It’s all about the details at Tom Douglas’ new, casual taco-and-margarita spot, where reclaimed wood, simple café tables and chairs, and pops of terra-cotta orange combine for an upbeat, easygoing feel at the base of The Martin Apartments downtown. There’s a seductive oven-roasted-tomato sauce under the hunk of tender culotte steak ($15, served with tortillas), and a dreamy brown butter and pumpkin seed dip, which stands out from the queso fundito and the guacamole on the chips-and-dips plate (pricey at $12).
Oddly for a cantina, the best thing on the menu is a charred broccoli salad, the finely chopped brassicas wearing a savory smoked Cotija cheese dressing and a crumbling of corn nuts ($9). In fact, the drinks here upstage the food: Jake’s margarita plays up the smokiness of Zapopan reposado tequila by adding a Laphroaig whiskey float ($10); my favorite margarita on the menu mixes serrano-chile-infused blanco tequila with floral-sweet hibiscus for a hot, tart, sweet sipper in a pretty shade of pink.
And while there are a few balance issues to work out—too much lime aioli overpowering the otherwise marvelous yellowtail ceviche ($11), and a poblano chile relleno ($10) with a filling that was too mild—once the flavors punch up to their weight, Leña will become the go-to, pre-Cinerama spot Tom Douglas hopes it will be. Downtown, 2105 Fifth Ave.; 206.519.5723; cantinalena.com.