MVT Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month with Chef Richard Sandoval of dLeña

Wednesday September 15, 2021

One way we strive to make Mount Vernon Triangle feel welcoming and inclusive for everyone in our community is by telling the stories of those whose contributions make #LifeInMVT a special place to live, work, and visit. In honor of the September 15 start of Hispanic Heritage Month, we highlight the story of Chef Richard Sandoval, the culinary mastermind behind dLeña – a wood-fired Mexican cocina and new local hotspot – in this special conversation:

MVT CID: What was your first job in the restaurant industry and how did it propel you to where you are today?

Chef Sandoval: My first foray into food was cooking with my abuela with whom I loved to cook, so I decided to enroll at the Culinary Institute of America. From there, I went back to my father’s restaurant in Mexico and worked with him for about four years and opened an Italian restaurant for him. Then I was ready for another challenge, so I chose to go back to New York. I started my first restaurant there called Savann which was kind of an American-Asian fusion. During this time, I really started to learn about the New York dining scene, and after a few years, I realized that there wasn’t any cuisine in the city that properly interpreted my culture. Americans really only saw Mexican food as “tex-mex” at this time. I made it my mission to share the cuisine of my heritage with the world and bring it to another level. This is when I decided to open Maya and received two stars from The New York Times. After that, my career as a chef really took flight.

MVT CID: What makes Hispanic Heritage Month so important?

Chef Sandoval: Hispanic Heritage Month is an important time for people to reflect upon the vibrant historical, cultural, social, and societal influences of Hispanic and Latinx people within the U.S. and throughout the world, especially within hospitality where our community makes up more than 22% of the employees in the industry. I think it’s the time of the year when we can reflect about how our cultures have influenced and shaped other places, other cultures, and amplify the voices of our communities.

With my restaurants, there is certainly a responsibility I feel to accurately share the heritage behind our food and drink culture, and that storytelling is something we’re doing this year through our Global Día de los Muertos campaign, launching here in our Mount Vernon Triangle location dLeña on Tuesday, October 5 and Toro Toro, El Centro Georgetown, and La Sandia Tysons Corner on Wednesday, October 6.

We’ve partnered with Mexico City-based artist Chepe to help amplify Hispanic artists and are featuring a range of marigold-inspired dishes and cocktails. Please join us to try them!

MVT CID: What advice would you give to someone starting their culinary journey?

Chef Sandoval: Like everything in life, passion, purpose, and perseverance are the most important elements to start one’s culinary journey, or anything in life. Without all three, the formula is incomplete.

MVT CID: How has your experience been in Mount Vernon Triangle and what do you look forward to in the future?

Chef Sandoval: Our welcoming to the Mount Vernon neighborhood since opening dLeña in May has been tremendous and the support we received has been invaluable. The neighborhood is vibrant and the people equally so. We feel very fortunate to call many guests our friends and regulars now and look forward to actively being part of such a special community in the District.

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MVT CID extends its special thanks to Chef Sandoval for contributing his experiences in support of our celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. Visit for more of Chef Sandoval’s story and to learn why his creations have earned widespread international acclaim. And make plans to visit 476 K Street NW to experience dLeña and dLeña ROJA – its dark, candle-lit below-grade lounge and cocktail bar – offering a robust selection of 200-plus tequilas and mezcal.