Exquisite food and charm meet at Mustangs & Burros

Estancia La Jolla Hotel and Spa’s Mustangs & Burros restaurant is still pretty much a well-kept secret from local diners, although hotel guests love to hang out in this delightful eatery and bar.

There’s a handsome interior space for relaxed dining, with a large, well-stocked bar along one wall. The comfortable furnishings consist of caramel-colored leather barrel chairs and roomy tables. However, the most exciting part of the dining experience in this unique bar and eatery is centered around the sprawling, Old California-flavored 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. There’s a beamed trellis that provides checkered shade on both sides of the fireplace, and comfortable seating surrounding it. The views are spectacular from this vantage point, and you’ll find it hard to believe there’s anything but tranquil open space and desert plants nearby. Mustangs & Burros takes guests on a desert getaway without ever having to leave home.

The menu is as unusual as the setting and is supervised by Executive Chef Jesse Frost and Sous Chef Neville Panthaky. As a result, the quality of the food at Mustang’s & Burros is outstanding.

Where else can you find sumptuous skewered fish tacos or grilled, marinated chicken satay among the offerings? These variations on classics have the restaurant’s individual signature. The skewered fish tacos ($15) have huge chunks of lightly fried Alaskan halibut piled on top of the tortillas. They’re seasoned with a cilantro lime cream and served with a portion of garlic fries. What a wonderful light meal this is.

The chicken satay ($12) is grilled with a peanut-chipotle galze, then served with grilled pineapple, jiacama slaw, and the restaurant’s special garlic fries.

Mustangs & Burro has a limited menu, but everything was selected to offer a different type of experience for casual diners who like to relax on a lazy evening with a glass of wine.

The shrimp cocktail ($15) features charred tomato salsa, cucumber slaw, avocado puree, and corn and lime crisp. The wings ($12) have a honey chipotle glaze and are served with scallion blue cheese dip.

Burger lovers are in for a treat with the Estancia signature burger ($12). These oversized beauties, stuffed into a Kaiser bun and served with beef steak tomatoes, red onion slaw, molten brie, garlic aioli and your choice of paprika fries or fresh fruit, will satisfy any appetite.

Another exceptional choice is the quesadilla costa brava ($14). This tequila-soaked rock shrimp quesadilla is made with manchego cheese, and mango and chiptole creme, and accompanied by a delicious dollop of avocado.

Carne asada is served in a bowl ($15) and comes with ranchero salsa, sour cream and guacamole, and the Adobe spiced chicken grinder ($12) takes a tender breast of chicken and pairs it with grilled onions, passilla peppers and provolone cheese. The whole sandwich is stuffed into a rosemary ciabatta roll.

There’s an “ever-changing” soup of the day ($10) on the menu, along with two different salads and chips with salsa or gauacamole.

Dessert consists of a sloppy sundae martini ($10). This messy dessert is a great way to indulge your sweet tooth. It consists of three scoops of gelato ice cream, Vhalrona chocolate ganache, toasted walnuts and a home-made cherry marmalade. No wonder ice cream aficionados go ga-ga over this one.

Mustangs caters to kids as well, with a menu that features all their favorites, such as chicken fingers ($8), burgers ($8), pizza ($8) and mac and cheese ($7).

Except on Sunday, when the restaurant opens at noon, Mustangs & Burros is opens at 4 p.m. Every evening from 4 to 7 p.m., the Paella and Sangria Happy Hour rules the roost. If you opt for this excellent Happy Hour special, you’ll enjoy a steaming pot of paella - one of the house specialties - along with a fruity glass of Sangria for $18.

Atmosphere is everything at this appealing eatery and watering hole, and you can’t help but love the casual but sophisticated designs. You’ll love the live entertainment playing every night as well. Mustangs is really a one-of-a-kind.

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