In Washington, DC, local chefs have capitalized on the Washingtonian taste for festive tapas. Given the city’s blend of cultures, our tour of the top 10 tapas venues extends beyond traditional Iberian delicacies to include the flavors of Mexico, India, Italy, the Mediterranean and other savory global influences that reflect this diverse capital city. Explore our guide to the ten best tapas hotspots in Washington, DC.
Courtesy of Barcelona Wine Bar & Restaurant
Barcelona Wine Bar & Restaurant
Bar, Restaurant, Wine Bar, Spanish, Mediterranean, European, $$$
Barcelona Wine Bar & Restaurant is where hoards of Washingtonians gather for the perfect mix of welcoming indoor-outdoor space (with fireplace) plus tasty fare and drinks. The locals delight in the extensive tapas delicacies, many of which are local products such as Virginia-sourced Oyster En Escabeche (with tarragon, Pedro Ximenez Spanish grapes and olive oil) or house-made lamb salumi. Executive Chef John Critchley, who has worked in top restaurants along the eastern seaboard, brings his passion for sustainable seafood and a Mid-Atlantic network of local growers to Barcelona’s Iberian-influenced menu.
At Estadio, Executive Chef Haidar Karoum and Chef de Cuisine Ruffino Bautista bring their interpretations of contemporary Northern Spanish cuisine to Washington, D.C. denizens who crave the Basque and Catalan flavors flowing from the open-concept kitchen. Echoes of Spain are found throughout the space, from bull-fighting and flamenco murals to elegantly ornate iron chandeliers. While you indulge in one of the 250 mainly Spanish wines, choose any of the pintxos (small plates) or raciones (entrées), such as the signature dish of tortilla espanola or the crispy duck breast with Beluga lentils and Catalan greens to accompany your choice vintage.
Jaleo is helmed by Spanish native José André. The modern space offers Spanish art and a vivid palette of red, yellow and brown hexagons that decorate the walls and ceiling. Quirky humor also abounds on the menu with comments like ‘Hey, you’re here. So start eating…’ Iberian-influenced menu options include Pimentón- and garlic-cured tenderloin from ‘the legendary free range, acorn-fed, black-footed ibérico pigs of Spain’ or the Moorish stew of chickpeas and spinach.
Oyamel Cocina Mexicana serves upscale interpretations of Mexico’s most savory regional dishes. From the urbane taco to creative antojitos (street food) and ceviches, Oyamel is a fiesta of flavors. Try the melted Chihuahua cheese flambéed with tequila and served with fresh hand-made tortillas. There is also a 30-page drink menu with choice cocktail, tequila and wine selections. Philippe Starck chairs and faux-butterflies adorn the lounge space.
Nestled among the traditional brick facades of Washington D.C.’s Georgetown neighbourhood, Bandolero serves up contemporary Mexican fare from Chef Tony Starr, who previously worked under Top Chef contestant and former Bandalero Chef Mike Isabella. The boisterous space offers a bold moody design that celebrates all things skulls and bones – a motif that refers to the traditional Mexican holiday Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) in which families gather to celebrate their dearly departed. The menus include a tequila- and mescal-laden cocktail list and dishes that range from tacos and enchiladas to ceviches and tasty entrées such as the chuletas de cordero (lamb chops with jalapeño mashed potatoes). Monday through Friday is ‘Bandido’ (happy) hour, and on Friday and Saturday, the eatery serves a special late night menu until midnight.
Bodega Spanish Tapas & Lounge serves savory Spanish cheese and charcuterie and diverse tapas specialties, such as Catalonian tomato bread with Manchego cheese or sautéed calamari over squid ink rice, as well as six varieties of paella including seafood and Valenciana. The space features cow-hide seating and a stone fireplace, with bold red, black and silver ‘Matador’ colors in the main restaurant. A small back courtyard gives a laid-back Spanish ambiance.
Boqueria, named for Barcelona’s famously abundant fresh market, aims to recreate the festive ambiance of Spain’s tapas bars and those market-fresh flavors. Aside from the main menu of sizzling Spanish specialties, a nightly ‘market menu’ offers seasonal dishes such as pancetta con txipirones (Berkshire pork belly, baby squid, artichokes, pimentón vinaigrette, crispy mustard greens) or melón con jamón ibérico (arket melon, Ibérico ham, lime zest, purslane).
Fiola melds the style of a contemporary Italian trattoria and a rustic Italian villa. The restaurant is a visual feast of stone walls, cream banquettes and glamorous chandeliers. Using fresh ingredients, Chef Trabocchi creates daily specialty dishes such as a Fiola prosciutto-wrapped veal chop with veal sweetbreads. The in-house mixologist creates ingenious cocktails for the drink list, which includes an extensive wine menu that won awards for excellence.
Zaytinya is an award-winning Mediterranean eatery in Washington, D.C. that frequently draws an after-work crowd of upscale urbanites. The modish design of an extremely elevated ceiling, over-sized glass windows and white walls gives the vast space a refreshing air. From generously portioned seared halloumi cheese to flatbreads to grape-leaf dolemades and kebabs, the menu is an innovative mezze of Turkish, Greek and Lebanese cuisines. Select Mediterranean wines from Greece, Turkey and Lebanon highlight the drink list.