While there's no shortage of coffee and lunch locales around the Capitol, many state buildings are home to additional dining options. This post is part of a new weekly series of mini-reviews of some of those spots for downtown denizens looking to try something new.
The spot: For this week's review, Bee higher education/lobbying reporter Laurel Rosenhall and I took a trip to another era, hitting up the LOB Cafe. This eatery on the sixth floor of the Legislative Office Building doesn't look like it's changed much since the 1960s. Luckily, the food they serve isn't as old as the decor... for the most part. The grill/Asian buffet atop 1020 N Street is open from 7 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. We recommend bringing cash -- the only option for diners with only plastic on hand is to take out $40 from the cash register "ATM," which comes with a $1.50 charge.
The grub: LOB Cafe is perhaps best known among Capitol dwellers and diners for its Asian fusion buffet. On Friday's visit there were nearly a dozen MSG-free options, including several vegetarian dishes (tofu, vegetables tempura). The salad bar features an assortment of toppings, and at $4.99 a pound, the portions are up to you. The menu at the grill is more limited than the offerings at some of the other state building restaurants we've reviewed, think grilled cheese and burgers (fries are extra). We hear the BLT and the breakfast burritos are both big hits.
On our plates: Torey had a sampling of items from the buffet (Korean sweet and spicy and tangy pineapple chicken, sweet and sour meatballs, chow mien and a pork pot sticker) and a side salad with spinach, peas and beets. ($6.44 total). Laurel chowed down on a garden burger with a side of fries ($3.65; $1.35) and loaded up a full plate of greens and veggies from the salad bar ($3.24).
Cheese on the burger set us back an extra 35 cents.
The bill: We paid $18.99 for food and two drinks. Our portions were admittedly large (Laurel is eating for two, with a baby on the way early next month. Torey had no excuse.).
The good: The buffet items, mostly fried and drenched in sauce, weren't the healthiest of lunch choices, but they did hit the spot for Torey's Panda Express-loving palate. The salad bar was one of the better we've seen in our reviews so far. In addition to a choice of greens (spinach or romaine) and standard fare vegetables, pick and choose from toppings and sides like mixed fruit, cottage cheese and potato salad. Some tables toward the back of the upper seating level offer a nice view of the Capitol dome. Those shouldn't be hard to snag, considering just four seats were taken in a dining area that has a posted maximum occupancy of 328.
The bad: As noted above, the ambiance is, well, drab at best
(mental ward and hospital cafeteria are some descriptions we heard), and the gruff staffer working the register didn't do much to brighten the mood. We did get a kick of some of the relics from earlier days, including the ketchup bottle pictured to the right. The fries could have used more salt, though Laurel admits they're probably healthier that way. The half hard-boiled egg she added to her salad appeared a bit gray on closer inspection. Perhaps it too was an artifact from lunches past?
The grade: 3 out of 5 Sporks
Have you been to LOB Cafe? Share your experiences in the comments field below.
You can also check out our earlier reviews of the Side Bar Cafe, Gold Rush Grille, Cafe 744 and the soon-to-be-shuttered Dave's Deli at this link.
Jon Ortiz and Torey Van Oot are taking suggestions for state building restaurants to try.Send your picks to firstname.lastname@example.org and check back every Friday for a weekly write up.