No Frills Dining at The Commissary

New Downtown spot is simple but good

The Commissary

Chef Richard Sandoval | Photo by Jim K. Decker

Al’s Menu Picks

  • Tortilla soup ($6)
  • Craft burger of the day ($9)
  • Rotisserie chicken ($8-$22)
  • Latin smoked brisket ($10-$17)

The arrival of the Downtown Grand and the growth of the attached Downtown 3rd entertainment district have meant quite a few new additions to the area’s dining scene. Among them you’ll find the Commissary, a little joint on the northwest corner of the block that also houses Pizza Rock, the Triple George Grill and Hogs and Heifers. (It’s on the ground floor of the Downtown Grand’s west tower, but much easier to access from the street.) It’s a casual space created by Top Chef Masters alumnus Richard Sandoval, who has dozens of restaurants around the world, including Washington, D.C., Denver, Mexico, Dubai and Qatar.

The sprawling restaurant is actually three concepts in one: a coffee shop, a bar and a counter-service grill with some Latin influences. The affordable menu is heavy on tortas, tacos and burritos, but also boasts salads, soups, burgers, hot dogs, smoked brisket and rotisserie chicken. If you opt to dine in the restaurant section, you order from a counter and then receive a pager that notifies you when your meal is ready. Or you can dine at the small bar, where your bartender will place your order for you and deliver your food. In addition to java, the coffee shop offers a rotating assortment of gelatos, which are also available in milkshakes. On my most recent visit, flavors included red velvet, orange cream, chai, pistachio and mojito.

The restaurant’s décor is simple and modern, and feels a bit like an upscale cafeteria. Unfortunately, the dining area consists primarily of small, circular two-tops that feel a little cramped. I’m a bit more comfortable at either the large communal high-top tables, or simply dining at the bar.

Rotisserie chicken is simple, but the best dish on the menu at The Commissary. | Photo by Anthony Mair

Rotisserie chicken is simple, but the best dish on the menu at The Commissary. | Photo by Anthony Mair

Since Sandoval was born in Mexico, your first temptation may be to go with Latin dishes. And there are a few hits on that menu, starting with the excellent tortilla soup and tortilla chips that come with three types of salsa. Of the seven types of tortas, I’ve tried a very tasty Cubano made with ham, pork carnitas, Swiss cheese, habañero mustard and pickles. On the extremely messy carnitas version of the torta, the roasted pork was overpowered by pickled red onions and some type of slaw that wasn’t listed on the menu. Among the side dishes, black beans and cilantro rice are basic and unremarkable. But the cole slaw, which I normally don’t like, gets a very nice kick from some aji amarillos (Peruvian yellow chile peppers).

Despite Sandoval’s heritage, however, I generally prefer his American dishes, some of which still have a few Latin touches. The burgers are solid, with the chef preparing a different specialty burger daily. The day I tried it, the burger was topped with chorizo and bean chili—a big, sloppy, delicious mess. The brisket is also wonderful, with a rich, lightly smoked flavor.

But the signature dish here is unquestionably the rotisserie chicken. Sure, it’s a simple dish, but no place in town does it better. The skin is well-seasoned and crispy, and the meat falls off the bone. While a whole chicken or a four-piece order are also available, two pieces with two sides for $8 is an incredible bargain. And speaking of sides, make sure to try the crispy potatoes wedges, which sit in the bottom of the rotisserie to marinate in the chicken drippings before being quickly fried.

The Commissary may be a simple spot, but in most instances Sandoval and his staff are paying attention to the details. If you’re Downtown and looking for something quick and inexpensive, you should definitely pay them a visit.

The Commissary

In The Downtown Grand, 719-5311. Open 6 a.m.–10 p.m. daily. Dinner for two $20-$35.