La Sandía

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We were admittedly disappointed when we saw that Santa Monica Place had brought in a chain Mexican restaurant from out of state instead of bolstering one of our locals. But La Sandía, the more traditional venture from Denver chef Richard Sandoval (he also owns the mall’s Asian-Latin fusion spot, Zengo), exceeds expectations. A retractable roof covers a courtyard dotted with a trickling fountain and indoor greenery. The kitchen tries just hard enough, topping a warm huarache—a masa-based flatbread—with a mix of wild mushrooms and truffle oil, slow cooking beef brisket with a citrus-achiote sauce, and whipping up guacamole tableside. It’s unfortunate that slabs of dry white chicken meat suck the life out of what’s otherwise a lovely mole poblano. The bar offers a staggering number of tequilas, served by a knowledgeable staff. » 395 Santa Monica Place (310-393-3300). L-D daily. Full bar. Mexican  $$

 

Photograph courtesy richardsandoval.com