It’s one thing to go out for an enjoyable meal, and it’s another to then create that delicious taste in the comfort of your own kitchen. Often we look for restaurants with authentic flavor and preparation because we cannot cook like that ourselves. But what if we had access to all the ingredients that we needed to make the food we loved to go out and eat?

Carniceria Leonela, located on 3736 E Pikes Peak Ave., is both a Mexican restaurant and a grocery store. The store section is the size of a regular Safeway or King Soopers, with aisles stacked full of Mexican ingredients, from snacks and sweets to produce and spices. The store offers items that are impossible to find at any regular grocery store, and it makes cooking Mexican cuisine more accessible for everyone.

A woman stands outside the store with a small cart, selling sliced mango sprinkled with chili powder.

The restaurant section is at the side of the grocery store, and feels like a cafeteria. Large windows cover the entirety of one wall, letting natural light flood through the restaurant. The smell of fresh tortillas, spices, warm rice, and beans pour from the small kitchen behind the order counter, into the dining area, and out to the entire grocery store.

Photos by Becca Stine

Out of all the Mexican restaurants I’ve been to in Colorado Springs, Carniceria Leonela has by far the most flavor and variety. The menu offers a selection of tacos, burritos, and tortas with fillings ranging from spicy pork and chicken to cow tongue and ceviche. The spicy pork taco was incredibly tender, warm, and fresh, served simply on a corn tortilla. Beyond the order counter there is a small buffet table with various toppings such as salsa, cabbage, onion, cilantro, and lime to add to your meal as you please.

Menu options at other Mexican restaurants in Colorado Springs often do not extend beyond tacos and burritos. At Carniceria Leonela, however, that is just where the food options begin. The menu also offers a selection of mains, from breaded beef or chicken and beef soup, to carne asada and mole. The mole was absolutely delicious: two giant chicken legs served with beans, rice, guacamole, and vegetables. The chicken meat was smothered in a thick, salty sauce, and the meat practically fell of the bone. Each element of the plate had a slightly different texture and  rich flavor, and the meal itself was huge.

More than just a spot for incredible and authentic food, it’s also about community engagement and recognition. “This place represents a very safe and nonwhite space to people of color in the community,” said Ysa Trujillo ’19. “It’s not a place to go try on culture, to go order in broken Spanish in order to legitimize proximity to Spanish speakers, but a place to give financial support and amplify the role the grocery and restaurant play for people outside of the CC community.”  

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