“At the end of the day, it’s not about what you have or even what you have accomplished… it’s about who you’ve lifted up, who you’ve made better.  It’s about what you’ve given back.” – Denzel Washington

Thirty-five years ago, the Sandoval family started the Burrito Barge Mexican restaurant at 818 First Street.

The restaurant had a reputation for quality Mexican food and cold beer, and became a local mainstay. Over the ensuing years, the restaurant moved a few doors west, to 640 First, and is now owned and operated by the youngest sibling, Deanne Sandoval-Ponder. Now known simply as Sandoval’s, the restaurant still prides itself on excellent, home-style Mexican food, and has enjoyed a loyal following for decades. Even the servers, prep personnel and cooks are all practically family members, having worked at the restaurant for years. Deanne often speaks of her “work family” with the same loving manner as her “home family.”

At Sandoval’s you can find toothsome traditional entrees, many still made using Deanne’s mother’s recipes, like cheese and onion enchiladas in a red or green sauce, and the restaurant’s signature pork chile verde either on a plate or in a burrito (or the popular “wet” burrito). Authentic chile rellenos that use an entire, fresh Anaheim chili pepper for each mouth-watering pepper, not skimpy canned chili strips, cannot be equaled. Additionally, your choice of crunchy or soft tacos, crammed with shredded beef, ground beef, shredded chicken or pork carnitas, are available. Street tacos filled with carne asada, al pastor, pork carnitas, fish, or fajita style tri-tip or chicken are available as well. Dinners are served with Mexican rice and your choice of beans. You can enjoy a plate of tasty chicken or beef fajitas. Sandoval’s soups are all made from Deanne’s mother’s own recipes, perfect for a chilly night. Albondigas, a hearty turkey meatball soup, is satisfying, as is the savory caldo de res, with chunks of beef and vegetables. A homemade black bean soup containing chopped tomatoes, cilantro, onion, and topped with fresh sour cream is rich and satisfying. The chicken soup, topped with onions, cilantro, tomatoes, jalapeño and fresh avocado, is most popular. Lighter fare like tostadas, salads and Caesar wraps offer fresh and healthy alternatives, as well.

Deanne Sandoval-Ponder

The restaurant offers only certified Angus beef in its beef dishes, only chicken breast in its chicken selections, and only Alaskan cod in its fish dishes. The three bean options are, whole pintos, whole black beans and refried beans, and all are vegan. All produce is locally sourced, and the guacamole is made fresh daily. The flavorful fajita marinade is made on the premises. Even though Sandoval’s may be old-school, they can accommodate dietary restrictions and preferences without sacrificing flavor.

A year ago Benicia’s restaurants struggled to remain in business, creating outdoor dining, takeout specials, and delivery service to survive. Sandoval’s was no exception. But early in the pandemic, Sandoval’s also began their take on “Happy Meals,” giving away the ingredients for a meal to twenty-plus staff families every Thursday. These meals were meant to provide food to feed her employees and their families once a week during these tough times. Sandoval’s gave away Holiday Happy Meals, as well, that also contained holiday treats, providing some much needed seasonal cheer. Thanks in part to a partnership with Valero, Sandoval’s was able to answer the call to provide meals to community volunteers and frontline workers during this difficult time. Sandoval’s also has a long standing reputation of community engagement with organizations like Soroptimist International of Benicia, Arts Benicia, and St. Paul’s Episcopal.

Currently, the front window at Sandoval’s is like a low tech bulletin board for passersby.

Information regarding COVID tests, vaccines, and other community opportunities are listed there. The group of citizens that benefit from this pop-up bulletin board may not have access to computers, but they certainly need this information. Deanne encourages this type of community interaction, recognizing that each and every one of us deserves to be informed about the current health crisis. She also recognizes and gives thanks to the employees, providers, and customers who have allowed Sandoval’s to stay open through the years and especially through this difficult time. Deanne is an inspiration to us all. Our community is well served when business owners and others see beyond their personal interests and look out for all community members. A round of applause to you, Deanne!!