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Update on Spanish in San Diego

I would like to check out SD's Spanish options after being turned on to the cuisine in SF and a genuine interest in going back to the Spanish [side of] the origins of Mexican cuisine.

- Costa Brava
- Sevilla
- Ole Madrid

Is there any other restaurants out there - I recall a place in North Park that was Tapas as well?
Which is your favorite and what do you like there?
When was your last visit?

I only visited Costa Brava a couple of months back - and picked up a menu - which was nice and I really liked their attached store - which is comparable to the Spanish Table up north.

Re. Portugalia - have you ate there? Tried any bacalao dishes?

Kind Thanks.

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  1. The place in North Park is Apertivo and it's Italian food served tapas-style. The food is pretty decent, albeit not overly imaginative. If anything, the thing that turns me off is the service (they're nice, but incredibly overwhelmed and it takes a while for the dishes to come out) and the migraine-inducing noise levels when the place is full.

    I was combing CH for comments on Ole Madrid and it doesn't seem that people were overly impressed by it. If you're going to try it, check out www.restaurant.com, a site that sells certificates at a price lower than face value. A $50 gift cert. to Ole Madrid is $20 and is valid Sunday-Thursday with a minimum purchase of $35. My intern uses the site (which I found to have a very small selection, but still a cool resource) and said he's had quite a few good meals on a student's budget.

    I'm planning on going to happy hour at Costa Brava in January, so I'll report when I do.

    1 Reply
    1. re: geekyfoodie

      I have heard that a new Tapas place will be opening up in South Park by the way on Beech St.. Located across the street from the old Santos, kitty corner from Ginseng Yoga, on the same block as Hamilton's Tavern. This came from the owner of Ginseng. Although it looks like it might be awhile since they have demolished the building down to its studs...

      Also worth noting, a new Mexican place is in the works on 30th and Juniper, next to Rebecca's in their old spot. Banner went up late last week. Name eludes me but they will be open for lunch and for dinner.

    2. I love Spanish tapas as well and would appreciate recommendations.

      In Chicago there were a number of great tapas restaurants.

      This is the first city I have lived in where tapas has become a universal term to describe small plates of food in any ethnicity. I was surprised to hear the words tapas and YuMeYa together, for instance.

      I believe tapas is a Spanish word.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Enorah

        Enorah, I actually have a cookbook called "Tapas from Japan" - I guess it is the best way to translate the typical small izakaya style dishes.

        I think you can even go on a 'tapeo' or Tapas crawl.

        1. re: kare_raisu

          Tapas crawl! WooHoo!

          Welcome back south, kare raisu

          1. re: kare_raisu

            I am familiar with 'tapeando' which is Spanish for going out for tapas. It's a real word now, and a lot of fun.

        2. There's also Tapas Picasso in Hillcrest.

          I haven't been to any of them recently enough to comment.

          1 Reply
          1. Alex, here's a link for Portugalia - http://www.chowhound.com/topics/86110 . It's 3 years old and Portugalia is still there. I'd say it's worth your time to stop by for a meal to form your own impressions. From recent comments I heard it's still somewhat uneven.

            1 Reply
            1. re: DiningDiva

              Its great that they offer Gomes de Sa - I think I will check this out. Great post from 04!

            2. Just went to Costa Brava last night, and it was very good - I like the atmosphere, it's casual but has a nice sort of boho-euro feel to it - like you could be in Berkeley or West LA. we sat on the patio which was fine with heaters, etc. The patatas bravas there cannot be good for you but they are incredibly delicous - crisp fried potato chunks tossed with a chili aioli. We also had the fried chorizo, which was delicious, the tortilla de papas (it was like breakfast with the sausage and potatoes!) and I like their marinated mushrooms. The calamari was mediocre and the garlic mushrooms were ok - not as good as the marinated ones. The bread was warm and fresh though, and the sangria was terrific. I took some pictures, I'll post them on my flickr page.

              I liked Costa Brava better than Ole Madrid. I've never liked their sangria at Ole Madrid, and the food has always been marginal in my opinion. I do like Cafe Sevilla though, especially because I think it's pretty affordable for what it is. I always get the gambas, the mushrooms, tortilla de papas, etc. and they haven't let me down, It has been a while since I've been there though.

              11 Replies
              1. re: Alice Q

                Do you know if the Cafe Sevilla Carlsbad location is open? Still open? I am newish here to the area. On-line search shows a Carlsbad location, but the Cafe Sevilla website does not.

                1. re: Enorah

                  They have their mothership location in Riverside - never heard of a Carlsbad locale. hmmm...

                  1. re: kare_raisu

                    It is just east of the 5. the Carlsbad Village Drive exit.

                    1. re: littlestevie

                      Have you been there little stevie? Is it as good as the downtown local?

                      1. re: littlestevie

                        It closed a few years ago and was replaced by a so-so Spanish restaurant for awhile, last I heard it is a Japanese fusion place.

                        1. re: puggama

                          Thanks. I figured it must be no longer there since it is not on their website.

                          1. re: Enorah

                            I have not been there for several years and I thought it was just o.k. the times we went there. THat space is kinda of a kiss o' death space and has had many reincarnations over the years. I thought it was still there or in at least part of the space. I just don't think of it when we get off the freeway there. There is an Asian fusion place in the building, but off the top of my head I can't think of the name, I think that they have a sister place down in the convoy area.

                  2. re: Alice Q

                    Thanks for the report - you sold me on it. I love papas bravas too.

                    http://flickr.com/photos/98128783@N00...
                    From Bocadillos in SF

                      1. re: Alice Q

                        Great photos, Alice! Makes me all the more excited for happy hour there. I believe it's 5-7pm daily. I read somewhere that Thursdays were all-night happy hours. Can anyone confirm that?

                      2. re: Alice Q

                        I actually like Costa Brava a bit better, too, though their menu is a bit more limited it is a smaller, homier place - the atmosphere is different from the livelier Cafe Sevilla. We went at lunch during the week and were the only patrons - the patatas bravas were fantastic, the octopus was good, the sangria was good, and its been too long to remember the rest - I think olives, fried bacalau balls, and a few others.

                      3. Why don't you try something new in tapas, The name of the restaurant is BITE, the chef is Chris Walsh and he offer a new concept in tapas,his restaurant is in University Ave at Hillcrest.
                        By the way if you are interested in find the origin of Mexican and Spanish food you must try Morrocan food they are the creators of tapas remember that they invaded Spain for 500 years.You will find the food and spices very similar.
                        'Buen Provecho"
                        Josue

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: Josue

                          Thanks for the tip! Any reccomendations for Morrocan in SD? Al-Andalus and Grenada in 1492 I am familiar with being a history buff.

                          Albondigas
                          Alambres
                          Berenja
                          any other arabic-spanish food words?

                          1. re: kare_raisu

                            You might try Kous Kous for Morrocan in SD. Didn't try it yet but some friends were very positive.

                            http://www.kouskousrestaurant.com/

                            1. re: kare_raisu

                              Kous Kous is a great Morrocan restaurant in SD, I also recommend you to try Candelas in Downtown SD, http://www.candelas-sd.com.

                              1. re: kare_raisu

                                KR... I highly recommend Licor 43... its made in Southern Spain from an original Carthage (Modern day Tunisia) recipe.

                                While on that topic... the Soler method used in Sherry & Spanish Brandy is also of Tunisian extraction.

                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                  Good old Cuarenta y Tres...one of the more obscure liquers around. Try some 43 with steamed milk with some whipped cream and a dash of nutmeg to finish it off. Absolutely lovely.

                                  And, if you don't want to hassle, go by Dobson's and ask for a Santa Theresa. If the bartender doesn't know it, then Paul will. It harkens back to the old Bratskellar on Prospect St. Named after one of our hostesses in fact.

                            2. I go to Costa Brava regularly, and have been to Sevilla and Ole Madrid a lot. There's also La Gran Tapa by Copley Symphony Hall, and Tapas Picasso on 4th in Hillcrest.

                              Of the three I have been to, Costa Brava is by far my favorite. The staff is usually great. There's parking. The food is the most authentic of the three, and you can even ask for things that aren't on the menu (piquillo peppers stuffed with mariscos are a Spanish classic). I wouldn't go for the paella, as the tapas are much better. Also, many of the bartenders and employees are Spanish (although many are Mexican and pretend). They have a pretty good happy hour, with montaditos, etc., that are not on the normal menu, and discounted tapas. Their pulpo a la gallega is really good. Also, occasionally their house wine is pretty good (sometimes a nice Ribera del Duero). The last time I went was in August, after I returned from some time in Spain, to compare the food, etc.

                              Ole Madrid is the least authentic, with only a few of their menu items actually being traditional tapas, and the rest being 'inspired'. They have huevos rancheros and nachos, if you need any idea of how authentic they are. I wouldn't recommend going there, if you're after Spanish.

                              Sevilla is pretty good, but the real deal there is happy hour. From 5-6:30 (IIRC), all of their tapas are half-price. This means tortilla for $1.50 a slice, and various other tapas for less than 2.50 a portion. The portions are all standard sized for Happy Hour (not smaller), in the same little brown cazuela dishes.

                              The problem with all three is that they are expensive. If you want to have a glass of wine or two, and a meal of tapas, plan to drop $30 or more (per person). All three of these restaurants, during normal hours, are about the same price. Sevilla is slightly cheaper with some tapas being $5, but others that are $10+. Costa Brava is $6-8 on average, per tapa. And the wine isn't less than $5 a glass, going up to $10+. This is the opposite of tapas in Spain, which are supposed to be cheap.

                              Another issue for me is the wine bottle markup. Sevilla has a bottle of Marques de Caceres Rioja (crianza), for around $30. The retail price of that wine is $9 or 10. That's more than 200% markup over retail, which I find to be a little absurd considering that they are buying it wholesale for $4 or so.

                              The Spanish selection here in San Diego is limited, and they all try to hit the same general notes. Ole Madrid focuses on being more of a bar/club (IMO), and Sevilla is pretty good. If you're Downtown, go to Sevilla. If you want good tapas, go to Costa Brava.

                              I've only heard about Tapas Picasso, and how the service is hit or miss, and occasionally abysmally slow. There's an old topic about it here, I think. Last I checked, Gran Tapas was undergoing renovation and was closed. I think it's on B St.

                              Also, La Pata Negra (I think that's the name), which is the Costa Brava store, is okay. Their prices are terrible (high!) and their selection is limited. They have a lot of cheeses, and some good meats, but I believe most of the meats are made in Los Angeles by a company that makes Spanish meats. They don't have real anguilas (imitation crab only), little seafood (no mejillones or berberechos), and didn't even know what a marcona almond was. They have an okay selection of olives. Only serrano ham, although I'm not sure if you can get iberian ham yet in the USA. They have way too many paella pans.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: ekomega

                                If the tapas are made with quality ingredients, taste great and are the same size during happy hour, I can handle the wine prices. They have to make some profit within the happy hour curtain. Most establishments price bottles of wine at 2 to 3 times retail.