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Tapas Time: Small Plates Are Taking Over California Menus
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Tapas Time: Small Plates Are Taking Over California Menus

It’s time switch out siestas for tapas fiestas, and head to the nearest tapas restaurant to experience some Spanish food culture.

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4 min read

August 28, 2022

Disclaimer: California.com is not receiving any type of compensation for reviewing any of the products or services mentioned in this article.

Trends in California often translate into everything from fashion and home decor to dining experiences and food-delivery methods. This year, the food trends lead us to believe there will be a great resurgence of small plates, which can only mean one thing: it’s tapas time.

According to industry leaders like Whole Foods, the Michelin Guide, and chefs interviewed by Food and Wine, we are in for all kinds of innovative culinary delights this year. These creations are said to include probiotic-heavy ingredients like pickled vegetables, plant-based proteins, more interactive dishes that encourage human engagement instead of phone usage and tasting menus that give chefs the flexibility to experiment with interesting flavor combinations and textures. In addition, restaurants are rumored to favor a fast-casual approach—with bar seating ideal for ordering several rounds of small plates, open kitchens where customers can feel closer to the action, and a level of do-it-yourself such as ordering at a counter, getting water from communal pitchers, or clearing your own dishes at the end of the meal.

In the spirit of trends and innovation, we went out in search of the best tapas restaurants throughout the state.

Tapas Restaurants in Southern California

Olives are the perfect snack to munch on between courses of tapas. With high acidity and salt, they cleanse the palate in a refreshing way.

Juniper and Ivy

What was once an industrial warehouse at the north end of Little Italy, one of the most famous San Diego neighborhoods, is now a fine-dining establishment excelling in passion and precision. Juniper and Ivy hand-selects its seasonal ingredients and allows the chef to create ever-evolving menus, with the goal of enabling each ingredient to live up to its full potential and allowing consumers to start a conversation about their dining experience. From oysters topped with fennel to a mushroom and Swiss Madeline with thyme jam, crispy sweet potatoes accented by Oaxacan cheese, mole, and spiced pecans – each plate is intentionally designed and prepared to order.

Oysters were made for the tapas trend. Indulge in oysters prepared a few different ways to experience a coastal California delight.

Rappahannock Oyster Bar 

If you’re in the Los Angeles area and thinking, “what are the best tapas restaurants near me?”, you’ll be surprised to know that you won’t have to look too far. Rappahannock Oyster Bar is churning out beautiful small plates of fresh seafood and oysters in Los Angeles. The chefs draw inspiration from the community and local ingredients, focusing on sustainably and ethically sourced foods. The restaurant’s decor reflects the process of oyster farming; with blackened steel accents, living plants, and colorful tiles, the industrial edge of the city seeps into the artistry of transforming seafood from ocean to table. Share a plate of baby beets topped with burrata, arugula, and smoked almonds; savor a pickle plate; take a bite of bay scallops seasoned with burnt orange, tarragon, and poppy seeds—or try them all as you watch the excitement pouring out of the open kitchen.

Seafood provides a great way to enjoy California tapas.

Salt Wood Kitchen and Oysterette

Nestled along the marina in Monterey, Salt Wood Kitchen and Oysterette provides three distinct dining opportunities; eat inside the elegantly modern dining room, sit in the lounge for a more relaxed atmosphere, or dine alfresco on the patio. Start with the coal-roasted marinated olives along with the local cheeses served with grilled bread and fruit preserves. Then, move on to a selection of seasonal oysters or the decadent butternut squash soup topped with Dungeness crab and pomegranate seeds.

When it comes to traditional tapas, it doesn't get much better than a bowl of Spanish paella.

Luna Red

Located in the heart of Downtown San Luis Obispo, over the San Luis Obispo Creek, and right beside the beautiful San Luis Obispo Mission de Tolosa Bell Tower, is Luna Red, a can’t-miss tapa restaurant on the Central Coast. This hidden San Luis Obispo gem offers a global menu, with a focus on European, and especially Spanish dishes. Luna Red earned a reputation as one of the top tapas restaurants on the Central Coast and beyond. Handcrafted dishes like the Spanish paella as well as the always-on-demand tacos, keep customers returning time and time again. On your visit to this amazing restaurant, ask to be seated on the outdoor patio, and order unique dishes like barbecue oysters and roasted beets, for the experience of a lifetime.

Duende

Duende is located in Uptown Oakland and offers a new perspective on traditional dining. Not only do the chefs create dishes that are intended for sharing, but they have also configured the restaurant to have communal seating, allowing customers to form bonds and make new friends while enjoying a meal together. Standout tapas include crispy potatoes with spicy aioli, marinated Spanish olives, and grilled shrimp with pepper salsa. If you are looking for the complete experience, try the paella made with bomba rice, pork confit, and brussels sprouts—or the meatballs served with garlic mashed potatoes, and trumpet mushrooms.

Kick start your dinner with a chicken empanada or two but make sure to leave room for the star of the show, the paella.

Telefèric Barcelona

Located in the upscale shopping district of Walnut Creek, Telefèric Barcelona serves up authentic Catalan fare in California’s East Bay Area. The food is prepared with an authentic flair that could only come from a true Barcelonian—which it does, thanks to chef Oscar Cabezas. Begin your culinary journey with one of the croquetas or the beef cannelloni made with béchamel, oyster king mushrooms, and truffled foie gras shavings. Move on to the delicate prawns sauteéd with Spanish olive oil and flakes of fresh garlic, or to the chicken empanadas with spicy aioli. But make sure to save room for the star of the show: paella. Whether you are craving seasonal vegetables or lobster, Telefèric Barcelona is sure to delight your senses. Dining at this authentic Spanish tapas restaurant is one of the most fun things to do in Walnut Creek and is best shared with a friend or two, as someone needs to help you finish every last bite of the generous portions.

Picaro

The Bay Area has no shortage of amazing tapas restaurants. A total standout amongst them all is the San Francisco gem, Picaro. With art-filled walls and a beautiful outdoor patio, you’d think design is how the restaurant excels. That is until you try their state-famous tapas. Here you’ll experience tapas as you’ve never before, with a huge selection of meat and seafood options. The restaurant also encourages sharing, so bring your gals along, order as many of their hearty dishes, and dive in for a dining experience of a lifetime.

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