Full disclosure: My dining companion and I actually made the short jaunt to Eldorado in search of Thai food from the newly minted Thai Bistro. But we learned that some places close for Labor Day the hard way (understandable) and found ourselves scanning the La Tienda center in search of something else. We'd already made the drive—admittedly not long, but still not as common occurrence for us town dwellers as it should be—and we'd been dreaming up snack time for most of the day. La Plancha stepped up in our time of need.
It's a lovely building, large and pleasantly cool inside on a sweltering day and with signs about social distancing precautions on every other table. The patio looked comfortable as well, but the late afternoon heat drove us indoors where another table or two were seated far enough away for us to let our guard down a bit. Our server stood six feet away, masked, and calmly explained to us what on Earth the El Salvadorian loroco was (an edible flower common to the country that makes its way regularly into their food—who knew?) and politely gave us a few moments to don masks of our own each time they returned.
We began with chips and guacamole ($7.50), not the best I've had but still in one of those delightful tortilla chip ramekins beside a warm pile of chips. Something was missing, however, and it was hard to put my finger on it. Perhaps it was under-seasoned and a little heavy on cilantro—picking stringy, leafy greens out of one's teeth seems an odd guacamole side effect—but overall tasty and the right kind of palate tease.
Ordering proved a mite more challenging as La Plancha boasts a rather large menu. Too large, perhaps, but still with a number of items that skirt traditions between Southwestern America and Central America: Empanadas and pupsas play a major role, both on the starters list and in the entrees like the Plata Tipico Centro Americano, which my companion zeroed in on immediately. Choosing from a variety of carnivorous and vegetarian options, she wound up with the bean and cheese pupusa, chicken tamale (and we're talking El Salvadorian style in a banana leaf instead of a corn husk) and fried plantains with sides of pickled vegetables and a mild salsa ($13.95).
For my own order, and in following my advice from my doctor who suggests adding a piece of fish to my longtime vegetarian diet now and then "as an experiment to see if it gives you more energy," I ordered grilled salmon with veggies and rice pilaf. Tropical mango salsa and potatoes loroco came on the side ($16.95).
While we waited, the inevitable "Would you drive for it?" conversation occurred. Looking back, Eldorado was once a barren wasteland with little more than a grocery store and no shortage of nosy neighbors harboring intense feelings about who could raise chickens or not. These days, both the La Tienda and Agora centers are home to joints like Upper Crust Pizza, Arable, a Santa Fe Brewing Co. taproom, the sadly-closed-that-day Thai Bistro and, among others, the very restaurant in which we sat, La Plancha (that's a type of iron cooking surface, btw). The question thus becomes for town-dwellers if a drive out to Eldorado becomes worth it. In most cases, such as the pizza or beer ones, it's a resounding no. Sorry, Eldorado-ites—we've got those places here.
As for La Plancha? Well, it's hard to say. As I've noted, our new socially distant world now plays a strong part in how we choose to dine out. La Plancha's massive dining room and friendly, respectful staff is a huge checkmark in the pro column in that respect. Entree-wise, it's kind of a tossup.
While not terrible, the salmon could have used another minute or two on the grill. Yes, one wants fish to be tender, but not neighboring on creamy and wet. When mixed with the potatoes loroco, however, new flavor and texture profiles emerged, leading me to believe that showing up in the mid-afternoon lull might have caught an otherwise excellent chef off guard. The veggies were sad at best, though, wilted and buried beneath firm and aromatic and tastier rice pilaf.
Across the table, my companion remarked on a deeper flavor combination in her pupusa, noting more than one cheese and a satisfyingly crispy outer texture. Fried plantains are basically ALWAYS good, and I was more than a little jealous of her chicken tamale.
But then, that doesn't address the question—would we drive for it? Sadly, the answer is no. La Plancha has a wonderful environment and I can't say enough nice things about our server; if I lived in Eldorado I'd probably be immensely excited about it, too. But I've found just about everything on its menu right here in town and done a little better. Still, when faced with the disappointment from a closed Thai place, we could've done a lot worse. Oh, and as for the salmon? I feel fine, thanks. Might even throw fish back in the rotation.