Chef José Andrés has created other small-plates concepts since he opened this tapas house more than ten years ago—including two bigger but less consistent Jaleos in Bethesda and Crystal City—but it’s at the Penn Quarter original that you can feel his presence most.
The no-reservations dining room—friendly to children (including Andrés’s own tiny daughters), theatergoers, and celebrating groups—is rustic and loud. Sherry- and manzanilla-spiked specialty cocktails flow along with pitchers of sparkly Cava sangria. The menu balances tradition (classic red and white gazpachos) with innovation (flan with orange-scented foam) but keeps its wide appeal: You can have a salad and single tapa for around $10 or spring for a more lavish spread.
Look for dishes that show off Spanish delicacies. Blue cheese from Cabrales is an accent mark in a beet-and-walnut salad and plays the lead in a dish of roasted potatoes. Serrano ham or manchego cheese cloak crusty, tomato-rubbed bread. Paprika adds depth to cold mussels marinated in olive oil and orange rind. A sausage plate bears earthy chorizo and slices of cured pork lomo. Never had blood sausage or tripe? Here’s your chance. The sausage gets a simple garlic sauce, the tripe is in a deep, peasanty stew. Less exciting are the short list of entrées—grilled chicken, grilled beef—and the paellas sized for four.