La Taberna Tapas on Halsted | University Village/Little Italy | Small Plates, Mediterranean, South American | Restaurant
Top-notch tapas place with one of the best paellas in town.

Our Review

At first glance this University Village tapas clearinghouse doesn't look like anything special. But it turns out chefs Gustavo Castañeda (Zocalo) and Enrique Cortez (Olé Lounge) are preparing the most celebrated Spanish dishes very well, with only minimal interference. Take the tortilla española—the classic potato omelet, cooked with an even suspension of spuds, is dressed with squiggles of chipotle aioli. (That surprisingly mild condiment turns up on three other dishes that would do just fine without it—chicken croquettes, salty potato-cod fritters, and chorizo coins with perfectly plump bouncy shrimp.) The chefs have a way with those crustaceans—as in an olive-y ceviche, and those bathing in a crock of garlicky olive oil and chile. And they do well with other sea creatures too, such as a plate of three seared scallops encircling a pile of cured sausage scraps and surrounded by messy splatters of saffron cream sauce, or supertender grilled octopus chunks tossed with potatoes and a wonderful, gritty almond pesto. The nontraditional puff pastry encasing raisiny ground beef in an empanada de picadillo is light and flaky. But generally, it seems that the simple, straightforwardly classic Spanish plates win the day—for example, the pair of meatballs in tomato sauce, the buttery bowl of sherried mushrooms and snails, and the sausage-stuffed bacon-wrapped dates. Which brings me to that most iconic of Spanish dishes. I was happily shocked to find that the house paella is an ideal amalgamation of pork, chicken, chorizo, mussels, calamari, and shrimp. But most importantly, it has a perfect ratio of crispy socorrat and distinctly al dente, fat-saturated, stout medium-grain rice. I can't think of many paellas around town that can touch it. One innovation I can definitely get behind is the chile-and-tequila-spiked white Sangria Brava—only slightly spicy, it goes down easy. And in the midst of a list featuring mostly Spanish and South American wines, don't lose sight of two sidras—Spanish hard ciders—listed among the bubblies, particularly the dry, tart Isategui from the Basque region. Outside of Avec and Mercat a la Planxa, La Taberna is the most solid, semitraditional tapas joint in town. See the full review >>

Mike Sula

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Price: $$$
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