What Our Inspectors Say: Iberian flavors and Cali-cool join forces at this Spanish stunner, where legs of the namesake jamón ibérico de Bellota hang in a central glass case. They’re flanked by a sumptuous exhibition kitchen framed in bronze and hand-painted tiles, as well as a glamorous U-shaped bar. Chic professionals (some of them from the neighboring offices of Airbnb) have already staked their claim for date night. The menu adds seasonal touches to traditional Spanish tapas: picture yogurt-braised chicken albóndigas drizzled with pomegranate agridulce; or a fluffy tortilla Española with rainbow chard and chorizo crumbles. Paellas sized for 2-4 people are another popular option-try the Pluma, with Ibérico pork shoulder, summer squash and slivered squash blossoms.
What Our Inspectors Say: A tasty little morsel of a space serving up mouthwatering tapas, Michael Chiarello’s Pier 5 destination offers shimmering views of the bay from its rustic dining room, equipped with rough-hewn wooden tables, cowhide rugs, and a big, theatrical open kitchen and bar. There’s a bit more space on the tented outdoor patio, but if your heart is set on a table, book early. Its name is Spanish for "flirt," and Coqueta's alluring menu has caused more than one enraptured diner to over-order. Some fine options: crunchy-creamy chicken and pea croquetas, mini sandwiches of smoked salmon with queso fresco and truffle honey, and wood-grilled octopus with tender fingerling potatoes. Complete the experience with the Asturian apple pie with Cabrales blue cheese ice cream.
What Our Inspectors Say: Move over, Mission District. Divisadero is quickly becoming this city's new dinner ‘hood darling, and Barvale is the perfect place to start your tour. If you’re worried about not having a reservation, don’t. Once you see the lively scene flowing inside, you’ll realize that this tapas house saves half their tables for walk-ins. The menu toys with fun riffs on traditional Spanish tapas and bite-sized pintxos—all of them matched to terrific sangria and cocktails. Try the smoky chorizo and manchego before indulging in the petite but hugely delicious paella, laced with a creamy aïoli, charred lemon, prawns, mussels and clams. Service moves quickly but attentively, and weekend brunch offers a handful of egg dishes as well as—you guessed it—tapas.
What Our Inspectors Say: “Jamón in,” says the cheeky neon sign at this lively tapas bar, set in a former home full of sunny accents and 1970s psychedelic posters. While there’s a small bar inside, most visitors make a beeline to the huge backyard with its outdoor porch and garden. Thanks to a welcoming cocktail-party vibe, this is the kind of place where big groups of tourists and locals can be found in abundance. Whether you like your tapas traditional or with a little added flair, there's plenty to sample and share, from plancha-seared sea scallops with creamy romesco to a classic tortilla Española. Lighter appetites will enjoy the chilled tuna belly salad packed with crisp fennel and buttery green olives—it's practically made for washing down with a glass of Cava-spiked sangria.
What Our Inspectors Say: This Spanish delight from the team behind acclaimed caterer Ñora Cocina Española does double duty as a mecca for both tapas and paella, offered in varieties from the traditional mixta (prawns, chicken, chorizo, garlic, peppers) to the inventive “tres cerditos” (three little pigs) featuring pork chorizo, shoulder, and belly. The classic tapas are also out in full force—from grilled head-on garlic shrimp and salt cod croquettes with nutty romesco, to tortilla Española. Located on busy San Pablo Avenue, the lively space offers enticements for groups of all sizes: foursomes can make the most of the sizable paellas, while a duo of happy hours offer discounts on wine at the L-shaped bar and a selection of free tapas, perfect for solo diners or couples.
What Our Inspectors Say: This Mediterranean-inspired cutie was dishing out small plates long before it was cool, and its rustic bi-level space still draws a steady crowd of local regulars. Spanish-style tile floors, a pressed-tin ceiling, and honey-colored walls give Zuzu an enchanting old-world vibe, setting the scene for sharing the more than two dozen tapas, both frío and caliente. They include the fantastic shrimp ceviche with bright cara cara oranges, chile oil and shaved red onions; plump Gulf coast shrimp with a smoky pimento sauce; and fried Tolenas Ranch quail over rich, smoky Rancho Gordo posole. For similar cuisine in a more modern atmosphere, sister restaurant La Taberna is also worth a visit.
Hero image courtesy of Bellota. Photo by Kelly Puleio.