. The sugary newcomer carries homemade cookies (we like the chocolate chip) and made-to-order ice cream sandwiches. For same-day delivery, call 202-9184 or visit www.CaptainCookie.com….Jeni’s Ice Cream, 526 Eighth St. SE, also arrived last month. The local offshoot of the nationwide chain showcases umpteen flavors (dairy and non-dairy). We love the “Deepest Chocolate” tagged at $12 a pint. According to the label, it’s “packed with “fair-trade cocoa and not much else.” You can also order scoops and cones. Open daily, visit www.jenis.com.

Bread Line

Nearby at 705 Eighth St. SE, Souk has launched a line of house-made breads. Proprietor Dr. Winnette McIntosh Ambrose, two-time Food Network Champion (Cupcake Wars & Chopped), bakes baguettes, sourdough, hallah and more. She’s also introduced pizza crusts for customers to bake at home, to be topped with Souk’s Hot Honey Pepperoni or Caramelized Onion with Gorgonzola. Coming soon: gluten-free breads and made-to-order sandwiches. Souk is closed Sunday. For more information visit www.dcsouk.com.

Market Watch
Here’s something tasty and easy for a late summer cookout: Union Meat Company (in Eastern Market) is offering house-made bratwursts for $7.89 per pound. Call 202-547-2626. Eastern Market is closed Mondays.