LoHi has a new restaurant — but it's really an old favorite. Lola Coastal Mexican, founder Dave Query's seventeen-year-old eatery in the old Olinger Mortuary complex, closed for a week after service on May 12, then reopened on May 22 completely transformed. What was once a dark and intimate space with multiple dining nooks is now bright, sunny and wide open — perfect for enjoying a menu that has been equally transformed by new executive chef/partner Javier Plascencia.
"Lola needed a big kick in the ass," Query admits. "We have to keep checking to make sure we're on track, and we were a little off track. So I asked Javier to come on board and help us get back on track."
Regular customers will notice changes before they even walk in the door — since the front entrance is no longer where it was before the renovations began. The old door has been bricked in, with a new window taking its place, and guests now enter through impressive double doors that were once the entrance to the Olinger chapel.
Inside, the space has been opened up to provide views from the corner of the restaurant facing 16th Street to the far end of the patio looking onto Boulder Street. "We had this big, obnoxious, overbearing wall," Query notes, so the wall was removed and replaced with rows of thick ropes, adding to the nautical theme while giving definition to the line between the bar and the dining room. Blue glass buoys have been converted into light fixtures, blue-and-white wallpaper covered in images of fish and lobsters adds brightness, and heavy hacienda-style furnishings have been replaced with blond-wood tables and white chairs.
Plascencia's new menu adds to the breezy Baja vibe, with traditional Mexican seafood dishes as well as lighter fare representing a new style of cooking that's growing in popularity in Baja California, where the chef runs several of his own restaurants. The spring slate includes tangy scallop tiradito (similar to ceviche) in bright-orange carrot escabeche; shrimp ceviche negro with a jet-black sauce; grilled octopus with a vivid green pipian (a pumpkin-seed mole); and a surf-and-turf tostada loaded with cubes of ahi tuna dusted with machaca (shredded dried beef).
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Larger entrees range from lobster enchiladas to whole fish served zarandeado style (marinated and grilled over open fire) to braised short ribs in chile rojo. Smaller plates show the more modern influences of Plascencia's "Baja-Med" style, including fresh burrata topped with tomatillo and strawberries, and crispy cauliflower made spicy-sweet with dried currants and pickled fresno chiles.
Nearly everything on the menu is new, or has been given new life, Query points out. Even the famous Lola tableside guacamole received attention from the new chef. And mixologist James Lee has added his touch at the bar, introducing new cocktails and giving the house coin margarita a slight refresh. Fans of the restaurant's brunch, though, will be pleased to note that the weekend chicken-fried steak — not exactly a Mexican staple, even if it's among the best chicken-fried steak offerings in town — won't be going anywhere.
See the changes for yourself; Lola is serving dinner seven nights a week beginning at 4 p.m., with brunch offered from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. (Weekday lunch will be added later.) Call 720-570-8686 or visit the Lola Coastal Cuisine website for more details and reservations.