Lena Grill - 34 West 35th Street, New York NY 10001 212.274.1995 N/Q/B/V/F/D Train to 34th Street Herald Square www.lenanyc.com
A few weeks ago, I was invited to explore a Latin restaurant during lunchtime called Lena Grill. It seemed casual enough to just pop in during my lunch break, and I took Bo with me. As you might know from reading my posts, she's always happy and willing to join me in my food escapades and when I mentioned Latin food, she didn't hesitate for a second.
Atmosphere: Located close to the very busy Herald Square, but on a side street where pedestrians can move with ease and actually see the sidewalk, Lena is approachable and accessible to office workers as well as to Murray Hill residents. A cross between a Chipotle and Cosi, it looks like an inviting cafe with clean, simple decor and some modern touches such as wooden furniture accessories and funky industrial lighting. There's plenty of seating for small and larger parties, which you can casually claim before or after you order your food.
Bo and I got there on the early side of lunch (around 12:15) and the place had many seats. However that all changed after a short half hour where almost every table at Lena was taken - so word to the wise, get there early if you want a good spot.
Food: Lena's menu is simple and conveniently organized into categories such as wraps, salads and plates. You choose a category and add the sauces, additions and sides of your liking. Additionally to the food, Lena also features fresh fruit juices, which they alternate daily.
Fried Chicken with Coconut Rice and Beans - Bo is a fried chicken enthusiast and without giving the menu another glance, she chose this as her main dish along with coconut rice and black beans. She enjoyed it very much and I could see why - the chicken was nice and thin and so crispy around the edges that it made a lovely crunch sound when biting into it. Bo wasn't crazy about the rice because it had an intense coconut flavor but since I adore anything with coconut, I was really into it. The beans were simple, flavorful and delicious, further filling our bellies to perfect roundness.
Tilapia Wrap with Fried Yuca and Tostones - This was my dish and similar to Bo's, it was also very fresh, zesty and delicious. A warm, toasty whole wheat tortilla wrap was stuffed with a light tilapia and mix of veggies such as tomatoes, lettuce, avocado, cilantro and other Latin accouterments. I loved the fish especially since it tasted wonderful and light, not having any trace of a weird fishiness that sometimes inflicts fish tacos. The yuca fries were crunchy and soft and their flavor was elevated further when dipped into garlicky blue cheese sauce. Same went for the tostones that were the right amount of crispy, salty and chewy on the inside - pure yumminess!
Fresh Juices - We couldn't resist Lena's offering of freshly made juices. I went for the mango and Bo chose the watermelon. Both were smooth and pure and not overly sweetened, which was great. Although we loved them, we thought they would've been better enjoyed in the summertime.
Service and Cost: The service seemed efficient and relatively quick during slower times, but as soon as the restaurant got busy, it got a little hectic. Not to say there was something wrong, we just felt that overall, the service could've been more consistent throughout our experience.
Prices are moderate to a little expensive for lunch, but definitely still doable, especially if you want a quality meal with a health conscious skew.