Richard Sandoval’s Latest, dLeña, Opens and It’s Smokin’

Atún tacos at dLeña. Image credit: Kate Michael

Famed chef and restaurateur Richard Sandoval (El Centro DF, Toro Toro, La Sandia) officially opened his latest DC hotspot and it is smokin’!

dLeña (476 K Street) is a sexy, smokey wood fire Mexican cocina and mezcaleria located in Mount Vernon Triangle. Wood is the theme at this rustic, yet high-end Oaxacan-style restaurant that honors the culture and cuisine and transports diners to one of the most distinctive cities in southwestern Mexico.

The first thing guests may notice is dLeña’s size. The massive 5,000 square-foot restaurant offers plenty of room for spaced-out dining as well as a long (and soon to be lively) bar and one of the neighborhood’s largest patios — which seats up to 80!

Dining at dLeña is a multi-sensory experience, with plates and drinks often featuring a smokey presentation to accompany the menu’s mesquite and oak-smoked flavor profile.

Aguachile de Wagyu at dLeña. Image credit: Kate Michael

It’s equally easy to share or be selfish with dLeña’s exceptional menu of starters like Tuna Tartare, served on a charred tostada; Pork Belly with pickled vegetables and a little heat from a chipotle glaze; or Ostiones a la Leña, a half dozen grilled oysters accompanied by a smoked bacon relish. But the absolute best smaller plate on the menu may be the Aguachile de Wagyu which arrives in its own smoke chamber and features a light kick of habanero pickled pepper.

While much of the entrée menu features flavors from dLeña’s signature wood-fire grill, don’t think Sandoval focused entirely on meats. Instead, even his Zarandeado — a whole filleted branzino with a charred marinade — smolders with smokey essence.

Zarandeado at dLeña. Image credit: Kate Michael

The menu item that has literally been on fire since opening day, however, is likely the Tomahawk Ribeye for two, which is flambéed tableside and creates quite the show.

There are, of course, a variety of quintessentially Mexican items available, like tacos (short rib, suckling pig, tuna, prawn, black bean), ceviches, salads, and soups. And for a sweet finish, don’t miss the Carahillo Crème Brulée, which is set afire at the table.

Unique flavors spill over into dLeñas cocktails as well, which include four different margaritas (which you can order with tequila or make smokier with mezcal — highly recommend). Tequila flights are also interesting, as dLeña allows tasters to compare three tequilas produced by either the same distilling family or competing producers.

Mil Hojas de Panqueque Argentino. Image credit: Kate Michael

dLeña is currently open for dinner only from 5-10 pm Sunday through Thursday, with one extra hour Friday and Saturday evenings. Later this summer, a downstairs mezcal den will be opening for more sipping and savoring.

To mark its debut, dLeña will donate proceeds during opening week to Dreams for Kids DC, dedicated to empowering children with physical and developmental disabilities to unite with their peers and realize their potential.

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