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INCOMING: Richard Sandoval

Superstar Latin chef finally opening spot in San Diego?

By Troy Johnson

INCOMING: Richard Sandoval

Richard Sandoval

Richard Sandoval


San Diego already has chefs who achieve supernatural feats with maze, chipotle and plantains. Javier Plascencia is getting well-deserved national acclaim for the modern Baja cuisine at his restaurants, Romesco and Mision 19 (in Tijuana). Now one of the biggest international stars of Latin food is in talks to open a spot in San Diego.

Local restaurateur Pablo Becker is working on a deal with his cousin—superstar Latin chef/restaurateur Richard Sandovalto open a new concept in Chula Vista’s Otay Ranch Town Center. It would go into the former location of Becker’s own restaurant, El Vitral. Chula Vista boasts a good number of Hispanic and Latino humans who eat (58% of the population, according to 2010 census stats), which makes it a reasonable fit. This Craigslist ad suggests Sandoval’s group is confident enough in the deal that they’ve started the hiring process.

“Nothing’s confirmed yet,” says Becker. “But we’re real close.”

Sandoval has more than 30 Latin restaurants globally. They’re mostly high-end Latin, and definitely not rolled taco threesomes in a bag. His NYC flagship, Maya, was given a two-star rating by the New York Times in 1997. His concept Raya anchors the formal dining room of the Ritz-Carlton Laguna-Niguel. He’s a James Beard nominee, Top Chef Masters star, you name it.

Sandoval reportedly takes real good care of his people, makes his chefs partners, encourages them to do their best work. So his presence in San Diego would be exciting.

Question is: Would he be able to crack the city’s high-end Mexican dilemma?

In Chula Vista, Romesco has been successful with a $30 lamb asado on their dinner menu. But other high-end Latin concepts—most notably Frida (Otay Ranch) and Becker’s own El Vitral (Downtown, Otay Ranch)—didn’t make it. While a huge market for low-cost Mexican street food, San Diego hasn’t responded well to more expensive items like huitlacoche (the “Mexican truffle,” which goes into corn soup at Raya).

Sandoval has an empire to run, so he won’t be in the San Diego kitchen too often. The restaurant’s success would depend on a lot of things—but mostly the talent of his chef de cuisine. We’re fairly certain we know which of his chefs that would be; if correct, it’s a good sign. (We’re not going to announce his or her name because his or her staff at his or her current restaurant may not even know yet, and that’s just rude.)

Becker will let us know the minute the deal is official.

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