Rick Bayless's most ambitious opening in decades is also among his most satisfying. In the heart of Randolph Street’s restaurant row, Leña Brava’s Baja-inspired fare succeeds at a difficult task: paying homage to the ethnic diversity of Baja California while also providing pleasure to the West Loop. The menu, packed with hot and cold seafood bursting with flavor, gets a creative boost from a hearth-cooking-only zone. Tremendous octopus “carnitas” are char-seared on the grill and served with lime-pickled onions, frisée, and warm bacon dressing. The breezy space feels a bit generic, and the service may still be working out kinks—but the savvy kitchen, refreshing ego-free vibe, and incredible list of 112 mezcals set the place apart.
Dishes We Liked
Coconut three ways ($12), Baja Seas hiramasa yellowtail ($15), grilled pineapple with spicy hazelnut salsa macha and knob onion tops ($12), braised short rib with cauliflower mash and Oaxacan pasilla salsa ($24), grilled cauliflower steak ($18), whole striped bass with red chili adobo glaze ($38), butter-roasted plantains ($8), “banana” split ($14), 23 Degrees cocktail—Chinaco Blanco tequila, coconut water, guava, lime ($12)