On a trip home one Friday a few weeks back, I found myself in Des Moines and a hankering for Mexican food. One place that I'd never been to, but had known about for over 10 years is Los Laureles on the east side of Des Moines, near the Iowa State Capitol building (see map). I popped in for a quick lunch around 1:30 that one afternoon.
Los Laureles is in the middle of a number of Mexican shops and restaurants in the East Grand and East 15th Street area of Des Moines. It is set back in a little strip mall that was built a number of years ago after the notorious 1536 adult movie theater was closed and the building razed. Los Laureles is also right across the street from what was the original location of Raul's Mexican restaurant, one of my all-time favorite places to get Mexican food in Des Moines. (Raul's has since reopened in West Des Moines. To see my entry on that, click here.)
The owner of Los Laureles, which roughly translates into "The flower wreaths", is Eufracio Mayorga. Little information is available on Mr. Mayorga other than he also owned a Los Laureles in Mason City, IA at one time. According to a number of Internet sites that list Los Laureles, the restaurant is famous for their huge portions, yet low prices, of authentic Mexican food.
I parked around the back of the little mall and went in to get a seat at Los Laureles. The girl behind the cash register told me I could sit anywhere and I took a seat in a booth near the front door. The only problem was that there was absolutely no padding on the seat and I literally sat on a board poking through the vinyl. I got up and moved to the other side of the booth and the seat on that side was unlevel and started to pop up in the back. I had to find a perfect balance so that I could sit there comfortably enough without tipping the seat over. I could have gotten up and gone to a different booth, but the rest of the ones in the place either had people sitting in them already, or weren't cleaned off from the lunch rush. There were a number of larger tables, but I would have felt funny sitting by myself at a table for six.
I had been seated - finally comfortably - for less than a minute when a waiter came and gave me a menu and asked if I wanted something to drink. Los Laureles is known for their margaritas, but I still had a little bit of a drive ahead of me. I knew I could have a couple beers and be able to navigate home OK, so I ordered up a bottle of Sol. He brought back the Sol and asked me if I was ready to order. The menu was pretty broad and had a number of truly authentic Mexican dishes to choose from. I told him I wasn't ready and he said he'd come back. That was a mistake.
Another waiter brought a basket of chips and three different types of salsa. The chips were fresh and the regular salsa had a nice little bite to it. The green tomatillo salsa was even a little more spicy and had great flavor. The third salsa had an even more spicy smoky chipotle taste to it. That one got my attention. The first Sol that I had went down pretty fast trying to stave off the burn from the hottest of the three salsas.
When I finally figured out that I wanted to get the shredded chimichanga dinner with a pork al pastor taco for a side, the eager waiter was nowhere in sight. I was really needing another beer to help wash away the spicy taste going on in my mouth. It was about another 10 minutes before another waiter finally came over and got my order.
Like most Mexican food places, the food didn't take long to get to me. They certainly weren't kidding about the size of the portions of the food at Los Laureles. There was a lot of food in front of me. The chimichanga was drizzled with white Mexican cheese. A large amount of refried beans and rice were on the plate as well as a very good guacamole salad that went well as a topping on the chimichanga.
The chimichanga was thin, but full of a very zestful tasting shredded beef. I'm guessing by the deep lines on the outer shell of the chimichanga that they put it in a holder and deep fried it that way. Overall, the chimichanga was very good.
But the highlight of the meal for me was the single pork al pastor taco that I got. Chopped onions and fresh cilantro topped the pork chunks on the small homemade taco shells. Surprisingly, and somewhat confusingly, it was also served with radish slices. I'm not big on radishes, so I didn't add those to the taco. But I did squeeze a little lime juice on the taco and added some of the green tomatillo salsa. The taco was simply outstanding. I really liked the chimichanga, but I wished afterward that I would have gotten three of the small pork tacos. Next time.
Once again, I was ready to get another beer and my waiter - the one who took my food order - was nowhere in sight. I eventually got full, leaving some food still on my plate, then decided I'd had enough and was ready to go. I waited for my bill over five minutes after I was done and I finally got up and headed to the front counter to pay. Hopefully, my waiter would show up and give me my bill. It turned out that he had been up front talking to some lady and was more interested in carrying on the conversation with her than taking care of me. He only got a $2 dollar tip on a $20 buck lunch.
The food at Los Laureles was very good, the seating was a little tired and the service was so-so. I can look past a lot of things if the food is good and since it was, it won't sour me for a return visit to Los Laureles at some point. There are a ton of Mexican restaurants in the greater Des Moines area and Los Laureles is one of the best.