Adventuring through the South of Spain or through your own backyard, here are some of our favorite Spanish and Charlotte tapas joints. Because when it comes to living the good life, Spain has got it figured out. Waking up late, long lunches with friends and family, siestas, late leisurely dinners, and partying till the wee hours of the morning? Sounds pretty perfect to me.
The quintessential Spanish way of life and their focus on meaningful relationships is beautifully manifested in their cuisine—more specifically, in tapas. Small shared plates bring those at the table together and each plate comes out when it’s ready, naturally encouraging long leisurely meals washed down with copious amounts of sangria.
A sister who lived in Barcelona gave my family and me a valid reason to head to Spain whenever we had the opportunity. It was then that my love for tapas emerged in full force.
Last Christmas, we went on a trip through Southern Spain—Madrid, Cordoba, Malaga, Granada, and Barcelona. Since food is just as important as the attractions for my family, there was no question we would be on the lookout for delectable, traditional, Spanish plates. Here are a few of our most memorable meals throughout Southern Spain.
Casa Gonzalez – It doesn’t get more authentic than this little joint. Founded in the 1930’s, the decor and the menu hasn’t changed much—tradition is the focus. Great wine, cheese, and cured meats are the big hit, but don’t miss out on their stuffed peppers with squid and cod with pine nuts and garlic. They also have the best buttery olives I’ve ever tasted and I don’t even like olives.
La Casa del Abuelo – You’ll most definitely smell the aroma of fried garlic emanating from this restaurant before you even see it, but follow the scent because the food tastes just as good as it smells. This family-run joint has been around since 1906 and is famous for their gambas al ajillo, fresh seared prawns saturated with olive oil, dried chili, parsley, and of course, ungodly amounts of garlic. Not the place you want to take a first date, but man, are those prawns mouthwatering.
Mercado de San Miguel – Any mercado in Spain will be replete with everything your heart could desire and Mercado de San Miguel is no exception. With tapas, pintxos, olives, smoothies, frozen yogurt, dried nuts, wine, and cheese all in one location, you’ll be wandering around for at least a half hour before deciding on what you want. We ordered paella, grilled octopus, and my favorite, pimientos del padron, blistered shisito peppers with sea salt, from one of the tapas bars and was not disappointed.
Bodegas Mezquita – Probably one of the most well-known restaurants in the city, Bodegas Mezquita serves authentic Andalusian cuisine in their two locations, both situated near the famous and historic Mezquita. I would recommend the salmorejo, a Cordoban version of gazpacho, sartenada de pisto, an Andalusian version of ratatouille, berenjenas califales, fried eggplant with a sweet wine sauce, and flamenquín, ham wrapped in pork loin, battered, and deep fried, for those meat lovers out there.
Mercado Central Atarazanas – Malaga is a port city, so expect some of the freshest seafood available. At this massive market, you’ll find a few tapas stalls towards the back. The tuna and prawn skewers, grilled octopus, and pimientos del padron were worthy of multiple orders. If you’re not leaving stuffed to the brim, you’re doing something wrong.
Bar Los Diamantes – After a long tour of the mind-blowingly stunning Alhambra, nothing is more satisfying than stumbling upon a place that serves up plates on plates of fried fish and seafood. This bar gets packed, so expect a wait or you can join the hordes of people standing and eating. The razor clams with garlic, calamari, grilled octopus, paella, and tomato salad were all fast, fresh, and downright delicious. Definitely one of the culinary highlights from our trip!
Restaurante Arrayanes – Although this Middle Eastern restaurant doesn’t fall under the tapas category, I had to include it for the best couscous I’ve ever had. Mustafa, the owner of the restaurant is incredibly personable and made our family feel right at home. I highly recommend the vegetable couscous and the chicken tagine with olives and preserved lemon. The couscous was perfectly cooked and delicately seasoned with caramelized onions, sweet raisins, and grilled vegetables, while the chicken was melt-in-your-mouth tender and soaked in a salty, slightly acidic, saffron-infused sauce. We ended the meal with a velvety tiramisu on the house, thanks to our friend, Mustafa.
La Pepita – This fun tapas restaurant has the perfect ambiance for a date-night: cozy yet swanky. But the food takes the cake. Their burrata is served with a refreshing twist and features beets, arugula, watermelon, and croutons. In addition, the sea bass with strawberry, balsamic, spinach, and pine nuts, the roasted octopus with roasted mashed potatoes, the tuna pepita, and of course, the Spanish classic, pan con tomate, bread smothered with tomato spread, are all popular selections.
Le Boqueria – Le Boqueria is Barcelona’s famous mercado. There are a few famous tapas bars inside, but one of my family’s favorites is Pinotxo. Their cod with garlic, tortilla de patatas, Spanish omelet with potatoes and onion, pimientos del padron, sausage, and roasted pork were some of the highlights. My dad fell in love with the fried baby squid and egg at the nearby tapas bar, El Quim, also located in Le Boqueria—he still talks about it to this day.
Is your mouth watering yet? Some of you may be upset, we get it. Flying to Spain just for a few tapas is probably not going to happen, and maybe you don’t have trip planned there just yet… but there’s no need to fret. Here’s a few of our favorite Charlotte tapas joints right in our own Southern backyard.
Poplar Street Cafe
Located in the beautiful and historic Morrison House, this tapas restaurant dishes up globally-inspired tapas, including camarones al ajillo, garlic shrimp, and pan con tomate.
This traditional Spanish joint serves authentic Spanish cuisine, including anything from paella, iberico ham, berenjenas con miel, and patatas bravas, the Spanish version of french fries.
Good Food on Montford
Specializing in tapas-style small plates, Good Food doesn’t necessarily offer traditional Spanish food. But they gracefully embrace the Spanish emphasis on community with their sharable seasonal dishes featuring local and organic products.
Downtown Asheville is home to one of the best Spanish restaurants in all of North Carolina. The name literally translates to “cure yourself,” and with traditional dishes such as pulpo a la gallega, octopus with olive oil, sea salt, and paprika, tortilla de patata, and albondigas, Spanish meatballs, all your ailments may just disappear.
Opening soon, this tapas gastrobar is already a huge hit in Florida and serves authentic Spanish tapas, including flamenquín, pimientos del padron, and ham croquettes.