Leña Craft Mexican

We visited Leña today just before they ended their Sunday brunch, although the two things we tried are also on the regular menu. The place is quite large, with numerous four-tops, low and high, two large-party tables (one that could easily seat 20, the other maybe 12), and a very nice patio overlooking Prospect. Lots of space between tables. We sat inside because it was overcast and there was a chill in the air. The motif here seems to be “rough-hewn”, with new metal chairs that have markings to make them look old (e.g., paint-scuffed, etc). Pleasant enough ambience, and friendly service.

I ordered the kastakan pulpo, and my companion got the aguachile bravo. We also ordered packaged beer. I was a little disappointed that the Modelo Especial (that we both got) came in cans. I’ve never had this beer from a can, although I must say it was pretty fresh-tasting. I think if it had been poured before reaching our table, I wouldn’t have known.

The aguachile was very nice. A delicate marinade that supposedly included “habanero mustard”, and had some interesting herbs on top. Very mildly spicy but no flavor of habaneros at all. Served with “tostadas”, which I’d call taco chips (very plain and ordinary). Other ingredients in the aguachile didn’t seem to match the online description either, but perhaps the concoction is dumbed-down during brunch. Even if so, it was quite tasty.

The pulpo dish was very rich and very filling. There was a lot of octopus and chicharon in it. A lot. This came with an “habanero crema” on the side, velvety-smooth, heavy, and tasty, but again no hint of habanero flavor. Our server also brought out some habanero oil, but even that lacked the flavor of the chile. The dish, served in a large and very unusual bowl, came with three house-made corn tortillas (just ok). I enjoyed it, but thought it needed more “punch”.

We were one of only a handful of patrons in an otherwise empty, cavernous space at ~2:30 pm. I know that’s a slow time of day, so perhaps it’s busier in the evening, or maybe they’re just soft opening for now. Our server confirmed, by the way, that they were indeed hiring late last year. Things got way behind.

Not cheap. Before tax and tip, our lunch was $44.

I spoke with a chef acquaintance last week who is well versed in Mexican cuisine. She and a couple of other friends had been and were also not impressed. She said the pibil was the best dish they had but that Leña has a L-O-N-G way to go before it gets up to speed.

Opening a restaurant isn’t easy in the best of circumstances, I wish them luck

That doesn’t sound good - when was the last time a restaurant gets enough time to improve the quality over a longer period of time especially in a high rent area as La Jolla. But I don’t also understand that people open restaurants when they obviously have little experience or a very detailed business plan with a good idea what customer base they want to target.

Yes. This is really unfortunate, because the concept has a lot of promise IMO. Way too many buzz words, as discussed last year, but some real potential, or so I thought.

I think they opened much too soon, as DD and you agree. But maybe, like others, they were under a lot of pressure to get going, not the least from those who were hired months ago.

I plan to return, but not soon.

Is Lena in that upstairs space on the south end of Prospect down towards the art museum and the churches? That space seems to be a kiss o’ death. Well all I can say is good luck. They may do well at brunch when people realize that Richard Walker’s really is not that good.

Yes, that’s the spot. A difficult location for a restaurant, a little too far from the action on Prospect.

Yeah, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the landlords were charging north end of Prospect lease rates.

I must have had a different experience than others- I enjoyed Lena and will be back soon. We were there during soft opening as well… unannounced week, we just happened to drive by and saw people eating on the deck. I had a standard margarita that stands strong with Galaxy and Puesto and a delicious whiskey cocktail that was on their list. I really wish I remembered more of the details but the tacos were excellent. The Oaxaca flatbread (blue corn tortilla) with carne asada was unique and tasty. The only dish that wasn’t a huge success for us was the salad. I think it needed some acid zing to perk it up. Looking forward to trying more of the menu. We heard a few comments about the ground turkey dish from the table next to us who were really enjoying it.

All in all a very successful dinner considering the soft opening. We talked with the owner who was very warm and welcoming, bartender was excited, and 100% we are pulling for them.

Thanks. Next time out, I’ll try the Oaxaca flatbread with carne asada, or tacos. BTW, my companion actually enjoyed the aguachile in spite of her disappointments with the canned beer, the “tostadas”, the absence of shrimp, and the absence of habanero flavor in the marinade.

I’ve been pulling for this place since first hearing about it last year. As others have said, I hope they make it,

Can you all just humor me here…

The thing you all are calling “flatbread” is not flatbread. I know that’s what the menu description says for the tlayuda. I wonder if they’ve dumbed it down because they figure most Anglo tongues can’t wrap their mind around how to pronounce “Tlay”. It is essentially a very large, very crispy and brittle corn tortilla.

Mexican Spanish contains a lot of these words that have seemingly incongruous consonants all mashed together. It only looks intimidating, if you pronounce them phonetically they’re actually pretty easy.

Tla - the T is semi-silent, taLa
yuda - you + da
Tlayuda - taLa + you + da

This is a tlayuda, is this what you ate at Leña?

It’s like mole, every cook, every family, every restaurant has their own version. It’s more like a Mexican pizza than a flatbread. They all start with a thin, crispy but surprisingly sturdy corn tortilla that’s about 18" in diameter, or more.

They are, BTW, very good and pretty filling. I usually have to share because I can’t eat one by myself.

As I said, humor me…seeing a tlayuda called a flatbread is kind of like nails on a chalkboard for me.

Sometimes called a “clayuda” as well.

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Were you responding to me? I didn’t order the “flatbread” at Lena. Didn’t see it either. I know what these “Mexican pizzas” look and taste like. Good to know how to find one on the menu when I return, though, if “flatbread” is what they call it. Maybe they call it that because it’s in a rectangular shape, not circular like the one in your post? Anyone’s guess, but LATrapp described it pretty much like your picture (except blue corn).

Is that like wunnathemthere Flying Saucers?

Because I could never understand the difference between a Flying Saucer and a tostada.

Yeah, I pretty much don’t get the Flying Saucer thing either. I asked once and the best they could tell me was that it’s kind of like a kitchen sink tostada. That’s not a tlayuda. But it does sound as if a road trip to Oaxaca for research might be in order??

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No Doc, it was just a comment in general. Not directed at anyone in particular

I had a “flying saucer” somewhere once, maybe Albuquerque? Whatever. I recall not liking it at all, partly because the base (for lack of a better word) was really thick, not at all like a toasted tortilla. Maybe that’s the difference? I thought it was a regional thing.

I’ve researched “flying saucers”. Two places I want to try are El Cuervo (our favorite for tacos al pastor) and Tostadas. Probably there are some other good ones around. I can’t ever recall seeing anything like these in Mexico, though, and until now have evidently ignored them if they were on local “Mexican” menus. Time to catch up, maybe.

My first exposure to the Flying Saucer was at what is now Taco Fiesta on Mission Gorge Road. This must have been in the '70s…

Shows how unobservant I am! My experience out of town was only maybe 10 years ago or so. Well, now I want to try one again, at one of the two places I mentioned. The pictures I’ve seen online of these things show thick “bases”, which is what I recall. Is that what you’ve had?

I have no recollection. I just remember it as a tostada.