Opening Dispatch

Tom Douglas's Cantina Leña Is Juuuust About Ready to Open

Meat cooked in a fiery pit, plus handmade tortillas.

By Allecia Vermillion November 25, 2014

Tom Douglas Restaurants co-pilot Eric Tanaka oversees the line (and sports an excellent sweater) at the forthcoming cantina. Photo via the TDR Facebook page.

The 10-foot-long pit is full of wood. The masa grinder is properly outfitted with volcanic stones (apparently this is a thing), awaiting tortilla prep. The bar is stocked with tequila. Tom Douglas's Cantina Leña is getting ready to open in the Martin building at Fifth and Lenora. Which means we might be able to jettison the leftover turkey in favor of griddled masa fritters, slow-roasted achiote pork shoulder, and a spiced orange margarita. 

The kitchen runs entirely on wood (leña means "firewood" in Spanish), namely a 10-foot-long raised pit, known as a pib. Some proteins or produce go directly inside for roasting or smoking, others are destined for grilling via the parilla on top. 

If all goes well, the cantina known in its early stages as the Lone Stranger, will open on Saturday. Service is casual—you order at the counter—and the cantina will ultimately be open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week, though breakfast service might take a bit longer. (Please, universe—may there be breakfast tacos.)

Keep an eye on the Tom Douglas Facebook page for the official word on the opening. Meanwhile, here are a few salient details...

Eat: Anything wood-fired. Which is everything. The griddle will crank out smaller dishes like a toasted pumpkin seed dip, roasted beets with grilled cotija, or blackened poblanos with masa gravy(!) and cheese. Pib meats (pork shoulder, longaniza sausage, a suuuuper slowly roasted chicken) come with tortillas made by hand in the kitchen, with a little help from a masa grinder procured in LA. The full menu might look a little something like this.

Drink: Hot chocolate with masa. Margaritas abound here, from the classic version (frozen or on the rocks) to iterations made with pineapple, orange, and even Laphraoig. But this place might have the best nonalcoholic menu in all the T-Doug land: agua frescas, housemade sodas, a dairy-free horchata, and some seriously decadent champurrado—a drink of hot chocolate thickened with corn flour.

Sit: At your desk with a takeaway torta. The para el callejera section of the menu offers tacos and pressed tortas on freshly baked bolillos for the droves of nearby office dwellers in search of easy lunch. Though if you go that route you'll miss out on all the people watching via the cantina's giant walls of windows.

Bonus Intel: Just behind the bar is the new commissary baking quarters for all the TDR restaurants. Oh, and look for Douglas's third Serious Pie location to open in December as part of the new Starbucks roastery project.


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