[EDITOR'S NOTE: We dispatched writer Sam Coggeshall to Sandoval's grand re-opening last week to give us the lowdown. Here is his report.]
In pop culture, tequila has none of the nobility of scotch, nor the cool sophistication of vodka, nor the blue-collar integrity of bourbon. It's the sophomore co-ed of liquor, swimming in impulse and regret. But here in the airport of all places, the after-party staple has been elevated back to its rightful place among the aristocracy.
Formerly known as Sandoval's Mexican Restaurant, the refurbished Sandoval's Tequila Grill in Portland International Airport offers pours of over 200 types of high-end tequila (not to mention twice as many beers on tap). Owner Danny Sandoval has built a small empire of family-oriented Mexican restaurants, with 5 locations around Portland—including the beloved La Palapa on Hawthorne—but this small space on Concourse C reveals his true passion.
It's a Thursday afternoon. After a cermonial ribbon-cutting, Sandoval welcomes the crowd of about 60 mostly off-duty airport workers and a few curious travelers in for free samples. Before we can take our first sip, Sandoval instructs the crowd on proper technique. “Put it in your mouth, swish it around, hold your breath, swallow and then exhale,” he says. “That way it comes through the nose as well.”
It's a strange place for a lesson in sipping, but no one complains. Of the two tequila samples—Cazadores Reposado and Herradura Reposado Double Barrel—the latter is superior. There are hints of vanilla and caramel amidst the satisfying burning sensation.
“I hand-selected this one,” he says. “They age it for 11 months and then they re-barrel it for 45 days where it picks up those flavorful nuances.”
Later, Sandoval takes me over to a quiet side of the bar where he lovingly brings out a dark blue bottle of Casa Noble Single Barrel aged for 364 days. Pure, unblended and right out of the barrel, Noble has a smooth taste and is a staple in countless tequila bars.
“I’m not a spirit person, but tequila just goes with me well,” Sandoval tells me, leaning over my empty glass. “My first trip to Tequila, Mexico was five years ago. Since that point I’ve been a sponge, just so intrigued. I want to learn more and more and more. For me, it’s just been fantastic.”
Sandoval's Tequila Grill