Birria, beef braised in a chile-filled broth, fills the trendiest of Mexican dishes right now. But Santosh Tiptur, chef and owner of La Prensa in Sterling, wasn’t prepared for how popular it would prove to be at his new restaurant when it opened at the end of November.
“Almost 35% of the sales are the birria,” he says incredulously. But his birria isn’t just any taco or quesadilla served with braising liquid for dipping sauce. He realized that the short rib he uses is already amiably adipose on its own. So he skimmed the fat from the braising liquid on the side, then reduced it to a thicker, stronger-tasting sauce. Dip a crisp quesadilla, filled with tangy, stretchy queso Oaxaca, into the liquid, and you’ll taste each one of the six chiles that Tiptur uses, from árbols to pasillas.
Though Tiptur learned to prepare Mexican fare while working on cruise ships early in his career, he credits Tomás Lobato, his chef de cuisine and a native of Mexico, with helping to develop the authentic flavors of many dishes. Chief among those is the intense mole poblano that dresses the enchilada marron. The final mole recipe that they chose was the “creamiest and most flavorful, and the chocolate made it even better,” says Tiptur. It enrobes corn tortillas filled with pulled chicken. Besides the chocolate, peanuts and sesame seeds give it the rich, nutty flavor that typifies the midnight-dark sauce.
Dishes, including the quesadillas and enchiladas, are accompanied by a pyramid of garlic rice that’s as fluffy as it is warmly piquant. It’s surrounded by a moat of creamy black beans, all showered with cilantro.
The centerpiece of the menu is the list of tacos. There’s birria, of course, but the best of them also include al pastor that’s covered with roasted pineapple as well as onion-filled pineapple salpicon. A salsa roja adds flavor to the already vibrant pork. Vivid colors also augur bright flavors from the harissa pollo taco, modeled on the Middle Eastern-influenced dish that’s a hit at Tiptur’s other restaurant, chocolate emporium The Conche in Leesburg.
But not everything at La Prensa is Mexican. As of press time, Tiptur was slowly introducing Spanish tapas to the long list of dishes. Those include gambas al ajillo, shrimp dressed with roasted garlic and sweet-and-tangy sherry vinegar, and croquetas, crispy croquettes that ooze with béchamel sauce and come in vegetarian or meaty versions with either mushrooms or serrano ham.
Cocktails include frozen drinks that change daily. Of course, Tiptur is a pastry chef at heart. His vanilla bean cheesecake with guava gelee is winning a rabid fan base, but we fell in serious like with the churros sundae filled with hot mini versions of the fritters. Leave it to the maestro to score another hit with the sequel to his beloved The Conche. // 21305 Windmill Parc Dr., Suite 140, Sterling
Heated outdoor seating is just as busy as the colorful wood booths inside. Watch the chefs at work in the semi-open kitchen.
Birria quesadilla, enchilada marron, churros sundae
Open daily for lunch and dinner