First Look: La Sandia
Mex appeal in the mall.
Reviewed By Todd Kliman, Ann Limpert, Cynthia Hacinli
Comments () | Published August 21, 2008
La Sandia
Address: 7852L Tysons Corner Center, McLean, VA 22102
Phone: 703-893-2222
Neighborhood: Mclean, McLean/Tysons Corner
Cuisines: South American, Mexican, Nuevo Latino
Opening Hours: Open daily at 11 AM.
Price Range: Moderate
Dress: Informal
Noise Level: Chatty
Reservations: Not Needed
Best Dishes Guacamole; chicken mole; fish tacos; cafe de olla; chocolate abuelita.
At La Sandía, diners settle in for fresh-made guacamole and tart margaritas. Photograph by Stacy Zarin-Goldberg.

Between the noisy toddlers and the electronica soundtracks, even a short walk through Tysons Corner Center can be an audiovisual assault. There’s no respite at La Sandía, a Mexican restaurant and tequila bar where you’re greeted by a booming merengue beat and a Frida Kahlo palette of colors on its walls.

This is the second area restaurant from Denver-based chef Richard Sandoval, who owns the flashier—and more ambitious and expensive—Latin-Asian fusion dining room Zengo in DC’s Penn Quarter, a favorite of the minidress crowd. Worn-out shoppers and families with small children make up most of La Sandía’s customers.

The menu is a traipse through Sandoval’s native Mexico and amounts to a sometimes compelling, sometimes dispiriting travelogue. There is a fine rendition of chicken mole, and guacamole, mashed tableside in a molcajete, is full of bright cilantro flavor. A generous serving of shrimp ceviche errs on the soupy side but gets a nice kick from serrano chilies.

But a skillet of queso fundido was more oil than cheese, and tortilla soup, packed with nicely shredded chicken, was oddly punchless. Tacos are uneven. Soft corn tortillas filled with al pastor-style pork were greasy, and a version with shriveled skirt steak needed a heavy squeeze of lime to liven them up. Much better were the fish tacos, nearly overspilling with beer-battered tilapia and slaw.

The bar rarely errs, sending out terrific margaritas made with fresh lime juice and sour mix—and a choice of more than 100 tequilas—plus a selection of aguas frescas and lemonades (we like the version with floating slices of mango). When it comes to sweets, it’s a good idea to look to the liquid stuff, too. The cafe de olla, a coffee steeped with orange zest and Mexican brown sugar, or the chocolate abuelita, a cinnamony hot cocoa, are much better than the stiff tres leches cake or the banana empanada.

This review appeared in the August, 2008 issue of The Washingtonian.  

Subscribe to Washingtonian
Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 08/21/2008 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Restaurant Reviews