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ZENGO: Latin Fusion Personified in DC

(Ceviche duo)

There’s something highly valuable in finding a restaurant in your own city that understands fusion cuisine. As a chef and recipe developer who explores the combination of Latin food with other global cuisine, I’m always intrigued by the outcome from other kitchens. Fusion interpretation is not always easy or seamlessly accomplished. Chef/Owner Richard Sandoval, a Mexico City native, brings his deep-rooted understanding and respect for Latin food to the tables at Zengo restaurant, in the active heart of DC’s Chinatown, with a tasty Latin-Asian fusion concept at its core.

Every few months, Sandoval and his Chef de Cuisine pow wow to design a new featured duo, complete with a menu reflecting both cuisines’ staple and special ingredients. Dubbed the Tasty Kitchen, the quarterly event attracts diners who appreciate a well-excecuted plate bearing two vastly different techniques. When I enjoyed dinner there, the combo presented was Mexican-Korean. Two independently strong cuisines, I was intrigued by the idea of a bold blend of  a thick molé with a Korean BBQ sauce.

Though Zengo, also thriving in NY, Denver, and Santa Monica, has popular mainstays and hits like crispy chicken empanadas with mango-pineapple salsa (a very safe option) and ceviche duo‘s, a perfect dining experience is to let loose and allow the server to bring you options from the test kitchen.

I started with a tuna and avocado ceviche, hitting perfect levels of acidity, freshness and heat  (nothing worse than extra ripe or super green avocados in any dish). My main course BBQ chicken atop a quasi-spicy jus, paired with panfried asian vegetables and topped with micro greens was succulent and boldly flavored. Neither Mexican or Korean flavors jumped out exclusively, lending to a nice, well, fusion of tastes.

(Chicken empanadas; BBQ chicken)

My test for a great spot is always dessert. I borderline live by the mantra: “Eat Dessert First.” Mexicans are master pioneers in making decadent sweets. Everyone familiar with their culture knows chocolate and vanilla have made them culinary rockstars. It’s then no surprise I was dished a beautiful and almost-too-perfect Mexican chocolate tart with cocoa nibs, cinnamon whip and chili ancho Anglaise. After two appetizers, a hearty main entrée, room for dessert was minimal. And yet, my stomach expanded enough to indulge in the entire serving of a classic throwback. House-made, imported chocolate and hand-whipped ice cream? Yes, please, over and over again. It’s a good thing this particular dessert is always on the menu.

The only absent element for my preference in fabulous experiences was an ambient dining room. The space is large, spread between two massive floors on a busy street next to a crowded  Gallery Place Metro station. There’s that to consider, no doubt, but a noticeable lack of warmth I like to associate with Latin dining experiences, kept the mood a bit chilly. The downstairs offers a laid back lounge vibe for the happy hour, cocktail goers. Sit down dinner is reserved for the well lighted area upstairs, where I dined. I say dim the lights, bring some large trees wrapped in soft lights and fill up some space with gorgeous detailed Meixcan or Latin American furniture, and the tone would sweetly pair with the food.

Ambiance aside, the Test Kitchen concept tops any deficit. Currently running is a mash up of Argenteninan and Filipino food. Most popular on the menu is the Filipino BBQ chicken served with coconut rice (oh my!) and red chimichurri; and the Tagalog style churrasco steak, a wildly loved Argentine beef style. I’ve not yet had the pleasure of noshing on this particular menu, which runs through the end of March, but I’m certain it hits all the proper notes. {*Enter mental jaunts of tasting the Argentine tamales with smoked oxtail*}

If you must sip on spirits to bring forth some warmth, I say opt for the Guava Mate cocktail made with Gin, guayaba fruit, yerba mate and lime. That speaks tropical sexiness. And right now, in the middle of an on-coming East Coast winter blast, anything mirroring a breezy, beach shore evening, is attractive.

(Mexican chocolate tart)


781 Seventh Street NW, Chinatown

Washington, DC 20001

 202.393.2929  or visit www.Zengo.com

Appetizers: $5-$14; Dinner: $19 – $31; Desserts: $3.50-$7; Cocktails: $13 (a bit pricey, even for DC)

*this post is part of private media visit I enjoyed to Zengo. Dinner was complimentary. However, I was not compensated for this review and all of the opinions are honest and my very own. So, really, check it out! 

[Rating: 3.5/5]



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60 thoughts on “ZENGO: Latin Fusion Personified in DC

  1. ZENGO ZENGO ZENGO!!! I love this place. No where better to spend your evening and weekend!!!

  2. We also spent Iris’ birthday there a few years ago.. probably 2 years ago. Had a great time. Dessert was awesome!!!

  3. Como me gustaria ir a ese restorante. Sabes q el postre es mi delicia y esa torta se ve super, super divino! ¡Que rico! ¡Gracias por compartir

  4. Can’t wait to try this place! Didn’t realize it was Latin-Asian fusion. Love that combo!!

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