Laughing Planet Cafe
760 Blair Boulevard
Eugene, OR 97402-4802
Here we have another one of those Eugene restaurants that has a strong “political” following, i.e. people strongly support this place for cultural/lifestyle reasons. Which is nice and all…but the question still remains: When all the quirky cultural aspects are stripped away, is the food at Laughing Planet any good to eat with your mouth?
On the surface, Laughing Planet Cafe is original and funky and “walking to the beat of its own drummer”. Oh so contraire to the conventional way of doing things, it’s a perfect place for slightly rebellious college kids to spend their parents’ money while also taking a stand against “the man”. It’s equally well-suited for quirky, funky couples sporting a couple of small tattoos and 1.6 kids (with small ponytails for the boys). Clearly, this place is not for those that wish to follow the “standard rules of society” for quotation marks.
In reality, Laughing Planet is simply following a different set of strict rules & requirements:
List of Required Features that Funky, Original, Quirky Restaurants Must Have
1. Goofy name
2. Sketchy location in “up and coming” neighborhood
3. Funky paint scheme
4. Worn-out furniture. No booth seating.
5. Dreadlocked white kids working the counter and/or the kitchen
6. Difficult to understand menus
7. Vegan this, veggie that
8. Quirky drink brands
9. Lots of hand-written signs strewn about the place
10. Bus your own table
11. Slightly dirty, grimy film of hippie-ness over everything
Laughing Planet Cafe dutifully tows the counterculture line and checks off just about every one of the above points…except for number 11; Laughing Planet is disturbingly, non-quirkily, clean…almost as if it was some sort of corporate sell-out, well-run, professional food establishment. Please email the management and ask them to fix this asap.
As for the other ten points which Laughing Planet captures, some of the points are “nice to have” (e.g. goofy name, funky paint scheme, veggie this, quirky drinks, etc.) and some are “annoying” (e.g. bus your own table over to the grungy disgusting plastic boxes that other diners will have to look at and smell for the next 45 minutes until “Rasta Biff” comes out from behind the counter to clean it all up). But in the end, it’s the food that counts, right?
And, in this respect, Laughing Planet is a resounding “almost”…or maybe a boisterous “so so”…or possibly a vociferous “ok-ish”.
The offer: The menu consists of starters, burritos, bowls, and some other stuff. Pretty standard issue items in most cases.
Starters: The nachos come with a weird bowl of chili, but the taste is actually pretty good. The chips, of course, are some sort of healthy corn flax granola variety that lack a certain amount of flavor and crispiness, but the veggie (maybe vegan?) chili makes up for the shortcomings of the chips.
Main course: The burritos are large-sized and wrapped in foil so you can hold them and “strip-tease” the foil wrapper bit by bit to prevent spillage-ification. Tortillas are tasty and thankfully not made from some organic beeswax lavender patchouli flour that destroys the proper firmness and chewiness.
At first glance, the burrito fillings also seem to be correct…No mushified refried beans. Nice cheese. Funky rice. Everything seems right…So why is the taste so bland??? Alas, that is THE question. I’ve tried the Mole Chicken Burrito, the Southwest Chili Burrito, and one other (can’t remember the name), and they all are “meh…not bad” due to their lack of flavor. I suppose it’s an issue of spice or salt or sugar or cooking method or somethin’. Whatever the reason may be, this turns Laughing Planet not quite into a laughing stock but still a big disappointment. Compare their burritos to those of Jalisco’s Mexican Restaurant, and ye shall see that Laughing Planet’s are all show and no go. Even chain-food-ish Qdoba’s burritos have way, way more flavor than Laughing Cafe’s. Dare I say, even anti-quirky Ye Olde Pancake House’s breakfast burrito puts one over on the Planet’s.
So, there you have it. A standardized quirky/funky place with all the right moves EXCEPT flavor in the food. If you have small kids and want to infuse them with a sense of funky liberal attitude, then this is a good place to consider. If you are a college kid with dreadlocks and a monthly expense budget from mom & dad, then you might want to check this place out. If you are accustomed to eating rice cakes and wheat barley chaff veggie bowls, then you might find the food at Laughing Planet Cafe to be downright exotic and even slightly spicy. But if you are a middle of the road eater looking for some decent Mexican food with a funky fresh twist (which was what I was expecting), then you’ll probably be more than a little disappointed.
For Mr. Eugenified, it’s thumbs sideways and a generous 3 stars (rounded up from 2.5 stars just to be nice to haggardhouseelf from the forums).
Update March 2011: They opened a new location near Market of Choice on 29th and Willamette. It’s cleaner, less funky, nicely decorated, better organized…but it still has the same tasteless/spiceless food. Doh!