By Jan Mercker

Pandemic or no pandemic, we can all use more tacos.

Loudoun celebrity chef Santosh Tiptur is slated to open his new restaurant La Prensa in Sterling in November. The new spot will focus on internationally inspired tacos, tapas and a killer wine and cocktail program.

Tiptur’s 3-year-old chocolate-themed restaurant The Conche in the Village at Leesburg has developed a regional following and is thriving despite COVID restrictions. And an outpouring of community support has led Tiptur to press forward with plans for the new spot.

“We’re going to do the same thing we do at The Conche but in a different style,” Tiptur said.

Tiptur is a Mexican cuisine aficionado, and plans for La Prensa have been in the works for two years. He signed the lease for the Sterling location near Nokes Boulevard last November, with plans to open on May 5 of this year for Cinco de Mayo. COVID threw a wrench in those plans, and Tiptur briefly considered shelving the project. But a wave of support for The Conche after Virginia moved to its Phase 2 and 3 COVID guidelines encouraged him to keep going.

“After COVID hit, we said maybe we’d better drop the idea for now. But then slowly everything seemed to be going back to normal,” Tiptur said. “It’s the community, the people who like us really support us. They don’t want us to go out of business.”

La Prensa is Spanish for “the press” (as in a wine press), and a creative wine list will be a focus at the new place, along with tequila-based drinks. The Conche’s stellar bar program and creative cocktails are among of its claims to fame, along with an impressive 300-square-foot in-house chocolate lab.

Tiptur launched The Conche in 2017, and it was an immediate hit. The chocolate-themed restaurant became dessert mecca, with camps and classes for adults and kids alike. But it also got raves—and staying power—thanks to its savory dinner menu and fabulous brunches.

Tiptur is originally from India and traces his love of chocolate to his first Cadbury Eclair candy bar as a kid. He became a pastry chef and worked for cruise lines for a dozen years before opening the chocolate-themed D.C. hotspot Coco Sala with business partner Nisha Sidhu in 2008. Coco Sala closed its doors in early 2018.

Tiptur moved to Loudoun with his family more than a decade ago and saw growth potential on his home turf. Since opening The Conche in 2017, it’s become a Mid-Atlantic destination, drawing a devoted DMV clientele, along with fans who travel from as far as Delaware and Pennsylvania. Diners often come for Saturday dinner and stay for Sunday brunch, Tiptur said.

“They come once and they just fall in love.” 

The Conche is one of three finalists for Destination Business of the Year in this year’s  Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce Small Business Awards. The winner will be announced Nov. 13. 

For Tiptur, engaging families is a big part of the vibe at the Conche and brings him back to his own childhood fascination with chocolate.

“I always see how I got inspired as a kid. We see a lot of diners when they come with their kids. The kids really love watching what we do in the chocolate lab and see the desserts being plated. As we’re in year four, we’ve noticed that we’ve been able to inspire a lot of kids here,” he said. “We love that part of it.”

Chef Santosh Tiptur

Tiptur traces his fascination with creative international cuisine back to his years in the cruise industry, and it’s a guiding force in planning for La Prensa. Tiptur and his family love Mexican cuisine, and he says Rick Bayless’ contemporary Mexican restaurants in Chicago have long been an inspiration. 

La Prensa will offer both authentic Mexican-style tacos along with internationally inspired “spin-off” tacos. 

“Mexican cuisine is one of my favorites, but I don’t just want to open another Mexican restaurant. … I like flavorful food. Tacos are going to be a vehicle for us to use many of the familiar international dishes,” Tiptur said. 

Tiptur and his team are waiting for final inspections and permits and planning a soft opening and then a grand opening in November.

“It’s something fun, something new and something different,” he added. “You can put anything in tacos and it tastes good.”

Santosh Tiptur’s La Prensa is slated to open in November at 21305 Windmill Parc Dr. in Sterling. Check out the Facebook page for updates at facebook.com/laprensava.