DLeña, a Mexican restaurant with a focus on grilling and Oaxacan cuisine, starts seating customers in Mt. Vernon Triangle today ahead of a grand opening Monday, May 10. The bar from international restaurateur Richard Sandoval will dispense mezcal and tequila flights while showing off a rustic, wood-burning hearth.
Located at 476 K Street NW, DLeña is the latest D.C. venture from Sandoval, whose local portfolio includes taqueria and tequila bar El Centro D.F., in Georgetown, and Tysons Corner cantina La Sandia. Chef Carlos Camacho, a regional executive chef for Sandoval who previously worked within Great American Restaurants groups and led the kitchen for La Puerta Verde in Ivy City, is the chef de cuisine in charge of leading the new property.
“Mexican food is in his DNA, so it was the natural choice for collaboration,” Sandoval says.
Sandoval describes the menu as modern Mexican. The menu includes shareable starters such as a tuna tartare that’s served on charred tostada and topped with chile de arbol salsa macha and jicama salad. Grilled oysters arrive with chipotle mignonette and smoked bacon relish.
“We’re using mesquite and oak smoke and experimenting with different things. Each wood gives a dish different notes and flavors,” Sandoval says. “And while Oaxaca has definitely become more of a namesake, not everyone knows about the culture and cuisine. So we’re trying to honor that and educate diners through our menu.”
One of the more dramatic options on the menu is a tomahawk ribeye for two ($125) that gets flambeed in tequila tableside and served with bone marrow butter. A section of includes wagyu steak a la piedra (stone), an apparent reference to salsa made in a molcajete. The $48 dish comes with poblano pepper, caramelized onions, and made-to-order tortillas. Camarones a la Diabla ($30) are jumbo prawns marinated in smoked chiles and served with chipotle sauce and grilled spring onion.
On the more affordable side, DLeña’s menu includes an array of ceviche, aguachile, salads, soups, and tacos such as crispy shrimp, short rib, and suckling pig. Flights of three tequila or smoky mezcals ($21 to $27) complement the grilled dishes. There are four different margaritas, include tamarind and prickly pear flavors. The standard option, made with blanco tequila and lime, can be upgraded with strawberry, mango, or passion fruit for $2 more.
Sandoval says DLeña opens about seven months behind schedule because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The restaurant, which will be open for indoor dining, features a patio that seats approximately 80 people. With the summer season fast approaching, Sandoval hopes outdoor dining alone can buoy the business.
“People told me to wait to open until we were sure COVID-19 would be over, but I said, we need to start opening up, and making people feel confident and safe that they can dine out with us,” he says. “It’s perfect timing, our indicators are telling us people are vaccinated, and we will see in the coming months that people really will start to go out,” he says.
At the moment, DLeña is only open for dinner. Hours are 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday with an 11 p.m. closing time on Friday and Saturday. Reservations can be made through OpenTable or DLeña’s website.