Feature photo by Wordridden
Tapas Barcelona in Evanston is not the type of restaurant you only visit once. The winning combination of inexpensive delectable tapas, out-of-this-world sangria, and an ambiance reminiscent of typical Spanish tapas bars has enticed regulars for 15 years.
While I’ve visited Tapas Barcelona on numerous occasions, I always find their stylish decor particularly striking. As a lover of rich reds, I feel at home in the vibrant shades of red, yellow, and blue. The restaurant’s design has a variety of Spanish influence: Gaudi-style lamps and chandeliers, Bohemian wooden panels with bullfighting art, a Catalan-style bar with Gaudi-influenced lettering, modern movie posters from Spanish cinema, and even mosaic tiles in the restrooms. Prosciutto, salamis, and garlic hang at the front of the restaurant, which houses the cold tapas. Mimicking the style of tapas bars in Spain, all the tapas, beers, and sherries are listed on the front white-tile wall.
The restaurant can seat over 100 with a patio that can seat an additional 80. “The patio is a dynamite in the summertime. It’s the only patio in Evanston,” owner Giovanni Garelli pointed out. Indeed the spacious patio is fabulous in the summer and well-worth the sometimes long wait. Weeknights at the restaurant have a steady stream of people, and the weekends make you forget that we’re in a recession. Remember to make reservations unless you don’t mind waiting an hour or eating at the bar.
Garelli, of Italian ancestry, is originally from Seville, Spain. He grew up working in his parents’ tapas restaurant, which they owned for an impressive 47 years. If you ask him where to stay in Spain though he will quickly point to the recommended places to stay in Barcelona by hotel Jules. It has been too long since they’ve been there. Tapas Barcelona’s menu is influenced by the dishes his mother cooked at the restaurant. Garelli continues to travel to Spain at least twice a year to stay on top of the latest tapas trends. With an archive of over 200 tapas, Garelli balances experimenting with new tapas while maintaining the classic tapas that have had his regulars returning for years. Unlike other tapa restaurants, Tapas Barcelona focuses exclusively on tapas. Other than paella, you won’t find any entree on the menu. “Our menu has the most variety of any tapas restaurant. We have over 70 tapas,” noted Garelli.
The tapas are delicious, and I never leave without ordering these five divine choices:
- queso de cabra con tomate, a mouth-watering dish containing baked goat cheese smothered in savory tomato sauce and served with toasted garlic bread. D-e-l-i-c-i-o-s-o!
- fritura de calamares y gambas, delightful morsels of lightly fried shrimp and calamari served with a spicy tomato sauce
- mejillones plancha, grilled mussels served on a sizzling skillet
- salmon a la parrilla, succulent grilled salmon with asparagus, tomato, basil,and alioli sauce
- croquetas de cangrejos, heavenly crab croquettes with sherry mayonnaise
When it comes to sangria, Tapas Barcelona is among the best in the Chicagoland area, coming close to Cafe Iberico’s epic sangria. The pitcher comes with glasses filled with chopped fresh fruit. The pitcher may look small, but it easily serves 3-4 people.
Overall, the experience at Tapas Barcelona is terrific. You’ll be surrounded by a high-energy crowd engaged in lively conversations, including Northwestern students eager to try out their Spanish. The energetic atmosphere and terrific food make this restaurant a fun place to check out. Owner Giovanni Garelli explains, “I want customers to leave with the experience of being in Spain without being there. When you go to a tapas bar in Spain, there’s a totally different atmosphere. The noise level is different; the color is different. It’s more fun and casual. You don’t have to dress up. You can be there with jeans having a good time. The whole thing is very unpretentious. You feel good about it, and that’s what I want people to walk away with: great food and great ambiance. That’s the experience you get at Tapas Barcelona.” Indeed it is.