Jamon Iberico Tapas (credit: Thinkstock)
Tapas, the traditional small plates of food found in bars and cafes throughout Spain, have become popular light dining options around the Bay Area. Tapas bars, serving small plates of traditional Spanish foods, and favorite local spots, adding tapas to their menus, have ignited a love for small dish favorites in the Bay Area food culture. The flavors of Spain top the list in tapas choices, but other restaurants now include tapas, such as Mexican, Japanese and Indian cuisines. Here are five Spanish tapas spots that have made strong impressions.
2018 Lombard St.
San Francisco, CA 94123
With a long listing of hot and cold tapas, Alegrias covers everything Spanish you want to eat. Four paella options are available, including paella de verduras ($23), a well-loved saffron-flavored Spanish rice with vegetables option for a vegetarian. Traditionalists will enjoy paella a la Valenciana ($27), the timeless saffron Spanish rice with chicken and seafood platter. If you come for the tapas, be sure to order tortilla a la Española, the definitive Spanish potato and caramelized onion omelette ($10), and then order several more tapas from the long list.
2026 San Pablo Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94702
At La Marcha, the vibrant culinary culture that Spain is famous for works to highlight the flavors found in an authentic Spanish neighborhood tapas bar. Chef-owners Sergio Emilio Monleon and Emily Sarlette’s venture into La Marcha highlights the chefs’ love of Spanish cuisine and the commitment La Marcha has to innovative yet classic flavors of Spanish cooking. An extensive tapas menu, offering both favorites and novel takes on the small plates cuisine, runs an affordable range of $4 – $12. The tapas menu also includes traditional Spanish cheeses, salads, pork sides and the chefs’ luscious paellas.
2272 Market St.
San Francisco, CA 94114
Opened in 2011 in the city’s Castro district, Canela offers dinner, brunch and dessert menus, with tapas offered in two sizes, both right for sharing depending on the number of diners in your party. Traditional tapas are the familiar small plates for sampling, and the “racion” plates are twice the size of regular tapas and intended for sharing among more people. Tapas choices are divided into seafood, meat and mostly veggie options. Prices are bit steeper than other places, with a $9-$12 range for racion sizes. For dessert, past diners have raved about the warm cinnamon and sugar churros with chocolate sauce.
501 Main St.
Pleasanton, CA 94566
Sabio offers a new level of dining in downtown Pleasanton, drawing in diners who seek an elegant and warm evening dining out experience. The restaurant’s name comes from the Spanish King Alfonso X, known as El Sabio, “The Wise One.” The restaurant is pleased to offer tapas for shareable small plate dining, which fosters camaraderie, the essence of tapas sharing. A short varied list of global tapas, priced $3-$7, along with a meat-centered list of plates to share, priced $7-$2, occupy the Sabio menu, along with artisan cheeses, vegetables and the chef’s featured mixed grill dish, a combo-heavy platter for $66.
3120 16th St.
San Francisco, CA 94103
Picaro and its sister restaurant, Esperpento, are both good and cozy spots for tasty authentic Spanish tapas at very reasonable prices. Serving Spanish tapas favorites and some new dishes, along with plenty of tangy, flowing sangria, these restaurants are great choices for large groups as well as for couples out for some fun, though the live music may get a bit loud at times. For an overview of the dishes served, view the moderately priced menu online.