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Restaurant Review: El Sapo - Source Washingtonian

Posted on Mar 11,2019
Filed Under Restaurants , Local Tastes,

The restaurant's open kitchen, featuring a mural inspired by the Cuban charada.

Source Washingtonian


If restaurants had Myers-Briggs types, the new El Sapo Cuban Social Club would be 100 percent extrovert. The music is so loud you might wonder if dinner conversation is even possible. (Answer: You’ve gotta work for it.) The dining room is dominated by a giant mural of drunken toads. (We’ll get to that later.) Then there’s chef/owner Raynold Mendizábal. He’s the big close-shaven dude excitedly chatting up tables, shaking maracas, stirring up a drink, or zipping through the kitchen.

But Mendizábal is no dilettante. The Havana native has spent the last two decades working his way up through Washington kitchens (Pesce, Lima). Five years ago, he opened the popular Urban Butcher—also in Silver Spring—where he focused on mastering charcuterie-making and meat. This, though, is the restaurant he says has been in his head the whole time. Exactly 22 years—to the day—after he arrived in the US, he signed the lease for El Sapo. Which brings us to the toads.

In Cuban culture, there’s a lottery system called the charada, in which numbers are assigned animals or objects. (The TLDR version: If you see, say, an animal in a dream, play its number in the lottery.) Mendizábal isn’t superstitious, but how could that exact 22 years not mean something? “Whenever you do a business, you take a gamble with the universe,” he says, “and I played the 22.” The toad. So that’s why you might wind up spending dinner gazing at what looks like the amphibian version of a Real Housewives bender.

Source Washingtonian

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