Ask the Editor: Where to Eat Spanish Tapas (and Buy Spanish Wines)?
Back home in Boston, this traveler wants to rediscover the flavors of Spain.
Welcome to Ask the Editor, Boston magazine’s new dining advice column. Need a restaurant recommendation? Ask a pro.
I recently returned from Spain, where in addition to the tradition of siesta, I fell in love with the local food and wine. What are the best places to find Spanish tapas (even better: take me to the pintxos) in the Boston area? Similarly, do you have any wine shop recs for someone looking to stock up on rioja, verdejo, tempranillo, etc.?
Ah, welcome back to hot and muggy Boston. Nothing can truly compare to the joy of discovery one finds on a European adventure. But with the following recommendations, I hope to give you some options to relive those memories—or, at the very least, places where you can brag to your friends about how everything here compares to Barcelona, Madrid, the Basque Country, or wherever else you were lucky enough to visit and nap in.
First up: Clearly you must go to Toro. Chefs Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette’s first coproduction, the South End tapas joint is my (and so many others’) perennial pick for Barcelona-style grazing. It’s always crowded and only takes reservations during brunch and lunch, but it’s worth setting aside an evening to wait for a table for a barrage of pan con tomate, pimentos del Padrón, and ostras on the half-shell with passionfruit mignonette. For larger meals, don’t miss everybody’s favorite grilled street corn, the Mediterranean octopus, or, if you enlist a couple friends, a big tray of the famous Valencia-style paella. The restaurant group’s wine director Jodie Battles has a fully Spanish selection here, too. (1704 Washington St., South End, Boston, 617-536-4300, toro-restaurant.com)
Another classic option: Taberna de Haro, which coincidentally celebrated its 20th anniversary this past weekend. Across those two decades, owner, chef, and sommelier Deborah Hansen has built up one of the country’s largest all-Spanish wine lists with more than 300 bottles—her program is consistently recognized by Wine Spectator, and earned a James Beard award nomination in 2018, too. The tapas menu is loaded with familiar Spanish dishes, from saffron and salt-cod balls and stuffed piquillo peppers; and larger plates like orange-scented rabbit with olives and Marcona almonds, and chorizo braised a la sidra (cider). Reserve a table, or pull up a stool at the Straight Law bar to pick Hansen’s brain about her favorite bites, wines, sherries, and gins. (999 Beacon St., Brookline, 617-277-8272, tabernaboston.com)
Tres Gatos is another must-visit for you. The quirky spot houses (it’s literally a house) a record and bookstore, and one of Jamaica Plain’s best restaurants. Chef Stephen Marcaurelle has selections of pintxos and tapas—everything from crispy purple patatas bravas with hazelnut romesco, to seared scallops salt cod espuma—plus charcuterie, Spanish-style cheeses, and paella. The beloved local haunt also has a some magically cozy seating on a small, garden-like patio out front. (470 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, 617-477-4851, tresgatosjp.com)
And now for some thoughts on a few newish, less traditional love notes to Spanish tapas bar culture. Tracy Chang of Pagu was seriously inspired by her time in the Basque Country, so croquetas, tortillas Española (during Saturday brunch), funky ciders, and gin and tonics sidle up next to the chef’s signature ramen, fried rice, and bao buns. The latest cozy wine bar, Nathálie, from the team behind Haley.Henry isn’t necessarily going for “Spanish wine bar,” but if the dining style-shoe fits: Chef David Cavilla’s menu has montaditos (small Spanish-style sandwiches), bone marrow with anchovy and bread, and more. And in Watertown, you’ll find shareables like marinated olives, mushrooms in escabeche, and wood-roasted Spanish octopus at La Bodega. Chef Gabriel Bremer’s new restaurant is inspired by his wife’s native Uruguay, but part of that history is Basque-style small plates and Spanish wines and sherries. Plus the unique space’s barreled ceilings and other rustic design elements make you feel like you’re truly transported, jaunt to Watertown aside.
As for your second inquiry: Social Wines in South Boston is a great shop full of smart people to answer any and all wine questions. I, in fact, asked Social’s Eileen Elliot this one on your behalf, and confirms her shop has a large selection of reds and whites spanning the Iberian peninsula. She also heartily recommends the shelves at Dave’s Fresh Pasta, which has a “small but well curated” selection. “The real deal.” She also recommends reading the back of bottles you like to find out the importer, and following companies like Jose Pastor Selections, Selections de la Viña, and others. “They are truly making the best and most authentic Spanish wine available to us at all price points.”
I also asked Toro’s Jodie Battles where she shops, and she suggests Streetcar Wines—conveniently located near Tres Gatos—and Wine Press Brookline, conveniently nearby Taberna de Haro, and with a second location headed soon for to the same building as Nathálie. Battles says Streetcar and Wine Press are also staffed by knowledgeable folks, and “both have awesome selections including a mix of iconic, classic/historic producers, like Lopez de Heredia, as well as fun, new and oftentimes natural or biodynamic ones like Bernabeleva, Microio, etc.”
May you continue exploring with your taste buds, even here at home. ¡Salud!