A year ago, Hunky Beau and I were tootling wantonly around the Iberian peninsula, from San Sebastiàn and Vitoria-Gasteiz in the Basque north to Sevilla and Tarifa in the Andalucian south, leaving a trail of licked little plates in our wake. We dove into exquisitely stacked two-bite prawn pintxos in Bilbao, leafy salads piled high with tiny, transparent angulas (eels) in Barcelona, rabbit paella in Valencia …
Claro, you don’t need me waggling my delectable Spanish gustation in your face. So let me offer you instead a quartet of recos in SF. There’s been a diverse boom of Spanish spots lately, from gypsy-flavored Gitane to meaty Basque outpost Txoko — both raved about in recent Guardian reviews. Here are four perhaps lesser-known Spanish gems that have tugged at my tongue.
Don’t let the sandwich-y name fool you, this well-appointed Financial District spot is on the classier end. Absolutely lovely tuna-ventresca salad with miso-lemon vinaigrette and grilled prawns a la plancha provide flavor thrills; the palatial Scientology HQ across the street takes care of the people-watching. Another glass of rich, plummy Arretxia Irouleguy, please. Be warned: Bubble Lounge next door sometimes uncorks a wave of the over-giggly into Bocadillo’s loud space.
710 Montgomery, SF. (415) 982-2622, www.bocasf.com
The Castro has suffered its lion’s share of culinary misfortune of late, so how awesome is it that there’s suddenly a tasty, homestyle Spanish joint in that legendary foodie-uninspiring hood? “Bring joy” is the motto: amazing coca flatbreads with farmer’s cheese; hearty, tomato-y albondigas (meatballs) and lamb guisado (stew), and a super-friendly atmosphere make it happen. Bacalao (salt cod) salad with orange, spicy gambas (shrimp) and a tangy chilled gazpacho soup will get me through the summer, I’m guessing.
2272 Market, SF. (415) 552-3000, www.canelasf.com
In my opinion the most authentic bar-style Spanish tapas experience I’ve found in SF — albeit without my cherished vermouth, but with plenty of wine choices to suffice. (Full disclosure: one of the owners has become my real estate agent.) Sidle up to the no-reservation bar or grab a table in the bright, window-laden space with almost-secret flamenco performance room below, and order some perfectly familiar boquerones (anchovies in vinegar), espinacas (spinach sauteed with pine nuts and raisins, croquetas (bechamel croquettes) or that famous heavy Madrid bar-snack mainstay, patatas bravas — potatoes topped with zesty romanesco sauce.
1358 Mason, SF. (415) 981-5652, www.lalolasf.com
Come for the wonderful array of local microbrews (Valencia Wheat = light bliss) — treated with wine-like reverence here in terms of kicky pairings with piquant escabeche (pickled vegetables), pollo al vino tinto (chicken in red wine) and bright octopus terrine. But do stay for the fabulous flamenco performances on Sunday evening, when a crowd of the city’s more adventurous culinary explorers watch expertly dramatic dancers kick up their heels.
661 Howard, SF. (415) 974-0905, www.thirstybear.com