In fact, not only do they exist, but they are becoming quite trendy! Which, if you ask me, in lies the problem. With the “trend” factor in play, often authenticity is lost. But if these NY places can manage to be trendy and authentic at the same time? Well, power to ’em. Let’s find out…
My challenge to find a true Spanish tapas restaurant in NYC was not taken lightly. Unlike many of the other #EATWNYC countries I have tackled, I was an extremely educated, therefore tough critic.
As if I haven’t eaten enough high quality Spanish cuisine in the past year while living in the Iberian jamón capital of the world (shout out to Extremadura), I brought someone along with me that has even more experience. His name is Agustín, and he is an unmistakable expert on Spanish cuisine. He happens to be from my Spanish heartland of Extremadura, and his family owns a fabrica de jamón (for all you English speakers out there- that means an “Iberian ham factory”). Not to mention, he’s been eating high quality Spanish jamón for the past 25+ years of his existence. What does this mean?
Agustín is a mean, GREEN, ham eating machine.
He looks harmless, right?
Have you ever watched Simon Cowell on American Idol? Yea, him. You know how he thinks 1 out of every 2620220 singers is actually talented? That’s how Agustín is with his Spanish food. And jamón.
So the two of us dug up a tapas route in NYC, to test if “Spanish” tapas in NYC is actually Spanish.
THE GAME PLAN. We wanted to stay in one large neighborhood of NYC, so we could walk from one destination to the next. The aim was to do it Sevilla Tapas Tour style, so we could get a feel of each place in order to make a proper compare & contrast analysis. Finally, we wanted to cover 3 types of spots: “Traditional,” trendy, and of course, a spot known for jamón.
THE CHALLENGE: Budget. As you may or may not know, New York City is FREAKIN’ EXPENSIVE. Like, it makes Madrid, the most expensive city in Spain, look free. Yea. There’s an ongoing joke with New Yorkers that it costs $20 just to leave your door. But the joke isn’t so funny, when it’s basically TRUE. Unlike prices in Spain, it’s absolutely impossible to get a hefty, overflowing plate of carne and patatas for $10. If you tried to attempt that, the city of New York would probably laugh in your face. So, we tried to do this whole tapas tour thing on a poor man’s budget. ‘Cause, well…we are poor. However, I prefer to refer to myself as a “struggling artist.” 😉 So, the [not very] realistic goal was to spend $20 at each location, making the entire tour $60 for two (so $30 per person). It’s not as easy as it sounds, when you’ve got an appetite the size of a hungry, thirsty, jungle lion…
THE GENERAL LOCATION: Downtown Manhattan. Specifically, the West and East Village. We picked that because it has the most Spanish tapas restaurants within walking vicinity of each other. And, it’s my favorite area of the city!!
So, whose hungry? Let’s begin!
# 1 [The “Traditional Spot]: Cafe Español
WHAT WE ORDERED: Estrella Galicia (the typical beer from Galicia- $8. Yea, don’t get us started on the price. It’s 1-2 € in Spain), Pulpo Gallega (Grilled octopus with olive oil, paprika & sea salt- $13)
THE AWESOME STUFF: The pulpo gallega nailed it in quality and taste. 5 stars! Also, they serve complimentary (aka FREEEEE) olive oil marinated in black olives, garlic and parsley, accompanied by a basket of bread to kick off the meal. The good part? It’s tasty and free! However… if you ask Agustín “Cowell,” he’ll tell you the opposite. According to him, the olive oil was “shi**” quality (to put it kindly), which is why the olives and garlic were marinated in it; to mask its poor quality. It’s absolutely true, however, it was very tasty nonetheless. And my hangry (hungry + angry) stomach was happy. The other plus side? True to the Spanish way, our meal was topped off with a complimentary chupito or shot! However, not exactly Spanish liquor. More like Mexican, with tequila…but hey! We are in America.
Fun fact: Did you know that it’s believed in Spain that a shot of alcohol after a meal helps digest your food? And is actually healthy? Hmm.
AUTHENTIC SPANISH? Well, the menu featured many traditional Spanish dishes, without any sort of crazy American twist. However, there were a few dishes that missed the mark- like “pollo a la extremeña” with sautéed peppers and onions? Ohhh no. Agustín got pretty heated about that one, as it’s not at all an “extremeño” dish. If we’re talkin’ decor, it felt like we were in the Epcot Disneyland version of Spain. We got the vibe that it was trying to replicate what Americans “think” Spain is like. However, it was still a lovely patio to relax on a lovelllyyyy summer afternoon 😉
Now, listen to Agustín “Cowell’s” Analysis:
TOTAL: $29. Over budget. Not a good way to start off.
SO, SHOULD YOU GO? Sure! It was delicious, just not necessarily “authentic.” Also, save some money and don’t order an Estrella Galicia. You’ll save yourself $16, which you can use to buy yourself another tasty tapa, or even two! This place is perfect to go with the parents, as the more traditional vibe is perfect for a mixed age crowd.
WHERE: 172 Bleecker St. NYC. (Greenwich Village) Click HERE for the menu.
#2 [The Trendy Spot]: Las Ramblas
WHAT WE ORDERED: Carne con salsa de pimiento piquillo (a common special- $11), and two Estrella Galicia’s– $6 ($2 cheaper than the last place!) When Agustín saw this carne special, he was so excited that he demanded…like, DEMANDED, that we order this. Cowell style. Spain uses carne de cerdo, or pig meat as their primary meat source. It’s not often you find pig meat in the US cooked asado, or grilled, the same way that Spain does it. So, we had to get it…
THE AWESOME STUFF: And it was delish!!! SUCCESS. The carne had a smoky grilled taste, complimented with the tangy piquillo pepper sauce, it was spot on. After speaking with the lovely owner from Valencia, we were sold on the authenticity of the place. The owner moved from Valencia just a few years back, and brought with him his culinary recipes he holds so near and dear to his home. In NY, it’s often you find “imitation” ethnic restaurants, where the owner is not actually from the country of his respectable restaurant cuisine. Las Ramblas isn’t the case. This guy’s got the heart, and it shows in the food.
AUTHENTIC SPANISH? OH YES. Even though Las Ramblas is far more “trendy NYC” than Cafe Español, we both found it to be more authentic. Why? Because it wasn’t trying to be that “Disneyland Spanish” replica, but had its own Spanish meets NYC identity. The dishes had more of a twist from the classic Spanish dishes as seen at Cafe Español, yet still carried the most important traditional elements of Spanish cuisine. In fact, we both agreed that this place could have been relocated in Madrid, Sevilla, or Barcelona and would do fantastically.
TOTAL: $23. Uh oh. We started to realize it’s nearly impossible to stay on budget with drinks. Stick to food and water, and you should be good. But if you ask me, drinks are part of the Spanish way! So, it’s worth it.
Let’s hear what Mr. Agustín has to say…
SO, SHOULD YOU GO? DUH. (But they don’t take reservations- so be aggressive when grabbing a table! You know, just like in Spain 😉 )
WHERE: 170 W. 4TH ST (Greenwich Village) Click HERE for the menu
#3 [The Jamón Spot]: Pata Negra
THE MOMENT OF TRUTH.
WHAT WE ORDERED: Jamón. Double duh. But not just any jamón- the tabla Extremadura (obviously, we just had to…even if it was $30. GASP. The plate includes Chorizo, Salchichón, Lomo Ibérico, Jamón Ibérico, & Manchego) And THIS.
THE GAZPACHO. As Agustín put it, “It’s like nothing I’ve ever tried before; like a molecular mix of some sort of alien creation, that tastes like the best Gazpacho I’ve ever had.” Now THAT is high praise. The jamón connoisseur himself even admitted that the jamón was good, and the lomo (a type of thicker jamón) was deeelish.
The catch? The chorizo was very low quality among Spanish standards, and the PRICE. Agustín was having a heart attack when he saw it cost $30 for a plate of jamón. And we wanted sangria, but a pitcher costed $35…and we were already $10 over budget with the plate of jamón in itself. But on the flip side, we have to understand and appreciate that we are in the Big Apple! The land of high prices, and higher rent. And if the jamón is gonna be good, which it was, you’ve gotta pay the import fee as well. So you get what you pay for! High quality jamón in NYC ain’t easy to come by. So if you’re craving it, make the plunge and splurge a little. Orrrrr, just fly to Spain and get it there for 1/2 the price 😉
AUTHENTIC SPANISH? The jamón? To both of our surprise, yes. There was even a pata, or leg of jamón used to cut the meat from in the back! Gazpacho? No, but awesome nonetheless. The place has the classic “NYC chic” vibe going for it, which combines the authenticity of the food with the “NYC cool” scene quite nicely. The only thing really not authentic Spanish? The $$$$$$. But hey! You deserve to live a little.
TOTAL: $36. And that’s without drinks. EEK.
Listen to the jamón experts’ take on it.
SO, SHOULD YOU GO? YES! If you want to experience good quality jamón in NYC, this is one of the only places that’s got it. So, GO GO GO! Just be prepared for the prices. Oh, and the waitress who lived in Spain for 6 months was wonderful too.
WHERE: 345 E. 12th St., (Lower East Side- 15 min walk from Greenwich village) Click HERE for the menu.
In conclusion: Are Spanish Tapas in NYC Really Spanish?
Ok kids, let’s face it. This ain’t Spain. However, if you’re going to find “Spanish” tapas anywhere in the USA, NYC is the place. While New York puts its own spin on the Spanish tapas culture (like the prices, which we went $28 over budget), you can still find delicious Spanish food that is almost close to home España.
SIDENOTE! I was recommended a paella restaurant by another Spaniard from Valencia living in NYC for over 5 years now. Did you know that paella actually originated in Valencia? So, she knows her stuff. When she misses a good paella, she goes here: It’s called Socarrat, and unfortunately I didn’t have time to make it there. But I want to tell you all about it incase you want to go yourself!!! Hopefullyyy I’ll make it there by the end of the summer, and if I do I’ll tell you alllllll about it.