Casual, inspired dining at Mustangs

Adobe El Restaurante at the Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa has already earned a reputation with discriminating La Jolla diners.The hotel’s less formal Mustangs & Burros was only meant to be a comfortable lounging spot for hotel guests. Little did the designers know that Mustangs & Burros would become a place where hotel guests and the local crowd would come to mingle.

People were requesting more than just bar food at Mustangs & Burros. Folks realized it was the perfect place for a relaxing alfresco dinner. Everyone, including Estancia management, was ready for Mustangs to make the transition from bar to informal dining spot.

Chef Jesse Frost was happy to oblige. He came up with a new menu that was “completely different from the other restaurant,” he said. “We tried to have a separate identity here.”

Chef Frost uses fresh local produce and avoids piling on the butter and cream. As a result, the carrot-ginger soup was creamy but not rich or fatty.

The Old California ranchero setting is reflected in the menu, especially in the grilled marinated ranchero steak ($17) and quesadilla Costa Brava ($12).

There’s a handsome interior space for relaxed dining with a large, well-stocked bar along one wall. The most exciting part of the dining experience in this unique eatery is the sprawling, Old California-style patio area. Alfresco dining doesn’t get any more romantic than this.

The outdoor space has a huge Southwestern-style fireplace at its core that invites guests to cozy up beside it. The views are spectacular from this vantage point.

The food comes out of the same kitchen as Adobe El, so the food quality is outstanding.

The prawn cocktail ($15) was incredible. The two massive prawns criss-crossed on top of the tasty humus mixture were terrific.

The Hungarian-style smoked chicken goulash ($12) gets its hearty flavor from horseradish and lemon zest, and it’s one of the most interesting dishes around. Another good choice is the sticky spare ribs ($13), which live up to their name, thanks to the ginger chipotle sauce.

Burger lovers are in for a treat with the oversized Angus beef or blackened turkey burgers ($12 each).

For the vegetarians, the crudites roti features fire-grilled farmer’s market vegetables and a buttermilk borsin dip. It’s accompanied by lavosh and costs $10.

The sloppy sundae ($8) is a great way to indulge in a sweet dessert. This creation consists of white chocolate raspberry gelato, bananas, strawberries, caramel, warm fudge, whipped cream and walnuts.

Mustangs & Burros is at Estancia La Jolla Hotel, 9700 North Torrey Pines Road. Call (858) 550-1000.