Gourmet Baja Mexican at San Juan River Kitchen
by Mary Cokenour
This story begins with an email to Bill Boyle, the San Juan Record Publisher and Editor:
“Hi Bill, This is not a letter to the Editor. It is just a suggestion. We finally had the pleasure of going to the San Juan River Kitchen for dinner last night, here in Bluff. It was truly awesome.
“It looks like you have a food editor now. Just guessing that she would have the most delightful time checking out Leah’s amazing fare.
“Thanks and I hope you are well, Theresa Breznau.”
Bill forwarded the email to me with the message, “This may make a fun story!” And correct he was.
In 2006, Leah Schrenk opened up the San Juan River Kitchen, along Highway 191 in Bluff, a colorful metallic rooster being the restaurant’s mascot.
However, in 2012, the Kitchen closed and Leah moved to Springfield, IL and opened up “La Calia”.
The concept is “farm to fork” with a Spanish flare and locally sourced from organic farmers.
In only two years, Leah created a dedicated following, but San Juan County and the river were still deep in her heart.
With a mixture of sadness and exhilaration, Leah and the rooster are back in Bluff. She reopened San Juan River Kitchen in the winter of 2015.
San Juan River Kitchen has quickly developed a dedicated following once again and is open Tuesday thru Sunday for dinner only (6 to 9 p.m.).
Leah puts her unique spin on her dishes, and while she simply calls it “Mexican”, it is more gourmet Baja style than the typical food at a chain-style Mexican eatery.
With one bite, from appetizer to salad to entrée, the freshness of the ingredients comes out strong. Buying local produce and products is a must for Leah.
Kristen, a perky and knowledgeable waitress, told us about Leah working on a fishing vessel in Alaska. Leah knows her fish and frozen won’t do!
The salmon, mahi-mahi and other seafood are shipped in directly to the restaurant to ensure they are served up fresh.
Our purpose of being at the Kitchen was twofold: this article, and to celebrate a friend’s birthday. It was the perfect choice for a celebration meal!
We began with freshly baked tortilla chips and a mild salsa brimming with flavors of cilantro, garlic, chiles, onions and tomatoes.
Baked Jalapeno Poppers served in their own skillet and stuffed with three cheeses; crisply, naked peppers without tons of breading and oil.
We each chose a different entrée, which we happily shared for tasting pleasure.
Grilled Mahi-Mahi Tacos: one inch thick sections of fish grilled to perfect moistness and flakiness; mango salsa with cilantro perfectly balanced to enhance, not overpower. The Spanish rice is moist, lightly seasoned; black beans plump and tasty.
Grilled Flank Steak, served sliced, tender as can be; pan-fried potatoes and onions lightly seasoned with fresh salsa of onion, tomato and chile.
Are you noticing the theme of fresh yet? It’s in all the dishes!
My husband had the special, 16 ounce bone-in Pork Chop, brined in juniper berries and served with a green chile polenta and braised kale. There was nothing left on the plate but the bone.
Leah commented, “Oh, that’s usually the way it is with that pork chop.” We certainly believe her, considering we all couldn’t help digging into the polenta.
For dessert (house made, even the ice creams), a huge chocolate brownie chock full of chocolate chunks; cinnamon almond ice cream with a strong scent of cinnamon, but so pleasing to the palette; and beet mint (yes, I said beet) which is berry delicious in flavor, creamy and luscious.
San Juan River Kitchen has what every diner craves... great food, great atmosphere, great staff. Open only for three hours nightly (except Monday).Leah ensures the quality and quantity will be a pleasure for each patron.
If you’re a local, you’ll be coming back and introducing others to the Kitchen. If you’re simply visiting the area, you’ll definitely be spreading the word about San Juan River Kitchen to others visiting the area.
San Juan River Kitchen, 281 East Main (Hwy 191), Bluff, UT 84512, Phone 435-672-9956, Hours: Tuesday thru Sunday, 6-9 p.m., closed Monday.