Star chef Richard Sandoval on corn smut and why he isn't likely to come to your house for dinner

Lori Midson

Richard Sandoval
Al Lado, La Sandia, Tamayo, Zengo, Cima, Venga Venga

This is part one of my interview with chef Richard Sandoval, who owns and operates dozens of restaurants around the world, including seven in Colorado. Part two of my interview with Sandoval will run tomorrow.

There's the man of the hour," hollers an employee of Zengo, the Latin-Asian restaurant that New York-based chef/restaurateur Richard Sandoval opened in 2004 in the Riverfront Park neighborhood. Sandoval, who owns and operates seven restaurants in Colorado -- the most he's opened in any state, including Zengo, two outposts of La Sandia, Tamayo, Cima and Venga Venga, as well as his newest endeavor, a Latin lounge and wine bar called Al Lado, which opens Friday next door to Zengo -- has just popped in after a shopping jaunt to Park Meadows. He nods with approval. "It's looking good," he says.

Sandoval was born and raised in Mexico City, and while he didn't begin his culinary career until his mid-twenties, cooking was always an integral part of his everyday life. "Food was a really big deal when I was growing up," he recalls. "I spent a lot of time at my grandmother's house, and every Saturday and Sunday, she'd put together an amazing feast for the whole family."

And Sandoval would watch with wide eyes from his perch on the countertop. "I always migrated to the kitchen, and my grandmother would hoist me up on the kitchen counter, and I remember watching her cook and thinking how much fun it would be," he says. And his parents ― his father was in the restaurant industry ― entertained in their home regularly, he adds: "I was always exposed to new ingredients ― all sorts of different cheeses, meats, butters and even baby eels."

But Sandoval started out as a professional tennis player, traveling around the world and going up against greats like Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. Somewhere along the way, though, he realized that he wasn't going to make it on the satellite circuit, so he re-evaluated. "I needed to decide if I was going to teach tennis or find a different career," he says.

Location Info

Al Lado - CLOSED

1610 Little Raven St., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant

La Sandia

8419 Park Meadows Center Drive, Littleton, CO

Category: Restaurant


1400 Larimer St., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant


1610 Little Raven St., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant


126 Riverfront Lane, Avon, CO

Category: Restaurant

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"It's not about the number of restaurants I open; it's about creating great food and great staffs," he says. "If we start putting shit on the plate, then I'm done, but for the first time in a long time -- and maybe age has something to do with this -- I'm content and more relaxed, and I've built a team of people who have allowed me to step back a bit."


FAIL. Sandoval needs to rethink his entire approach.  B/c what is going on now is subpar.   The first time I went to La Sandia, it was fantastic, from the caipirinha to the dessert.  The next time I went, it was awful.  Completely inattentive wait staff (there were only 2 other tables at the time, so no excuse), horrible, watered down drinks, and ingredients left out of the main course and dessert.  And the exact same issues at the VA location of La Sandia, as well as other outposts of his other restaurants.  And it seems no one in the front office cares, much less in the actual restuarants.


I saw a review of a Sandoval restaurant once that stated his restaurants start out great, but then within months slide into - at best - mediocrity.  An excellent description for his restaurants.  I no longer patronize any of them.

Mantonat topcommenter

 @notgood I think I read this review too, or a similar one, where the observation was that his restaurants start out great but devolve into singles hook-up places where the nobody cares about the food. 


Denver Dave
Denver Dave topcommenter

 @notgood Agreed - not to mention the prices are crazy expensive.

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