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Savoring Spanish Cuisine

Spanish cuisine fills dozens of high-end restaurants from Las Vegas to San Francisco.

Paella at Shakewell, Oakland, California, picture
Photo credit
Photo: Aubrie Pick/Shakewell
Photo caption
Shakewell’s paella stars Manila clams.

Authentic Spanish restaurants have been opening across the West faster than you can say pintxos (the Basque version of tapas, pronounced PEEN-chos). The cuisine offers chefs new ways to tap into classic Mediterranean flavors and diners a communal experience over small plates and heartier entrees such as acorn-fed pork or rib-eye steak with Moorish pepper.

  • Toro Bravo launched Portland’s Spanish food craze when it opened in 2007. But Barcelona-born chef José Chesa caught the city’s attention afresh with Ataula. The newer restaurant applies modern interpretations to traditional Catalan tapas, including xupa-xup—chorizo “lollipops”—and nuestras bravas, fried potatoes with aioli and spicy tomato sauce.
  • Shakewell, which opened in 2014 in Oakland, reflects chef-owner Jen Biesty’s from-the-ground-up sensibility in its Spanish Mediterranean fare. She makes a different sofrito-and-stock base for each of her paellas.
  • Launched earlier this year in San Francisco’s renovated Swedish American Hall, Aatxe serves regional Spanish food with a Basque influence. Executive chef Ryan Pollnow’s previous gig was at California cuisine–style Central Kitchen, so diners will find a dish featuring, for example, pickled beets and quail eggs in addition to a variety of pintxos and tapas.
  • Think of La Taberna as the younger sibling of nearby tapas restaurant ZuZu in downtown Napa, Calif. Most of its 20 or so small plates, which change nightly, are designed for snacking. Particular favorites are the oxtail empanada and the bocadillos: tooth-picked sandwiches filled with offerings such as merguez sausage or tuna.
  • To many, chef and TV personality Michael Chiarello seems the embodiment of California Italian cuisine, so heads turned when he opened Coqueta in San Francisco. The place has been a hit, with waterfront views and Spanish fare such as oil-poached, head-on prawns with black garlic and chile sauce.
  • Salt Lake City’s Finca, which moved to larger digs late last year, incorporates Utah ingredients into authentic tapas, as in lamb and pork albondigas (meatballs) in tomato sauce, all of its ingredients sourced from within the state.
  • Boise is home to one of the densest Basque populations in the country. Sample that heritage at the Basque Market. The specialty food store and caterer offers pintxos—pork-and-beef meatballs, croquetas, and Spanish tortillas—for lunch and dinner.
  • Influenced by Spanish cuisine, é by José Andrés takes the culinary experience to Las Vegas levels. You make a reservation by email, and the restaurant, located in the Cosmopolitan hotel, then mails you a “golden ticket.” Order the prix fixe dinner and receive about 25 tiny, meticulous dishes in a tiny, secret dining room.
  • Octopus a la plancha with smoked-paprika vinaigrette, crispy pig ears, and imported Jamón Ibérico hand-sliced to order are among the favorites at Bravas Bar de Tapas, a Barcelona-style eatery in Healdsburg, Calif., run by Sonoma restaurateurs Mark and Terri Stark.



This article was first published in Fall 2015. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.