These days, in addition to classic Spanish tapas bars, there seems to be three primary variants: A) Non-Spanish menus, which honor the theme of small plates, expertly blend savory charcuterie with oils, fruits, seafood and grilled vegetables; B) Spanish-themed restaurants offering contemporary culinary riffs; and C) places that label any old bar appetizer (think sliders and mozzarella sticks) as “tapas.” Avoid category C like the plague. Note: The list below barely scratches the surface of NYC’s amazing tapas options.
Related: New York City’s Best Tapas Part I
209 E 49th St (between 2nd and 3rd Aves)
New York, NY 10017
Owner/Chef Richard Sandoval has transformed the street-level bar at Pampano into a Coastal Mexican small-plates destination. Imagine you’re on a Mexican beach while sampling updated interpretations of traditionally-rustic tapas like Huaraches (fried corn masa topped with wild mushroom or shrimp and manchego or asadero cheese, $10-$12), a taco sampler featuring smoked swordfish, Chilorio pork and peppers and cheese for $8 and Datiles (bacon-wrapped dates, $4). Wash it all down with specialty house-made sangrias like the Apple Peach, Mango Peach or Limena (red wine, pisco, chica morado, pineapple and orange). During happy hour (5 p.m. to 7 p.m), you’ll find $5 botanas specials, $6 sangrias and wine and $4 beers. Olé!
31-01 34th Ave (at 31st St)
Astoria, NY 11106
Sometimes you crave old school New York: formal wait staff in ill-fitting black suits, four waiters to a white-tablecothed table and filling, classic food in a slightly imposing dark-wood setting. You’ll find all that and more in the shadow of the N train in Queens. The welcoming (almost to the point of parody) staff — led by brothers Miller and Gonzalo Bermeo — encourages you to experiment with the delicious traditional Spanish menu. Order fresh, marinated anchovies on Italian bread slices ($8), served almost instantly, to begin your meal. The extensive tapas menu is broken down into cold and hot dishes. Must tries include artichoke hearts in a Chardonnay vinaigrette ($6), sautéed sweet breads in Cava and garlic sauce and addictive stuffed mushrooms with vegetables and bacon ($8). Be warned: the Bermeo brothers will not encourage you to stop eating. Ever.
240 9th Ave (between W 24th and W 25th Sts)
New York, NY 10001
Pronounced “chee-KEE-to,” this Basque pintxos (small bites) bar from chefs/owners Eder Montero and Alex Raij has put the Chelsea tapas scene on the map. Traditional flavors and Basque/Northwest Spanish wines dominate in this cozy (but not impossibly tiny), candle-lit spot. Piperrak (roasted Gernika peppers sprinkled with coarse sea salt, $9) are hot and addictive, and Arraultza (sofrito, palacios chorizo and quail egg, $8) is savory and lighter than expected. With larger dishes, seafood options are worth your attention. You’ll be dreaming about the Txipiron — a hot dish with linguini-like squid “ribbons,” sweet onion and pine nuts ($16) — for days.
L’oubli Gourmet Bar
188 Suffolk St (at Houston)
New York, NY 10002
Not every alt-cuisine tapas spot captures the spirit of the Spanish bar-culinary scene, but this French-influenced boite from Benjamin Demarchelier nails the experience in a deceptively casual, upscale atmosphere. Divided into “land,” “sea” and “garden,” the deep small-plates section of the menu includes Tartine Provençale ($7), a deconstructed salad of tomato, olive tapenade, shallots, parsley and goat cheese; and elegantly roasted Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus ($8). An innovative Chorizo and Dark Chocolate Tartine ($7) should be required on every menu in the city. The innovative cocktail menu is also attracting aficionados of the drinking life.
Related: New York’s Best Wine and Cheese Bars
El Mio Cid
50 Starr St (at Wilson Ave)
Bushwick, NY 11221
Tapas are intended to be shared among friends, and this Brooklyn locale offers up a social experience not unlike Sombra y Sol or the now-defunct Xunta with faithful Spanish cuisine. Share tastes of the Salpicon de Mariscos (cold seafood salad, $8), Escalibada (an oily melange of eggplant, peppers, onions, zucchini, squash and cod, $6) or the roasted quail in fig sauce ($9.50), before deciding if you want to move on to entrees or continue on down the tapas list. Opt for the Pulpo al Mio Cid (sautéed octopus in garlic and tomatoes, $9.50), and you may have your answer.
17 Clinton St (between Houston and Stanton)
New York, NY 10002
We’re guessing a healthy amount of Spanish wine went into recently transforming the former Frankies 17 space into Francesca, a Basque-influenced tapas spot on the Lower East Side. Chef Ryan Bartlow (of Frankies 570, who also trained at Spain’s Michelen-starred Akelarre) helps “The Franks” (chef/owners Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo) turn out Basque Pintxos like a combination of creamed leeks with membrillo (quince marmalade), Idiazabal cheese and jamon serrano ($6). You’ll also find salads, a variety of hams and cheeses and filling small plates like dry-aged beef tartare with a cauliflower cream ($16). Pair with a small but creatively curated selection of international beers and wines, or a sherry cocktail like the No. 2 (Fino sherry, sweet vermouth, cinnamon syrup, whiskey and barrel-aged bitters).
1213 Cortelyou Road (at Westminster Road)
Brooklyn, NY 11218
Because your Conservas (cured fish, tomato paté and sourdough) ought to be accompanied by wine and beer festivals, $1 Oyster Saturdays and house-made ice cream, there’s Castello Plan. This stretch of Cortelyou Road is home to several very nice restaurants, and this elegant eatery with its rustic wood, candle-lit tables and brick walls, is ideal for friends, first dates or a quick solo meal. A focus on small plates ($7 each or 5 for $30) means house-made pickles, stewed mushroom crostini and a selection of French and Spanish cheeses and hams will fill you up nicely. Larger dishes and brunch are also available.
Gastro Bar at 35th
345 W 35th St (between 8th and 9th)
New York, NY 10001
Located at the entrance to the new boutique hotel TRYP on an unlikely stretch of West 35th Street past Port Authority, Gastro Bar at 35th attempts to redefine the concept of hotel restaurants (by dominating the entrance) and the American tapas experience. Gastro Bar offers up both classic Spanish dishes like Gambas al Ajillo (shrimp and garlic, $13) and innovative American riffs like the New York Tabla (pastrami, Reuben and hot dog minis, $13). In addition to bringing his own culinary experience, executive chef John Walsh spent about three months in Spain, training under Michelin-starred chef Ignacio Echapresto of Restaurant Venta Moncalvillo. Signature cocktails and a well-edited wine list of mostly Spanish selections, most available by the glass or bottle, round out the experience.
Robert Haynes-Peterson is an editor and freelance writer living in New York. He is certified by the American Sommelier Association through its 24-week Vinification and Viticulture program, and the government of Mexico through its Master Mezcalier program (continuing). His work can be found at Examiner.com.