Food

Cheap Eats 2007: Jaleo

Colorful ceramic shards in the table mosaics evoke visionary Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí, and plaster pillars give the place a vintage look. It’s a fitting backdrop for José Andrés’s menu of traditional and modern tapas.

Early in the evening, theatergoers make a meal of the small plates. Later on, younger patrons crowd the bar for icy carafes of sangría. Jaleo is the granddaddy of the area’s Spanish tapas craze, and the downtown DC outpost is still one of the best places to enjoy it.

The classic potato omelet known as tortilla, silky roasted red peppers, tomato-rubbed bread with manchego, and garlicky shrimp—all taste as though you were eating them at a bar in Madrid. More elaborate but no less delicious are velvety eggplant flan, crisp croquetas of Iberian ham and chicken folded into béchamel, and grilled asparagus with piquant romesco. Some plates, like braised and caramelized oxtail with mashed potatoes and meaty jus, might stand in for dinner on their own.

Desserts don’t stray far from the classics, and with a crema Catalana like this—not too eggy and with a sweet-bitter sauce of oranges and burnt sugar—who would want them to?

Open daily for lunch and dinner.

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