Leña Brava is the ninth Chicago hot-spot from chef and author Rick Bayless, who apparently can do no wrong. His popular 1996 cookbook Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen and TV show Mexico: One Plate at a Time have promoted Mexican cuisine beyond its most popular dishes for years. So yeah… I had unrealistic expectations going in, but am happy to report those were surpassed by what became my favorite meal of 2016.
Leña Brava carves out a unique niche along Chicago’s bustling Restaurant Row, where you can get everything from the legendary burger at Au Cheval to Crispy Pig Face at current it-spot Girl and The Goat. Like those places, Leña Brava manages to invent it’s own version of comfort food. The menu explodes with Baja California inspired dishes that sing from their plates whether kissed by fire or served raw, complimented by a dizzying array of smoldering mezcal.
Starting with raw shrimp in uzu and sunflower seeds set the tone for a night of unexpected texture and flavor. We bounced across the menu enjoying everything from fresh and delicious ceviche to perfectly charred octopus. And don’t ignore the meats. The short rib was spectacular, enjoyed within house made tortillas with a side of buttery plantains worth the price of a plane ticket to Chicago. And I have it on good authority that the glazed chicken is out of this world.
The menu explodes with Baja California inspired dishes that sing from their plates whether kissed by fire or served raw, complimented by a dizzying array of smoldering mezcal.
Surrounded by wood burning stoves and a busy bar, it’s a foodie fantasy for sure. A beautiful atmosphere, spectacular flavors, attentive service, and strong drinks. Leña Brava was the best recommendation I got this year and I’ve been preaching the word ever since.